Churches closed in Barbados and the Windward Islands due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano

A photo taken Friday of La Soufriere after the first eruption

The Bishop of Barbados has cancelled services for the second Sunday of Easter due volcanic ash covering the island from the eruption of La Soufriere volcano on the island of St Vincent.

Since Friday, 9 April 2021, the volcano has erupted three times. Dr. Erouscilla Joseph, director of The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC) told reporters the volcano “continues to show periods of explosive activity”.

Residents of St Vincent awoke on Saturday to “extremely heavy ash fall and strong sulphur smells which have now advanced to the capital,” according to a Twitter post from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Thursday ordered the evacuation of approximately 9000 people living close to the volcano after seismic monitors reported an eruption was imminent. The island has been placed on a “red alert” state of emergency. Schools, churches and non-essential businesses have been closed.

La Soufrière has erupted five times in modern history: 1718, 1812, 1902, 1979, and 2021. The 6 May 1912 eruption killed 1,80 people hours before the eruption of Mount Pelee on Martinique killed 29,000.  The majority of those killed in the 1912 eruption were Carib Indians whose villages surrounded the volcano. The 1979 eruption caused no deaths due to advanced warning from seismic monitors. The ash plume in 1979 reached Barbados, 100 miles to the east of the volcano.

The ash plume from Friday’s eruption has now reached Barbados. The Rt. Rev.  Michael Maxwell on Saturday advised the 52 churches in his diocese to remain closed for health and safety reasons.

“In light of the heavy inflow and deposit of ash within our island from the volcanic eruption in St Vincent, that when exposed to and inhaled can be hazardous to our health, please be informed that our churches are to be closed for in-person worship tomorrow, April 11, 2021,” he said in a notice sent to priests around the island.

“Sorry for this late notification, but it is evident now that conditions are not improving and are unlikely to change within the next 24 hours, as La Soufriere continues to erupt and release large plumes of ash our way.“Please endeavour to inform your congregants of this closure and be encouraged to offer a short service/devotion tomorrow via a virtual platform, if that is possible.”