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Mandatory evacuation of communities near to La Soufriere volcano begins

Mandatory evacuation of communities near to La Soufriere volcano begins
Residents of communities on the north eastern coast of St Vincent in vehicles heading to Kingstown on Thursday afternoon.

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The evacuation of areas to the northeast and northwest of St Vincent has begun, after La Soufriere volcano entered a heightened period of activity this afternoon. The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has raised the alert level to red, which means that an explosive eruption of the volcano is imminent.

“At this point, we cannot say for sure and cannot give any further clear warning that nothing will happen within the next 24 to 48 hours…. There is no further warning we expect and therefore to guarantee safety of people … it is best to take certain decisions,” Professor Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre said via Zoom at an emergency press conference this afternoon.

The Vincentian volcanologist said the last period of tremor at the volcano was accompanied by periods of gas venting and a “significant pulsing of the volcano, which appears as if … the volcano is trying to clear its throat…”

“Right now, we would not be surprised for example, if sometime within the next 24 to 48 hours, there are explosions from the volcano that are much more significant than we have seen so far. The pulsing is one thing, but explosions is different. So, we seem to be clearly heading into something that is explosive, and therefore need to take necessary actions to safeguard life and limb,” Robertson said.

An immediate evacuation order has therefore been given for all premises from Georgetown, north to Fancy, on the east coast, and Richmond, Chateaubelair, FitzHughes and Petit Bordel on the west coast.

Additionally, all persons, vessels and vehicles are barred from these premises or areas except if they are involved in evacuating people.

“All arrangements have now kickstarted and the process begins. I want to urge all our people to be calm, do not panic, be disciplined, be orderly. The heads of all the subcommittees in NEMO were at the meeting of the National Emergency Council and they know what they have to do. It is a matter of effecting the plans,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said.

Director of  NEMO Michelle Forbes said all emergency shelters have been activated and the Ministry of Education has already contacted the managers of these shelters.

Vessels are also on their way to Chateaubelair to do a sea evacuation of people from that northwestern town to Barrouallie, Forbes said.

“Take with you the necessary supplies, a bit of food, a bit of water, at least to last you for the night, especially if you are going into the emergency shelters…. Cooperate with each other. You know the assembly points in your community. We will let you know when the buses will get to your community,” the NEMO director said.