People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate the area closest to a volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent ran to extricate themselves on Saturday, a day after. erupted with an explosion that shook the ground, spewed ash skyward and covered the island with a thin layer of volcanic rock.
The La Soufrière eruption – its first major since 1979 – turned the island’s lush towns and villages into a dark, gray version of themselves.
A strong smell of sulfur was inevitable on Saturday and ash covered everything, seeping into homes, cars and noses, and obscuring the sun that makes the island so popular with tourists.
Scientists warn the explosions could go on for days or even weeks, with the worst yet to come.
“The first blow is not necessarily the biggest blow this volcano will give,” said Richard Robertson, a geologist at the University of the West Indies Center for Seismic Research, at a press conference.
About 16,000 people had to flee their ash-covered communities with as much goods as they could carry.
The ashes forced the cancellation of several flights and poor visibility limited evacuations in some areas. Officials have warned that Saint Lucia to the north and Grenada to the south could receive light ash falls, although most of it were to head northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.