Following days of increased seismic activity at La Soufrière Volcano in St. Vincent and The Grenadines, the leader of the CARICOM member nation has issued an evacuation order for surrounding communities.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said he received communication from Professor Richard Robertson of the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies, based in Trinidad and Tobago.

Gonsalves said Professor Robertson indicated to him that the situation had deteriorated further at La Soufrière. He (Gonsalves) said that he also spoke to Michelle Forbes, the Director of National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), and she tendered him advice relevant to evacuation.

“You may recall at 1 o’clock, Professor Robertson had indicated a fresh batch of magma either near or approaching the surface of the volcano, and the possibility of the volcano moving to an explosive phase has increased significantly.”

Gonsalves said since then there has been further heightened activity, and he (Robertson) would have explained what has occurred, and had given the recommendation.

Robertson explained that the activity changed significantly early Thursday morning with the onset of tremor activity.

“You would have had six series of tremors interspersed by two and half hours.”

He said the last period of tremor was accompanied by gas venting.

“It looks clearly like it wants to clear its throat. It looks to us like a kind of explosion, and at this point we cannot say for sure nothing will happen within the next 24 hours…to guarantee safety of the people, we have to make certain decisions.

“We would not be surprised, for example, if sometime within the next 24 to 48 hours there are explosions from the volcano much more significant than we have seen so far.”

Having received that report earlier, Gonsalves issued the following order:

“I hereby order as follows: 1) the evacuation of all premises in the areas designated as the red zone on the northeast and northwest of St Vincent and the evacuation of the area itself…and 2) the exclusion of persons, vessels or vehicles form such premises and areas, save and except for the purpose of effecting the said evacuation,”

He emphasised that while the evacuation order would be published today (Friday), it would take immediate effect.

“I want to urge all our people to be calm, do not panic, be disciplined, be orderly.”

“Royal Caribbean said they would be available to transport persons for a short period of time and to hold our people who are evacuated,” Gonsalves said

According to the Prime Minister, Royal Caribbean was offering three of its ships, two of them expected to arrive by this morning, while Carnival Cruise Line has also indicated that by this evening, two of its cruise ships will be in the country to transport evacuees.

“The cruise ships of Royal Caribbean will be first used to transport the persons from St Vincent and the Grenadines who are to be evacuated to other countries in the region who have offered temporary hospitality, namely St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua,” he said, adding that the British Virgin Islands has also offered assistance but arrangements have not been made.