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Soufriere trail not ready for tourists, says NEMO head

Soufriere trail not ready for tourists, says NEMO head
Michelle Forbes

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WHILE THE post eruption phase of activity at La Soufrière continues its decline, public access to the volcano is still prohibited and dangerous with the presence of certain hazards.

Director of the National Emergency Management Organisation(NEMO) Michelle Forbes, indicated this week that she would not be able to say for how long this will be the case.

“..It’s really extremely dangerous to go up there now. You see, in the past where you could have gone as a big group going up, the trail does not allow that right now. And the trail is very, very unstable,” she said.

While the National Parks and the Forestry Units have done an initial clearing of the trail from debris, “it’s still very dangerous because you have a lot of gullies now where the pyroclastic flows flowed through,” and “one little mistake ‘bam’, you’re over in a gully. And these gullies are deep, maybe 50 feet, 100 feet in some cases, maybe deeper,” she emphasised.

The alert level for the volcano is at Yellow, which translates to the volcano still being restless, with seismic or fumarolic activity or both, above the historical level at the volcano.

Director of the University of the West Indies(UWI) Seismic Research Centre( SRC), Dr. Erouscilla Joseph, speaking last Friday, October 15, said that since the last explosion on April 22, monitoring was being carried out concerning “whether or not any new signs of (magmatic) intrusion were happening and that has not happened since.”

“…Now we can say that the last explosive event was officially on the 22nd of April, and since then we’ve been in a post eruption phase of activity and that is consistent with everything that we’ve seen so far with the decreasing levels of SO2, the no (Ground) Deformation,” and low levels of seismic events recorded in the months following. The advisories, the Director says, show the seismic events recorded to be sometimes less than 20, sometimes less than 10 events per day, which is still higher than historical levels that would have been “one or two or sometimes none.”

“So it’s still slightly more than historical background but this is normal for a post-eruption phase of activity,” Joseph clarified.

It cannot be said how long the activity will take to go to background, “But it generally is not like Soufrière Hills in Montserrat where it’s still showing a very long 10 years plus, 20 years plus, that’s not the pattern of behaviour of this volcano.”

As it relates to the level of danger currently associated with the volcano, she offered that “especially after an eruption the size of what happened, there’s a lot of material still on the volcano, and that continues to be a risk because we are in the hurricane season, and that material can be remobilised and cause the lahars (mud flows), and this is one of the reasons why access to the volcano is limited to only authorised personnel.”

Joseph also noted that the trail is rough, meant for carrying equipment and monitoring; it is not a tourist trail.

“…People going up there could be injured and you don’t want to have somebody up on the volcano injured, a civilian, because it means then somebody will have to hike up there and get them and bring them down,” she said.

Further, anyone authorised to head up the mountain informs the Soufrière Monitoring Unit(SMU) “so then somebody would be monitoring more closely and that they would have radio control so that if we see something of concern, we could let them know via radio what is happening and then they could either leave or know what action to take.”

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