On 9th April 2021 the La Soufriere volcano on the northern side of mainland St. Vincent changed from a state of effusive eruption to explosive eruption. The La Soufriere volcano has been dormant since its last eruption on April 13th, 1979. In late December 2020, the volcano started spewing steam and smoke and making rumbling noises. It entered an effusive state of eruption and it was declared alert level ORANGE by the National Emergency Management Organization. At the request of the Government of St. Vincent, The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center (UWISRC) from Trinidad and Tobago dispatched a team of Seismologists/Volcanologists to St. Vincent to monitor the situation and advise the local authorities of the imminent measures to be taken throughout the developments.
On 8th April 2021, the activities of the volcano changed, indicating that an explosive eruption could happen within the next 24 hours. The Government of St. Vincent, under the advisement of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) and UWISRC declared a state of emergency and raised the alert level to RED, placing an evacuation order for all persons residing in the RED and ORANGE zone areas. Approximately 20,000 persons were evacuated from their homes and placed into designated shelters or seek refuge with family and friends at private residents in the green zone. A Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship also made its way to our shores to lend its support in the evacuation of residents from these areas.
On Friday morning, the 9th, April 2021, the first explosive eruption occurred spewing gas and ashes high into the stratosphere. A blanket of ash covered St. Vincent and extended to neighboring islands: The Grenadines, Barbados and St. Lucia. Smaller explosions continued throughout the day and over the weekend. Lightning, thunder, and rumblings from the Volcano were seen and heard throughout the weekend. This resulted in power cuts and severe disruption of the water supply throughout the island. According to UWISRC “the volcano continues to erupt explosively with the production of copious amounts of ash. Explosions and accompanying ash fall, of similar of larger magnitude, are likely to continue to occur over the next few days impacting St. Vincent and neighboring islands.”
The current La Soufriere volcanic eruption is compared to that of the 1902 eruption, the worse in St. Vincent’s history, causing devastation and destruction to neighboring villages and loss of life. To date, all persons have been safely evacuated from the Red and Orange zone areas and there has been no reports of loss of life or casualties.
We remain invested in the safety and security of our faculty, staff and students and dedicated to assisting the nation of St Vincent during this time of crisis. A few of our faculty, staff and students are volunteering their services with the local response organizations such as Red Cross, NEMO, and Ministry of Health in providing the necessary support for everyone that is displaced by this devastating event. It is indeed a difficult time for everyone as we are faced with a global pandemic and a natural disaster both of devastating magnitude
Our University is located on the South side of the island in the green zone. Our students and faculty are all within safe areas and out of harms way. However, we are also affected by the ash fall, power outages and water cuts. We encourage all students, faculty, and staff to ration your water supply, stock up on dry goods and canned food, medication supplies, face masks and face shields etc. During heavy ash fall, you are advised to remain indoors and follow all the protocols to ensure minimal exposure and breathing in of ash particles. All persons are also advised to have an emergency bag packed and ready in the event of an evacuation with short notice.
Effective 12th April 2021 our St. Vincent administrative and support staff will be working from home as the physical Belair office will remain closed until further notice. This is to ensure the safety of our staff and limit their exposure to the dangers of the ash fall. Classes will continue using the online platform. Consideration will be given to the effects of the current situation on the mental and emotional state of our students during this time and we will work together to provide the appropriate academic accommodations for the remainder of the semester. Further updates on this will be provided by the Office of Academic Affairs. The University is working towards supplying potable water and food supplies to our students and those in the communities affected by the volcanic eruptions.
As the events unfold, we will continue to be vigilant and follow the updates and advice of the relevant authorities. These are trying times and we must support each other. Our Administration will continue to maintain a line of communication with the Government and response teams and provide our faculty, staff, and students with updates on the volcanic activities, threat levels and response measures.
The timely response and organized evacuation procedures by the Government of St. Vincent is truly commendable and was a key factor in preventing loss of lives. The response from sister countries and islands within the CARICOM region is unremarkable and shows the strength and support of the CARICOM nations during a crisis. Similarly, there has been an outpouring of concerns, prayers and well wishes from persons across the globe. We do appreciate all the calls, text messages and emails. We will continue to share updates on our social media platforms for everyone.
We will continue to lend our support to the Government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as we all work together to overcome this hurdle. Our thoughts and Prayers continue to be with the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.