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Volcano’s eruptions have Latter-day Saints hunkering down in meetinghouse

La Soufrière Volcano launches ash 6 miles into the air and pyroclastic flows down its sides

A man rides his bicycle along the main Black Rock road, covered with ash coming from the eruption of La Soufriere volcano in the neighboring island of St. Vincent, on the outskirts of Bridgetown, Barbados, Sunday, April 11, 2021.
Chris Brandis, Associated Press

Fifteen Latter-day Saint families in the Caribbean island nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have evacuated their homes and are staying in a church meetinghouse while the La Soufrière Volcano continues to erupt.

“Local leaders of the church are leading the efforts to safeguard members in coordination with authorities in the affected communities. Generators have been purchased to secure power in the church building as it is being used as a shelter with capacity for 50 people,” said Josue Vanderhorst, the Self-reliance and Welfare manager for the Caribbean Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church had no missionaries living on the island at the time of Friday’s massive initial eruption, according to a news release.

La Soufrière Volcano erupts on the island of St. Vincent on Sunday, April 11, 2021.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Additional, smaller eruptions continued over the weekend, but then early Monday morning an “explosive event,” the largest so far, caused pyroclastic flows and more ash and gas emissions, according to The Associated Press.

That blast also caused new power outages and disruptions to water supplies, according to the BBC.

The volcanic activity has not caused any known injuries, but heavy ash has blanketed the island, making driving treacherous in addition to the lack of water and electricity, according to the National Emergency Management Organization.

La Soufrière last erupted in 1979. In 1902, an eruption killed more than 1,600 people.

Saint Vincent is part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines. It lies west of Barbados and just north of Grenada off the northeast coast of South America.

The volcano is on the north end of the island. Some 16,000 people in that area evacuated on Thursday, including the 15 families now staying at the church’s meetinghouse in Kingstown, the nation’s capital. Saint Vincent’s total population is about 100,000.

Food and water are being provided.

Another 35 Latter-day Saints families were prepared to evacuate if eruptions continue and threaten their homes. The church has three branches, or congregations, and 716 members on the island.

“The church’s emergency response committee is coordinating efforts to help safeguard the lives and well-being of members, as well as help them prepare, both at the individual and family level,” Vanderhorst said.

Latter-day Saints leaders are preparing to provide humanitarian relief in partnership with NEMO and the Salvation Army, including food, he said. The groups will ship goods to the island from Puerto Rico, a church news release said.

Earthquakes associated with La Soufrière increased in late March and the volcano’s dome doubled in size over the past month before exploding on Friday.