When I watched this video, I thought, okay, laid-back Caribbean people living around a volcano that they know pretty well…
That is from a very large eruption! One that you wouldn’t want to be on the same island with.
“We know it can be dangerous…” is the intellectual understanding that there is a problem. However, I suspect, that except possibly in the most professional volcanologists with a lot of experience around explosive eruptions, an intellectual grip on things is one of the first things to go when a mountain explodes.
Per the Global Volcanism Program, the 1902 eruption was a VEI 4 and the 1979 eruption was VEI 3.
Wikipedia notes that the 1902 eruption killed almost 1,700 people, almost all of them Carib Indians. It came after 15 months of unrest.
The climactic phase of the eruption started around noon on May 7, and lasted until approximately 5 am on May 8. Sporadic explosions continued until April 1903 when the eruption ended. Although there are detailed eyewitness accounts of the events both prior to the climactic phase, and those that followed, exactly what happened during the climax of the eruption is not well documented, as many of those present on the flanks of the volcano were killed, and those observing from a distance could only describe the climax of the eruption as a black cloud that flowed down all flanks of the volcano.
I don’t know for sure but suspect that even that cataclysm wasn’t responsible for the massive ash deposit shown above. As we will see below, this volcano has had larger eruptions before historic times.
In 1979, scientists were able to get everybody out of harm’s way even though the volcano gave them less than 24 hours’ notice.
Soufrière Saint Vincent has both explosive (1902, 1979) and effusive (1971-72) types of eruptions, and some experts suggest it alternates between the two. They also say, “Although there are no historic records of such [plinian and ultraplinian] activity, the presence of thick late Pleistocene ashfall deposits throughout St Vincent as well as thick scoriaceous ashfall on the lower flanks of the volcano demonstrates that the Soufrière has the capacity for events of this kind.” (links added)
Over 100,000 people live on the island now. Hopefully, the next time La Soufrière acts up, it won’t be one of the big eruptions and there will be enough time once more for a complete evacuation.
Front page image of one stage of the 1979 eruption is by Robert Fiske via the Smithsonian (under “Photo Gallery”)
Categories: Sunday morning volcano