Scientists examine landslide at Tent Bay on Saba “Complete evacuation the only option”

POSTED: 06/18/14 11:28 PM

THE BOTTOM, Saba – A large landslide in the vicinity of Tent Bay on Saba has put the authorities on high alert. The Island Council wants to review and improve the monitoring system for volcanic activities, Hazel Durand reports on Caribisch Netwerk.

“When there are significant volcanic activities there is no safe place to take shelter. The only option would be a complete evacuation of the population to St. Maarten or Statia,” says Saba’s Marine Park manager Kai Wulf. “This is a serious concern among Sabans and it has to be taken seriously.”

Geology and Geochemistry professor at the Free University Amsterdam Dr. Piet Vroon and professor Environment Epidemiology at the University Utrecht Dr. Manfred J. van Bergen are in Saba to study volcanic activities together with three master students. “The steepness of the terrain shows a certain type of volcanic activity that creates potential dangers. This has to be examined in great detail,” Vroon said.

Divers of three diving schools reported the landslide to Saba Marine Park that in turn advised divers to avoid the area for the time being. The hill that partly collapsed is situated above a popular diving spot called Hot springs, a volcanically active area just outside of the island’s port.

Small landslides are not rare, but the magnitude of the one on Sunday June 8 was alarming. Since then there have been regular small landslides in the same area.

Sulfuric vapors and water are affecting the hill. Vroon thinks that the recent earthquake that hit Anguilla on April 5 has triggered the landslide on the unstable hill. The quake near Anguilla measured 5.0 on the Richter-scale and shockwaves were felt in Saba, Statia and St. Maarten.

Since Saba was founded in 1640 there have been no reports about eruptive activity. Past studies mark that the area where the landslide took place as dangerous because of the active hot sources at the bottom of the rock.

Vroon was in Saba for a different research but he accepted immediately the request by local authorities to advise about the incident. “With a volcano of this type of morphology people have to be aware. Several inspections are necessary,” his colleague Van Bergen says. “There is so little research into volcanoes in the Antilles. The available information is basic. We want to enlarge our knowledge.”

Van Bergen suggests conducting an elementary observation in the form of notes and pictures as a first step. “Think about changes in the landscape, for instance in the vegetation or when gaps between rocks are becoming wider. This could be a warning for future events.”

The Commissioner for the environment, Chris Johnson, says that the matter has the full attention of the Island Council. “When I am in the Netherlands next week for the annual Caribbean Dutch week, I will bring this to the attention of the relevant ministries.”

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