The Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted Friday afternoon, sending ash plumes 20,000 feet into the air hours after residents were ordered to evacuate the area, officials said.
Roughly 6,000 to 7,000 residents of St. Vincent who live near the volcano were already under mandatory evacuation orders issued Thursday. The island was placed on red alert, meaning an eruption was “imminent now,” according to the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). St. Vincent officials planned to place them aboard cruise ships to send them to nearby islands which have agreed to offer refuge, or provide temporary homes.
Four ships from three cruise lines were en route to help, according to reports from CNN.
In a tweet posted Friday around 8am ET, Ultimate Cruise News reported Royal’s Serenade of the Seas docked at St. Vincent.
It also said Celebrity Reflection was tracking towards St. Vincent.
The same publication tweeted shortly after reports of the first explosions were announced that Carnival Paradise is “closing in on St. Vincent where she will be docking soon to evacuate residents away from the erupting volcano,” and that Carnival Legend was also due to dock Friday.
Authorities worried the pandemic could affect the evacuation process. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in a press conference that people had to be vaccinated if they went aboard a cruise ship or were granted temporary refuge on another island.
It is unclear at the time of writing whether the ships have departed with any residents fleeing the volcano.
“More explosions could occur,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre told NBC News, adding that it was impossible to predict whether any potential upcoming explosions would be bigger or smaller than the first one.
According to NBC, there were no immediate reports of casualties. The La Soufrière volcano last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.