About 16,000 people were evacuated from their homes on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent on Friday after the La Soufriere volcano erupted.
The first explosion occurred Friday morning, a day after the government ordered mandatory evacuations based on warnings from scientists who noted a type of seismic activity before dawn on Thursday that meant magma was on the move close to the surface.
Experts have warned that explosive eruptions could continue for days or possibly week.
“The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will give,” Richard Robertson, a geologist with the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Centre, said during a press conference.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves asked people to remain calm, have patience and keep protecting themselves from the coronavirus as he celebrated that no deaths or injuries were reported after the eruption in the northern tip of St. Vincent, part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines and is home to more than 100,000 people.
“Agriculture will be badly affected, and we may have some loss of animals, and we will have to do repairs to houses, but if we have life, and we have strength, we will build it back better, stronger, together,” he said in an interview with NBC Radio, a local station.
Gonsalves has said that depending on the damage caused by the explosion, it could take up to four months for life to return to normal.
Neighbouring nations from Antigua to Guyana have stepped in to help, shipping cots, tents, and respirator masks and agreeing to temporarily open their borders to the evacuees.
As of Friday, 2,000 people were staying in 62 government shelters while four empty cruise ships floated nearby, waiting to take other evacuees to nearby islands. Those staying in shelters were tested for COVID-19, and anyone testing positive would be taken to an isolation centre.
La Soufriere previously had an effusive eruption in December, prompting experts from around the region to fly in and analyze the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes to its crater lake, among other things.
It last erupted in 1979 and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.
The eastern Caribbean has 19 live volcanoes, including two underwater near the island of Grenada. One of those, Kick ’Em Jenny, has been active in recent years. But the most active volcano of all is Soufriere Hills in Montserrat. It has erupted continuously since 1995, razing the capital of Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.