A volcano erupted Friday for the first time in 40 years on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, prompting thousands of people to evacuate, seismologists and other officials said.
The blast from La Soufriere, the highest peak in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, sent plumes of ash 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) into the air, the local emergency management agency said.
"Please leave the red zone immediately. La Soufriere has erupted. Ash fall recorded as far as Argyle International Airport," the National Emergency Management Organization said. The airport is in the southern part of the 18-mile long island while the volcano is in the north.
The eruption was confirmed by the seismological research center at the University of the West Indies.
La Soufriere had not erupted since 1979, and its largest blow-up happened over a century ago, killing more than 1,000 people in 1902.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves started issuing evacuation orders late Thursday for residents in so-called red zones, home to some 16,000 people on the biggest island in the archipelago.