SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Authorities on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent said Thursday they believe an active volcano is in danger of erupting and have ordered mandatory evacuations.
The island’s emergency management office switched the alert level to red and said a Royal Caribbean cruise ship will arrive after nightfall to evacuate those who live near La Soufriere volcano. Others will be taken to shelters elsewhere in St. Vincent that are outside the danger zone.
Roughly 16,000 people live in the red zone and will need to be evacuated, Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies´ Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press.
Evacuation efforts could be hampered by the pandemic.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in a press conference that people have to be vaccinated if they go aboard a cruise ship or are granted temporary refuge in other nearby islands.
Gonsalves said he was talking to other Caribbean governments to accept people´s ID cards if they don´t have a passport.
“This is an emergency situation, and everybody understands that,” he said.
Gonsalves added that he highly recommends those who opt to go to a shelter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an island chain of more than 100,000 people, be vaccinated.
Joseph said emergency management teams have been going out to communities in the red zone and providing transportation to safer locations, including prearranged shelters.
“They know who doesn’t have transportation because all of this has been canvassed before,” she said, adding that those who board the cruise ship would not be taken elsewhere but would remain there for an unspecified period of time.
Government officials tweeted that the dome of the volcano located on the island´s northern region could be seen glowing by nightfall. The alert issued Wednesday evening follows days of seismic activity around La Soufriere.
Scientists alerted the government about a possible eruption after noting a specific type of seismic activity at 3 a.m. on Thursday that indicated “magma was on the move close to the surface,” Joseph said.
“Things are escalating pretty quickly,” she said of the volcanic activity, adding that it was impossible to provide an exact forecast of what might happen in the next few hours or days.
A team from the seismic center arrived in St. Vincent in late December after the volcano had an effusive eruption. They have been analyzing the formation of a new volcanic dome, changes to its crater lake, seismic activity and gas emissions, among other things.
The volcano last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.