St Vincent volcano: where is the Caribbean island, will La Soufriere erupt again and are residents being evacuated?

The La Soufrière volcano, on St Vincent, first erupted on Friday, April 9, with further explosions recorded since.

The eruption of La Soufriere Volcano from Rillan Hill in Saint Vincent. The blast from the volcano, sent plumes of ash 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) into the air, the local emergency management agency said. The eruption was confirmed by the UWI center.

Over the weekend, the volcano erupted several times, covering the island in copious amounts of ash and disrupting power and water supplies.

Where is St Vincent?

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St Vincent is a volcanic island in the Caribbean, and is the largest island of the country of Saint Vincent.

St Vincent is located in the Caribbean Sea, between St Lucia and Grenada, and is home to a population of around 130,000 people.

Along with the Grenadines, St Vincent gained independence from the United Kingdom in October 1979, becoming part of the British Commonwealth of nations.

Why did the volcano erupt?

La Soufrière, the island’s largest volcano and highest peak, has erupted five times during recorded history.

It violently erupted in 1718, 1812, 1902, 1979, and, most recently, 2021, with some volcanic activity beginning in December 2020.

Volcanic activity is random and sometimes hard to predict, with eruptions varying in their severity.

In 1902, an eruption killed 1,680 people just hours before a volcanic eruption on Martinique that killed 29,000.

Are residents being evacuated?

Around 16,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes as a result of the eruption - though so far no injuries or deaths have been reported.

People continued to flee their homes over the weekend (April 10-11), fearing further volcanic activity and ash fall.

Around 3,200 people sought refuge in government-run shelters, where they were tested for coronavirus to avoid spreading the disease.

Cruise ships have been prepared to take evacuees with negative test results to neighbouring islands, with St Lucia, Antigua and Grenada all having offered to take in those fleeing St Vincent.

What’s the impact on the island been?

Following rain showers, the ash spewed out by the volcano has hardened on the ground, while a number of homes have been left without water and electricity.

Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines said airspace around the island had also been closed due to the thick plumes of volcanic ash and smoke in the atmosphere.

He added that volcanic ash had also fallen over the sea:

"We don't know how much more is going to come out... so far, we have done well in that nobody got injured, nobody is dead”, he said.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency have been deployed to provide humanitarian assistance to islanders.

People on neighbouring islands, meanwhile, are likely to be affected by the eruption.

As far away as Barbados - 120 miles to the east of St Vincent - people have been told to remain indoors to avoid breathing in the ash.

On St Lucia, meanwhile, air quality will be affected, with some harmful gases potentially causing difficulties for people with conditions like asthma.

Are further eruptions expected?

Further volcanic activity may be on the way, with Professor Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre saying:

“It’s likely that at some point it would quiet down and hopefully we would have a break, so that we could recover a little bit more, but don’t be surprised if after the break it picks up like this again. The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will give.”