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Caribbean volcanoes show first signs of activity in decades

A volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent is rumbling back to life and spewing ash for the first time since 1979. The last major eruption of the volcano, La Soufriere, killed 1,600 people in 1902.

On Thursday, 100,000 residents of the island chain that includes St. Vincent and the Grenadines were advised to evacuate their homes. The government raised the alert level to orange, which indicates that the volcano could erupt within 24 hours. Officials recommended for people who live nearby to leave their homes immediately.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency said that steam and gas were seen over La Soufriere. Experts also spotted a volcanic dome, which forms when lava reaches the Earth’s surface.

About 100 miles from St. Vincent, on the Caribbean island of Martinique, authorities are also closely monitoring the Mount Pelee volcano after tremors beneath the mountain became more frequent last month. Officials in the French Caribbean territory issued a yellow alert in early December. This was the first time an alert had been issued for Mount Pelee since its last eruption in 1932, according to the Associated Press.

Experts have documented an increase in seismic activity on Mount Pelee since April of 2019 – the first activity since the end of an eruption that lasted from 1929 to 1932. 

Even though the eastern Caribbean is one long chain of volcanoes, Erik Klemetti of Denison University told ABC News that the activity at Mt. Pelee and La Soufriere are not related. “It’s not like one volcano starts erupting then others will. It falls into the category of coincidence.”

Klemetti told ABC that the activity is evidence that magma is lurking underground and percolating toward the surface. The mechanisms that control this process are not very well understood.

According to Klemetti, the most active volcano in the eastern Caribbean recently has been Soufriere Hills in Montserrat, which has erupted continuously since 1995.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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