WHEN NOWARNING of an explosion came from authoritative sources on the weekend, Vincentians should have realised that the rumours of another eruption at La Soufriere were false.
Professor Richard Robertson, lead scientist at the UWI Seismic Research Centre made this observation while speaking during the latest volcano update on NBC radio yesterday morning.
Panic wracked many Vincentians on Saturday evening when a large steam plume was observed at the summit of St Vincent’s active volcano. Many took to various social media platforms to make declarations of yet another eruption, even in the absence of information from the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) or the UWI Seismic monitoring team.
These rumours were quickly dispelled by a release issued by NEMO, which said definitively that La Soufriere was not erupting. Rather, heavy steaming was taking place as a result of heavy rainfall interacting with very hot rocks and gases, thus creating heavy steam plumes rising from the crater.
“People have lived through explosions and know what explosions look like. That did not look like an explosion and I could say that both because of the fact that I know what could happen, but also on the weekend, it just happened that on that day most of my time was actually physically spent in the area of Richmond and Wallibou. I was constantly watching the volcano so the chances of something happening and I missing that was extremely unusual,” Robertson said on radio yesterday.
He added that it was unfortunate that rumours of this magnitude were spread, given that there is a system in place for monitoring the volcano and its activity.
“…We have a system in place and the system is working. It has worked so far and they need to have confidence in that and not put themselves under any undue worry when they see and hear things that are clearly giving the wrong impression,” the scientist said.
Activity at La Soufriere continues to remain low since its last explosion on April 22, 2021.
While there have been few earthquakes recorded in recent times, Robertson said activity at the volcano continues to decline.
He added that there is a distinct visual difference in a plume caused by steaming and an explosion; while a steam plume appears white in colour, a plume caused by an explosion is very grey.
Even after the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) issued a statement to dispel rumours, persons took to social media to convey their distrust of local authorities in relation to the matter.
“Why did it not steam for the last set of rain we got few weeks ago? The rocks was cold then? Just asking for someone,” one Facebook user wrote under the release, which was shared on SEARCHLIGHT’s Facebook page.
Another Vincentian, who accused NEMO of not sharing timely information on the volcano with the public on previous occasions wrote: “Remember when you all keep the acting up of the volcano from us for months, not trusting you all in here.”
Professor Robertson said they do a lot “to try to make sure that people get right information…” said while adding that the thrust of the outreach team has been to ensure that people are well educated in terms of information on what is happening and also understanding it in a way that does not cause people to be alarmed.
“We have a team monitoring the volcano closely. We have a set of instrumentation that is as good as it has ever been in terms of monitoring the volcano so the chances of us having something happen without us not knowing and having known, not telling the public in a speedy manner, will be extremely unusual,” he said. “So, I think as soon as people heard whatever started, they should’ve realised that given that it didn’t have an authoritative source like Seismic or NEMO, saying or validating that, that it must’ve been something incorrect.”
the professor added that he and his colleagues have also been repeatedly saying that when there is a lot of rain, the hot rocks in the volcano will more than likely create steam, which if it gets vigorous can create a steam plume.
The heat at the summit of the volcano, along with lahars are some volcanic hazards that people should be aware of, even as activity at La Soufriere continues to decline.