La Soufrière Emergency Update (Barbados) – April 11, 2021. (PMO)

Homeowners and businesses are being encouraged to start the clean-up process to avoid a heavy build-up of ash from the erupting La Soufriere volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This advice comes from Director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Centre in Trinidad, Dr. Erouscilla Joseph, who was speaking during a virtual La Soufriere Emergency update press conference this afternoon.

Noting that it was not advisable to wait, the Director said persons should move “small increments” of ash in between ash falls to avoid the build-up.

She advised that the majority of ash should be swept up while it was still dry and placed in strong garbage bags to avoid it getting wet.  In cases where it was “very, very light”, it could be washed away.

However, Dr. Joseph explained, in cases where the ash was wet, persons should shovel it up as best as possible to avoid the weight of the ash becoming a challenge.

“The wetter it is, the more dense it is, and it will be heavy, so you want to get rid of it while it is still as dry as possible…. A light dampening is fine, in order to keep it down, you know from remobilising and stirring up in the air, and then you shovel that up, or sweep that up within a garbage bag and seal it….,” the Director pointed out, noting it would call for manpower and strength.

Persons are encouraged to remove ash safely by ensuring they wear an N95 mask preferably, or another type of mask to cover their nose and mouth, long sleeve clothing and long pants to avoid contact with the ash, where possible, as it could irritate the skin.

She added that the frequency in cleaning up the ash depended heavily on how it was building up and the occurrence of the eruptions. However, she urged people to remain indoors during active ash falls, and to only venture outside to clean after they were over.

The Director stated that these measures were necessary from now, as eruptions from the volcano could possibly go on for weeks.

Director of the UWI Seismic Research Centre, Dr. Erouscilla Joseph. (PMO)

“We just have to keep monitoring the seismicity associated with the volcanoes and advise, based on that, but given the previous eruptions, they have lasted six months to a year. This is the long-term span of the eruption, but in terms of the worst of it…it could be days to weeks,” she said.

Dr. Joseph said that unlike the eruptions of La Soufriere in 1902 and 1979, Barbados was being more severely impacted this time.

She explained that the height of the eruption column was taking the bulk of ash to the upper levels of the atmosphere where the wind direction reached over 15 kilometres bringing it directly west of Barbados and looping on occasion. This, she said, resulted in the ash fall from both the Leeward and Windward side.

“This was not seen in the previous eruptions in 1902 and 1979, so this is why unfortunately Barbados is being affected in the way in which it is by the ash, and of course the volume of ash that is being generated from the vertical eruption.”

Noting that more research was being conducted on the current situation, Dr. Joseph said from December 2020 a diffusive dome formed at the summit of the volcano, which meant that the magma was finding a “very easy, well lubricated pathway”.

She noted that this may be another reason why the situation was as it is presently, as more material was able to make its way to the surface of the volcano resulting in the explosions that were occurring.

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