Eastern Caribbean issues rare alerts for rumbling volcanoes

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Volcanoes that have been quiet for decades come to life in the eastern Caribbean, prompting officials to issue alerts in Martinique and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as scientists rush to study the activity which they say hasn’t been observed in years.

The most recent warning was issued Tuesday evening for the La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, an island chain home to more than 100,000 people. Officials have reported tremors, heavy gas emissions, the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes in its crater lake.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency said scientists on Tuesday observed an “effusive eruption in the crater, with gas and vapor visible.”

The government warned those who lived near the volcano to prepare to evacuate if necessary, declaring an amber alert meaning eruptions could occur with less than 24 hours’ notice.

La Soufrière, located near the northern tip of the main island of Saint-Vincent, last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people. This happened shortly before Mont Martinique. Pelée burst and destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, killing more than 30,000 people.

Mt. Pelee is also active again. At the beginning of December, the officials of the French Caribbean territory issued a yellow alert due to seismic activity under the mountain. It was the first such alert issued since the volcano’s last eruption in 1932, Fabrice Fontaine, of the Martinique Volcanological and Seismological Observatory, told The Associated Press.

While the eastern Caribbean is a long chain of active and extinct volcanoes, volcanologist Erik Klemetti, of Denison University in Ohio, said activity at Mt. Pelée and La Soufrière are not related.

“It’s not like a volcano starts to erupt that others will,” he said. “It falls into the category of coincidences.

He said the activity was evidence that magma is lurking underground and percolating to the surface, although he added that scientists still don’t fully understand what controls how quickly this happens.

“The answers are not entirely satisfactory,” he said. “This is the science that is still being researched.”

Klemetti said the most active volcano in recent years in the eastern Caribbean was the Soufriere Hills in Montserrat, which has erupted continuously since 1995, destroying the capital of Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.

Seventeen of the 19 living volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean are located on 11 islands, with the other two lying underwater near the island of Grenada, including one called Kick ‘Em Jenny which has been active in recent years.

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