People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate the area closest to a volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent raced to get clear on Saturday, a day after it erupted with an explosion that shook the ground, spewed ash skyward and blanketed the island in a layer of fine volcanic rock.
The eruption of La Soufriere – its first large one since 1979 – transformed the island’s lush towns and villages into gloomy, grey versions of themselves.
A strong sulphur smell was unavoidable on Saturday and ash covered everything, creeping into homes, cars and noses, and obscuring the sunshine that makes the island so popular with tourists.
Scientists warn that the explosions could continue for days, even weeks, and that the worst could be yet to come.
“The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will give,” Richard Robertson, a geologist with the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, said during a news conference.
About 16,000 people have had to flee their ash-covered communities with as many belongings as they could carry.
The ash has forced the cancellation of several flights, and poor visibility limited evacuations in some areas. Officials warned that St. Lucia to the north and Grenada to the south could get light ashfall, though most of it was expected to head northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.