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Caribbean island Saint Vincent covered in thick ash after volcanic eruption

·3-min read

Ash covered much of the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent on Saturday, and the stench of sulphur filled the air after a series of eruptions from a volcano that had been quiet for decades.

The thick dust was also on the move, traveling 175 kilometers (110 miles) to the east and starting to impact the neighboring island of Barbados.

"Barbadians have been urged to stay indoors as thick plumes of volcanic ash move through the atmosphere," the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency said.

The whitish powder caked roads, homes and buildings in Saint Vincent after the powerful blasts from the volcano called La Soufriere that began Friday and continued into the night.

"Saturday morning on the island of over 110,000 residents looked like a winter wonderland, albeit blanketed by ash," the news portal news784.com said.

Visibility in some areas was extremely limited, while in the capital city Kingstown on the south of the island -- the volcano is in the north -- the ash caused a thin haze of dust, the portal said.

"Vincentians are waking up to extremely heavy ash fall and strong sulphur smells which have now advanced to the capital," the local emergency management agency tweeted.

The eruptions prompted thousands of people to flee for safety. Around 16,000 people live in areas under evacuation orders.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said Saturday that water has been cut off in most areas and the country's air space is closed because of the ash. Around 3,000 people spent the night in shelters.

"It's a huge operation that is facing us," Gonsalves told NBC News.

He said his government has been in contact with other countries that want to provide aid. Guyana and Venezuela are sending ships with supplies, Gonsalves said.

The initial blast from La Soufriere, the highest peak in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, sent plumes of hot ash and smoke 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) into the air Friday morning.

A second, smaller eruption took place Friday afternoon, belching out a 4,000-meter-high ash cloud, the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre said.

The Centres director, Erouscilla Joseph, said late Saturday that there had been "additional explosions" throughout the day which had been accompanied by more ash.

"Unfortunately, we believe that more seismic unrest will be expected overnight," she added in a voice recording posted to Twitter.

The 1,235-meter La Soufriere -- the name is French for "sulphur mine" -- had not erupted since 1979, and its largest blow-up happened over a century ago, killing more than 1,000 people in 1902.

It had been rumbling for months before it finally blew.

Evacuation orders

"We are trying to be ok. It's deathly quiet outside and the mood is pensive," said Vynette Frederick, 44, a lawyer in Kingstown.

Northwest of Kingstown on the 30-kilometer-long (18-mile-long) island, Zen Punnett said things had calmed down after the initial panic as evacuation orders came out Thursday night.

"It's gotten hazier. We are staying inside," she said.

The emergency management agency posted photos of a Coast Guard ship evacuating residents of an area who had previously refused to leave. Standing on a dock, the air above the evacuees was a chalky gray.

Most of the people in the red zone had been moved to safety by Friday, authorities said.

Cruise ships were on the way to assist the evacuation effort.

The Saint Vincent and Grenadines police on Saturday issued an appeal for troublemakers to stop making prank calls to emergency responders.

"We are in the middle of a serious evacuation and security exercise, to safeguard and rescue persons who are affected by the eruption," the agency said.

"These irresponsible calls divert much-needed resources and personnel from the evacuation exercise."

(AFP)