Volcanic eruption in Caribbean forces thousands of evacuations

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(NEW YORK) — The La Soufriere Volcano, located on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted Friday morning, forcing the evacuation of over 16,000 people from nearby homes.

Scientists had been monitoring the volcano’s activity for years and were able to alert the islands that make up the Grenadines island chain on Thursday that a major eruption would occur imminently via the National Emergency Management Organization of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Heavy ashfall and high plumes of smoke created low visibility and reportedly disrupted evacuation efforts in some surrounding communities, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said in a press conference on Friday.

He added that nearby islands Grenada, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda would be ready to receive people from St. Vincent by Monday.

Nearby cruise lines were alerted of the eruption and agreed to send four large cruise ships to support humanitarian efforts and evacuate residents, according to a statement released by Carnival Cruise Line.

Ahead of the eruption, Royal Caribbean announced on Twitter Thursday that it was also sending ships.

Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises are sending ships to St. Vincent in the Caribbean to evacuate residents currently at risk from a potential eruption of the island’s La Soufriere volcano which has seen increasing activity in recent days,” a statement said. “Both cruise lines are working closely with St. Vincent authorities to assist residents most at risk.”

Gonsalves said only vaccinated residents who have been checked and identified by Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines chief medical officer, will be allowed to board the ships out of an abundance of caution.

Each ship will accommodate up to 1,500 residents, who will be taken to neighboring islands that have agreed to receive the evacuees, according to Carnival Cruise Line.

Thousands of people who have not yet been vaccinated remained on land on Friday and are staying at local hotels in safe zones, Gonsalves said.

Professor Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center said during a press conference Friday that eruptions may continue for the next few days or weeks, and that experts will continue to monitor the situation.

The State Department said it is “not aware of any U.S. citizens affected at this time” by the volcanic activity, a spokesperson told ABC News.

The local U.S. Embassy issued an “alert” for the “red zones” of St. Vincent Thursday, but it does not have a figure for the number of U.S. citizens in the country right now.

ABC News' Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.

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