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La Soufriere volcano threatens thousands with ‘huge explosion’ in St. Vincent

St. Vincent’s La Soufrière volcano blew through its dome in the largest explosive eruption to date on Monday, as heavy ash blanketed the eastern Caribbean island.

Experts recorded a “huge explosion” from the volcano on Monday, when its violent eruption tore through its top and reshaped the peak entirely.

Richard Robertson, with the seismic research center, told local station NBC Radio that the volcano’s old and new dome have been destroyed and that a new crater has been created.

“Anything that was there — man, animal, anything — they are gone,” he said. “And it’s a terrible thing to say it.”

La Soufrière began erupting on Friday, triggering evacuation orders for 16,000 people. Officials still fear that some holdouts will not get out in time.

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St. Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano blows in ‘explosive eruption’

The volcano has spewed massive quantities of ash into the sky, blanketing the island in smoke and damaging buildings all around. Pyroclastic flows — fast-moving waves of solidified lava, volcanic ash and gas —  also poured down the south and southwest sides of the peak, threatening nearby homes.

“It’s destroying everything in its path,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press.

“Anybody who would have not heeded the evacuation, they need to get out immediately.”

Shocking photos shared by the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC) show buildings, cars and trees covered in ash on the island.

The current eruption is expected to last days or weeks. Parts of nearby island Barbados, to the east of St. Vincent, is also blanketed in volcanic ash carried by winds.

Local officials are already struggling to maintain the food and water supplies in St. Vincent, as falling ash taints much of the open-air resources available.

“We cannot put tarpaulin over a river,” said Garth Saunders, minister of the island’s water and sewer authority.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has urged his people to get out.

“It is over time for you to leave,” he said. “It is dangerous.”

Relief efforts are underway to supply the island with cots, tents, water tanks and other basic supplies. Empty cruise ships have also shown up to receive evacuees, although those evacuees have largely remained on the island so far.

The volcano is known to have erupted in 1718, 1814, 1902/1903 and most recently in 1979.

La Soufrière sits on the largest island of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines chain in the Caribbean.

— With files from Reuters

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