Covid Hampers St. Vincent Evacuation Amid Volcanic Eruption
The Mount Yasur volcano erupts on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. (Photographer: Adam Majendie/Bloomberg News)

Covid Hampers St. Vincent Evacuation Amid Volcanic Eruption

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Covid-19 is hampering efforts to evacuate people from the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where the La Soufriere volcano began erupting Friday morning.

In a news conference, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said efforts to move an estimated 20,000 residents who live near the volcano were underway. Buses were transporting some people to safety, while cruise ships were prepared to pick up others along the northern coast.

But the pandemic is causing delays. Hotels that are being turned into refugee centers are asking that people be vaccinated, a request that Gonsalves said was “not unreasonable.”

The island nation of 110,600 people has vaccinated 10,805 people according to the World Health Organization.

While the cruise ships are prepared to shuttle people to safe sites, they’re not sufficiently staffed to provide evacuees temporary lodging, Gonsalves said. Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corp. both have ships in the region to support the effort. In an emailed statement, Carnival said it was not making vaccinations a requirement for this humanitarian mission.

Even so, Gonsalves said residents across the Caribbean had been offering their homes as temporary shelters.

“On this dangerous road to Jericho, we have good Samaritans,” he said, wiping away tears.

The country is also setting up emergency shelters.

La Soufriere began erupting early Friday, just hours after the government ordered an evacuation of the area.

The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center said an “explosive eruption” began at about 8:41 a.m. local time and that it was “ongoing.”

The islands’ National Emergency Management Office, NEMO, said there were no initial reports of injuries or deaths.

Images from the area showed a massive plume of ash rising from the 4,048-foot tall volcano that dominates the northern tip of St. Vincent. And researchers said ash would likely fall across St. Vincent, Grenada, Barbados and St. Lucia.

The country began issuing warnings Thursday when officials first detected a swarm of earthquakes around La Soufriere -- the country’s highest point -- along with the swelling of the volcano’s lava dome.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has long been seismically active. The last time La Soufriere erupted was in 1979 and there were no casualties due to advance warning. When it erupted in 1902 it killed more than 1,600 people.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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