The Azores Seismovolcanic Information and Surveillance Center (CIVISA) announced on Wednesday, it has raised the volcanic activity alert level on the island of São Jorge to V4 (out of a total of five), which means “real possibility of eruption.”
It may be necessary to evacuate the island partially or in full, the announcement said, due to the high seismic activity on the island since Saturday, with more than 2,000 earthquakes registered.
The Civil Protection of the Azores has already activated the Regional Emergency Plan the Secretary of Health, Clélio Meneses, revealed at a press conference in Angra do Heroísmo, on Terceira Island on Wednesday.
Accordingly, a mega-operation is already underway to the eventual removal of the five thousand inhabitants of the municipality of Velas, while the authorities have decided to relocate the most vulnerable individuals among the population most affected.
In case of an impending eruption, the bells of the parishes will warn the island population, the mayor of Velas town, Luís Silveira, said at a press conference. The alert will be followed by an evacuation plan involving the social networks and the local radio.
“The bells will be, basically, the most solid base that we have to give the signal for the exit of the parish, or in this case, of all the parishes in the municipality, in case it is a joint evacuation of the [six] parishes.” Luís Silveira said.
What is apparent, according to the severity of the new developments, is that all residents of São Jorge must be on alert and prepared for an imminent evacuation.
If it becomes needed, air and sea resources have been mobilized, while a military support camp is being prepared, located in the municipality of Calheta, .
“The space where the military forces will be stationed is already being prepared,” said mayor Silveira, adding that the space will be “equipped with the necessary conditions, such as water and energy, in a coordination of the municipal services of the Municipality of Calheta.”
“People must have their backpack prepared with the minimum, namely with a change of clothes, with their medicines, with some basic food,” Silveira said.
The mayor identified the area between Velas and Terreiros as the “most critical area” where three thousand people live. The municipality has about five thousand inhabitants. The total population of the island is about 8,400 people.
According to the regional secretary, Clélio Meneses, who also oversees Civil Protection services, several regional and national agencies, such as the national Civil Protection, the National Institute of Medical Emergencies (INEM) and the Red Cross are preparing their intervention in the imminence of a disaster situation.
Additional preventive measures are also being taken under the supervision of CIVISA and the Portuguese Institute for the Sea and the Atmosphere (IPMA), “in collaboration with scientists and groups from Iceland, Spain and Italy,” he said.
The island has been experiencing a severe seismic crisis since last Saturday, with more than 2,000 earthquakes of low magnitude registered. Although 142 of these earthquakes were felt by the population, there were no fatalities or damage to property reported.
Meanwhile, the Regional Government of the Azores has advised against travel to São Jorge island at this time. Officials advise that trips to the island should be postponed, and that travel should be undertaken only for essential reasons. For further updates on traveling to the island visit the Embassy of the United States in Portugal website.
Sāo Jorge, one of nine islands which make up the Azores, is home to about 8,400 people and is part of the archipelago’s central group, which includes the popular tourist destinations of Faial and Pico, which are also volcanic. Follow the seismic activity live in the Azores in real time here.
The Azores are sitting on the so called “Azores triple junction” area where the North American, Eurasian and African plates meet. This area is responsible for frequent geological activity on the islands. The most recent significant earthquake to hit the region in recent years occurred on January 1, 1980. Measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale the quake killed 61 people and injured over 400, causing severe damage on the islands of Terceira and São Jorge. It also shook the islands of Pico and Faial. Periodic volcanic eruptions and earthquake events with occasional tidal waves can have devastating effects on these islands. All the islands of the Azores are still volcanically active — except Santa Maria — which is farthest away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The last major volcanic eruption occurred in 1958 in Capelinhos on Faial island. The oldest and most catastrophic damaging quake in the area dates back to 1757, near Calheta, São Jorge island, and measured over 7 on the Richter Scale, killing an estimate 1,500. Other major past seismic events in São Jorge occurred in 1808, killing thirty people, and in 1900s when several underwater eruptions were recorded. Eruptions.are classified by magnitude according to the Richter scale: Micro (less than 2.0); Very Small (2.0-2.9); Small (3.0-3.9); Slight (4.0-4.9); Moderate (5.0-5.9); Strong (6.0-6.9); Large (7.0-7.9); Important (8.0-8) 9); Exceptional (9.0-9.9); and Extreme (when greater than 10).
Carolina Matos/Editor/ This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.