The Caribbean island of St Vincent has declared a red alert and issued an evacuation order after seismologists warned that the La Soufrière volcano shows signs of an imminent eruption.
The prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, issued the order on Thursday after several days of increased seismic activity.
The country’s National Emergency Management Organisation said on Twitter there was a “substantial prospect of disaster”, and warned residents to “be ready, get your things in order”.
“Safe areas where people will be evacuated to are from North Union to Kingstown, on the Windward side of the island, Barrouallie to Kingstown on the Leeward side and the Grenadine Islands,” Nemo tweeted.
A cruise ship from the Royal Caribbean line was heading to the island to help with evacuation efforts, Nemo said.
The geologist Richard Robertson said that La Soufrière could erupt in a matter of hours or days, according to the St Vincent online newspaper News 784.
Monitoring stations had reported long earthquakes, which suggested that fresh magma was trying to reach the surface, and indicated that the volcano was moving to “an explosive stage”.
Video posted on social media showed a plume of smoke towering above the volcano, which is the highest point in the island country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
La Soufrière has been increasingly active since November. On Monday, researchers from the University of the West Indies reported that its monitoring station had detected a “swarm of small volcano-tectonic earthquakes”, which increased steadily in magnitude.
“The earthquakes were located beneath the volcano’s summit at 6km depth. The largest event reached the magnitude of 3.5 that was felt by residents living close to the volcano,” the UWI said in a statement.
La Soufrière’s most devastating eruption was in 1902 when about 1,600 people – most of them indigenous Caribs – were killed.
It last erupted in April 1979, but there were no casualties as the local population was evacuated.