Thousands of residents of the eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent are being evacuated due to the danger of an imminent volcanic eruption.
Government officials tweeted that the dome of the La Soufriere volcano located in the island’s northern region could be seen glowing by nightfall following days of seismic activity.
The island’s emergency management office switched the alert level to red as officials began to evacuate people who live near the volcano to cruise ships, which have been instructed to send them to nearby islands or take them to shelters elsewhere in St Vincent that are outside the danger zone.
Roughly 16,000 people live in the red zone and will need to be evacuated, Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Centre, told The Associated Press.
Evacuation efforts could be hampered by the pandemic.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in a press conference that people have to be vaccinated if they go aboard a cruise ship or are granted temporary refuge in other nearby islands.
He said two Royal Caribbean cruise ships are expected to arrive by Friday and a third one in the coming days, as well as two Carnival cruise ships by Friday.
Islands that have said they would accept evacuees include St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua.
Mr Gonsalves said he was talking to other Caribbean governments to accept people’s ID cards if they do not have a passport.
“This is an emergency situation, and everybody understands that,” he said.
The PM added that he highly recommends those who opt to go to a shelter in St Vincent and the Grenadines, an island chain of more than 100,000 people, be vaccinated.
The volcano last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.