La Soufrière

News here in the Caribbean region is that the volcano on the island of St Vincent, La Soufrière has erupted.

The volcano has been showing signs of activity since December. For the last two weeks, its activity had significantly increased. Many ‘volcanic’ earthquakes were felt throughout the island. Apparently, the magma within the volcano was moving. Moving towards the surface.

The day before the eruption, the government ramped the warning level to red – its highest level. Meanwhile, I’d noticed a cruiser couple, Greg and Jan, were heading towards St Vincent. I read Jan’s Facebook post about how they were coming down the island and were struck by the smoke steaming from the volcano.

La Soufrière rises out of the island’s north. This is the same as in Martinique, whose destructive Mt Pelèe also straddles the north of the island. Mt Pelée blew its top just over a hundred years ago – killing 30,000 people in the space of a few minutes. It was a Pompeii-style eruption; a huge pyroclastic explosion which asphyxiated most of the people in its path.

The Caribbean islands are generally split into two types – the volcanic islands and the coral islands. How do you tell which are which? Someone told us a fun fact: the coral Caribbean islands always begin with the letter A,B or C. We haven’t found a fault in this since. The volcanic islands – Grenada, Dominica, etc: they are all the other letters. And they’re volcanic.

These volcanic islands are nature’s paradise. Fruits and vegetables grow on their fertile soils like they’re on steroids. The avocados which we had – grown on St Vincent, were the size of footballs. You could plant your finger in the soil and the next crop would produce a new version of you – only bigger. Hehe. But wouldn’t it be cool?

The tectonic plates which form the Caribbean arc, they’re still moving. And their squashings are letting off pressure through these volcanic vents. Which includes St Vincent. All in all, three distinct explosions occurred on the second Friday in April. The last time La Soufrière erupted was in 1979 – and it was also on the second Friday in April. The largest ash plume yesterday travelled over 38,000 feet upwards. This forced airlines to be cancelled or to divert their paths.

At last light, the ash cloud was heading for the general direction of Barbados. Barbados (a non-erupting coral island) sent two cruise ships to evacuate St Vincentians. And maybe some football-sized avocados. Barbados’ coral-based soil can’t grow stuff like that.

What of our friends, Greg and Jan? They’d checked into St Vincent before the eruption. Through the current Covid protocols, their boat paperwork was handed in while the formalities of PCR-testing was undergone. They were required to wait until everything was processed to be admitted into St Vincent. Like most yachties, they planned to move down to the Grenadines, the 32-island archipelago south of the main island. It’s more yachtie-friendly down there. Unfortunately, the volcano blew in the meantime – and all offices are now closed. They are waiting, watching and getting rained on. By La Soufrière.

Photo courtesy of Jan Paine:

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