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La Soufriere, St Vincent 2021

Posted on April 13, 2021

Volcanic Eruption

News headlines this week have featured an evolving volcanic crisis at Soufriere volcano on the small island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean. The eruption itself is only moderate in size, but it has triggered a crisis of international significance. Executive Director Karl Kim said this is the classical dilemma posed by infrequent but natural hazard events. Soufriere, San Vincent has a deadly propensity for a dangerous explosive eruption. Many deaths occurred from explosions in 1812 and 1902-03 (1600 fatalities), but the volcano had been silent since 1979.

Evacuation of this and many other volcanic islands is difficult and often must be by boat. Only one road runs south from the dangerous northern part of the island. The current evacuation began on April 8, one day before the first of today’s two explosive eruptions. Evacuees are being accepted by neighboring islands, including St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, and Antigua. COVID-19 has added an extra layer of complexity to the process of safe evacuation. Its success is still being evaluated.

Science Director and Hawai‘i state Volcanologist, Bruce Houghton said the combination of small volcanoes and infrequent volcanic eruptions is a particularly deadly one- so many of the great historical volcanic crises like Tambora (1815), Krakatau (1883), Mount Pelée, Martinique (1902), and Soufriere Hills, Montserrat (1995 onwards) all fall into this category.

The only permanent solutions are a combination of (1) such prompt evacuations with (2) long-term land-use planning as has been applied at Montserrat. We anticipate carrying the lessons from Saint Vincent into our Volcano Crisis awareness course, currently being re-certified by FEMA.