Caribbean countries have offered to help by shipping emergency supplies or temporarily opening their borders.
Heavy ashfall rained over parts of the eastern Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and a strong smell of sulfur enveloped communities a day after a powerful explosion at the La Soufrière volcano uprooted the lives of thousands of people who evacuated their homes on government orders.
Caribbean countries including Antigua and Guyana on Saturday offered help by shipping emergency supplies or temporarily opening their borders to 16,000 evacuees fleeing ash-covered communities with as much personal belongings as possible in suitcases and backpacks.
The volcano, which last had a major eruption in 1979, continued to rumble and experts warned the explosions could continue for days or weeks.
A previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.
“The first blow is not necessarily the biggest blow this volcano will give,” said Richard Robertson, a geologist at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, at a press conference.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves called on people to stay calm, have patience and continue to protect themselves from the coronavirus as he celebrated that no deaths or injuries were reported after the eruption in the tip north of St. Vincent, which is part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines and is home to over 100,000 people.
“Agriculture will be badly affected, and we could have animal losses, and we will have to make repairs to houses, but if we have life, and we have the strength, we will build it back better, stronger, together.” said in an interview with NBC Radio, a local station.
Gonsalves said depending on the damage from the blast, life could take up to four months to return to normal.
2,000 people were staying in 62 government shelters on Friday while four empty cruise ships floated nearby, waiting to transport other evacuees to nearby islands.
Those staying in shelters were being tested for COVID-19, and anyone who tested positive would be taken to an isolation center.
The first explosion occurred on Friday morning, a day after the government ordered mandatory evacuations based on warnings from scientists who noted some type of seismic activity before dawn on Thursday, which meant that the magma was moving near the surface.
A column of ash erupted more than 7 km (23,000 feet) into the sky, with lightning crackling through the still towering cloud late Friday.
The ashes forced the cancellation of several flights and poor visibility limited evacuations in some areas.
Officials have warned that Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada could see a slight fall of ash as the 1,220-meter (4,000-foot) volcano continues to rumble. Most of the ash should be heading northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.
La Soufrière had already had an effusive eruption in December, prompting experts in the region to fly and analyze the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes to its crater lake, among others.
The Eastern Caribbean has 19 living volcanoes, including two submarines near the island of Grenada. One of these, Kick ‘Em Jenny, has been active in recent years.
But the most active volcano of all is Soufrière in Montserrat. It has erupted continuously since 1995, razing the capital of Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.