Relief Efforts on St. Vincent Undermined By Ongoing Volcanic Activity

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The Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent has been experiencing a massive power outage after its largest volcano erupted last Friday, forcing widespread evacuations for the island’s 100,000 citizens.

As NBC News reported, La Soufriere’s eruption — its first large one since 1979 — transformed the island’s lush towns and villages into gloomy, gray versions of themselves. A strong sulfur smell was unavoidable Saturday, and ash covered everything, creeping into homes, cars, and noses and obscuring the sunshine that makes the island so popular with tourists.

The heavy ashfall hampered evacuation efforts, and seismologists, unfortunately, expect another explosive event.

Why This Matters: La Soufrière has a deadly historical reputation. NPR wrote that Richard Robertson, a geologist with the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre, said the volcano is in its explosive eruption phase. The initial explosion of dust and debris St. Vincent experienced at the end of last week is likely just the beginning.

Making matters worse, roads have become treacherous due to the ash flow, and water supplies have been cut off for most of the island, while airspace has also been closed due to low visibility.

Here’s how you can help relief efforts. 

What Comes Next: The National Emergency Management Organization of St. Vincent has warned that pyroclastic flows from La Soufriere could lead to additional destruction and devastation of communities close to the volcano. Current activity pattern similar to that of the 1902 eruption that killed thousands. Thousands of St. Vincent residents are sleeping in shelters and waiting to see if more eruptions occur. There’s also a lingering fear that communities could be destroyed as a result of heavy flows of lava droplets and hot gas.

Additionally, winds are carrying smoke to nearby islands, making air quality dangerous across the region. As BBC explained, people on the island of St Lucia, which is around 76km north of St Vincent, have been warned to expect air quality to be affected, with harmful gases potentially making it harder to breathe for people with conditions such as asthma, the island’s Rodney Bay Medical Centre said.

Nearby nations like Barbados and Antigua to Guyana have pledged (or have already delivered) emergency supplies and offered to accept evacuees. Yet, getting supplies to the people who need them most will become an increasing challenge in the coming days.

How did we get here? Though La Soufrière last erupted in 1979, it is still very much an active volcano. National Geographic wrote that since December 2020, a strange and gloopy mass of lava has been oozing from the top of the volcano. This eruption posed no real threat to the 110,000 or so people living on the island, but things took a turn for the worse at the end of March when the volcano began shaking in a way that suggested something more violent was coming.

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