Only those with COVID-19 vaccinations allowed to evacuate island experiencing erupting volcano

The island of St. Vincent is attempting to evacuate approximately 20,000 residents as a volcanic eruption continues to wreak havoc on the ground, and some neighboring islands are welcoming refugees brought in via cruise ship, but only if they have had or will agree to a COVID-19 vaccination.

On Friday, La Soufriere, a large volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, began erupting, sending thousands of residents nearby fleeing from the volcanic ash that has been raining down on the northern part of the island. The eruption has left communities without power or water. The National Emergency Management Organisation for St. Vincent and the Grenadines (NEMO SVG) tweeted on Thursday that some activity had been detected at La Soufriere. By Friday, the northern part of the island was in full emergency mode, evacuating nearby residents as quickly as possible.

A large part of the evacuation effort involved cruise ships, which are being used to transport evacuees by sea to areas on nearby islands. The first explosive eruption of La Soufriere was confirmed on Friday at 8:51AM by NEMO, who warned of ash fall within five minutes of the eruption. Over the weekend, more neighboring island countries began offering to receive evacuees from St. Vincent. In an effort to continue fighting the virus, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves mandated that all evacuees boarding ships must be vaccinated and “strongly recommended” that all evacuees entering a shelter should prepare to be vaccinated upon arrival.

This announcement has caused some people to hesitate heading to places like emergency shelters, as many are still skeptical of the vaccine. Those who evacuated are currently in temporary housing, but the neighboring countries are largely requiring vaccinations before allowing anyone in. The Prime Minister did not think this was an unreasonable request, advising evacuees that it could be “up to four months” until they can return home, and “If people are willing to welcome you at a time of COVID-19, they will wish you to have the highest level of protection possible.” Roughly 11% of the population of St. Vincent is vaccinated against COVID-19 currently, with the administrations of more vaccinations being slowed by the eruption of the volcano.

On March 24, NEMO tweeted out a bulletin warning that scientists had detected a “change in seismic activity associated with the ongoing eruption of the La Soufriere volcano.” The bulletin advised residents of communities close to the volcano to “heighten their preparedness” to evacuate, though there was no immediate threat of eruption detected at the time. NEMO continued to put out evacuation preparedness guidelines until April 8, when they tweeted a chilling message that read: “Significant change in seismicity at La Soufriere Volcano…Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves on standby to host press conference. #lasoufriereeruption #beprepared.” That was at 12:44PM. Merely hours later, at 4:53PM, Gonsalves issued an evacuation order for residents in the “red zone” where the eruption would be most damaging. Within an hour, the first Royal Caribbean vessel was on its way to move evacuees to safer locations. La Soufriere last erupted in 1979 but due to warnings ahead of time, no deaths were reported. That event in stark contrast to the one prior, in 1902, which killed over 1,600 people.




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