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Residents On High Alert After Volcano Eruption On St. Vincent And The Grenadines

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Residents in the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines remain on high alert after a volcano on the main island erupted this morning. Officials warn further eruptions could happen. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, ash spewed high and wide across the Caribbean.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: La Soufriere volcano, which has been dormant for decades, actually started rumbling last December. Experts predicted an eruption. They just weren't sure when. At 8:41 local time this morning, they got their answer.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Creole).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Residents on the main island of Saint Vincent tweeted their shock, as a dramatic cloud of gray ash shot miles into the sky, shaking after the eruption lasted for 40 minutes. The majority of the islanders live in the capital, Kingstown. They may not have felt the force of the eruption but are seeing the ash darkening the sky, says resident Lavern King.

LAVERN KING: The country's generally dark. And we can start to - you know, in the air, it's much different, and it's more humid.

KAHN: I reached King while she was driving to a shelter to deliver sandwiches and juices. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says 20 have been opened, and he acknowledged hiccups in the evacuation.

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RALPH GONSALVES: I don't want us to panic. I want us to be disciplined. I want us to be orderly.

KAHN: Speaking this morning, Gonsalves broke down while talking about the outpouring of support from nearby nations.

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GONSALVES: Bring tears to my eyes. I love this Caribbean.

KAHN: He may have to take them up on those offers. Experts say there could be more explosions. Erouscilla Joseph is the director of the Seismic Research Center at The University of the West Indies.

EROUSCILLA JOSEPH: Based on historical activity of this volcano, an eruption can keep going from weeks to months.

KAHN: But don't expect to see images of huge lava streams rolling down the flanks of the towering volcano, says Joseph.

JOSEPH: It's not the kind that you see in Hawaii or Iceland.

KAHN: In the Lesser Antilles, here she says the lava is thick and doesn't move much.

JOSEPH: It's sticky and not runny (laughter).

KAHN: The last time the volcano erupted was back in 1979. Advance warnings and evacuations saved lives then, and none were lost. In the eruption of 1902, however, more than 1,500 people were killed.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.