In the Azores, the island of Sao Jorge fears a volcanic eruption

In search of respite, residents of Sao Jorge continued to leave this island on Saturday in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, which in a week became the epicenter of thousands of small earthquakes that could have preceded the volcanic eruption.

“I can’t sleep good nights anymore. I’ve felt a few earthquakes and I need to forget about all of that for a bit,” Claudia Andrade told AFP before boarding a ferry with her nine-year-old son to nearby Pico Island.

“I’m leaving with a heavy heart because I’m leaving my husband and mother-in-law,” adds this 45-year-old construction worker who left with about fifty other passengers when it rained. an island located in the middle of the North Atlantic.

The strongest shock caused by this seismic crisis, which so far has not caused damage, reached a magnitude of 3.3 on the Richter scale last Saturday.

Port of the village of Velas, on the island of Sao Jorge in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, which has become the epicenter of thousands of small earthquakes in a week, on March 25, 2022 (AFP – PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA)

And because of the “threat of a magmatic eruption,” the Azores Center for Seismo-Volcanic Information and Monitoring has put Sao Jorge at the fourth level of danger out of six.

No evacuation order has been issued, but contingency plans exist to transport the population living in the western part of the stretched island, which is about 54 km long and 8 km wide if necessary, to areas considered safer.

– “Keep calm” –

Of their own free will, many residents of Velas, the main city of the island, located very close to the epicenter of seismic activity, have already temporarily moved to relatives living on the side of Calheta, further east.

And at least 1,250 people out of a total population of just over 8,000 have left the island altogether, the regional government said Friday, recommending against any unnecessary travel.

Port of the village of Velas, on the island of Sao Jorge in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, which has become the epicenter of thousands of small earthquakes in a week, on March 25, 2022 (AFP - PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA)
Port of the village of Velas, on the island of Sao Jorge in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, which has become the epicenter of thousands of small earthquakes in a week, on March 25, 2022 (AFP – PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA)

Others, on the other hand, refuse to give in to fears caused by rumors of an imminent eruption or the recent flashback of spectacular footage of the Cumbre Vieja volcano eruption on the island of Palma in the Spanish Canaries.

“All the people are leaving the island, but I think it’s a mistake,” Sonia Pacheco said in front of her house, located on the heights of Velas.

“You have to stay calm and wait for the alarm,” continues this 44-year-old cannery worker.

Located at the junction of the Eurasian, American and African tectonic plates, the nine islands of the Azores archipelago are of volcanic origin and are regularly subjected to earthquakes.

– “Amazing” phenomenon –

São Jorge Island experienced volcanic eruptions in 1580 and 1808. More recently, the eruption occurred in the sea, about 10 km from the coast of Velas, in 1964, and was preceded by “a seismic crisis very similar to the one here,” seismologist Joao Fontiela of the University of Évora’s Institute of Geosciences reported. .

Sonia Pacheco, 44, in front of her home in Velas, on the island of São Jorge in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, which was the epicenter of thousands of small earthquakes for a week, March 25, 2022 (AFP - PATRICIA DE MELO MOREira)
Sonia Pacheco, 44, in front of her home in Velas, on the island of São Jorge in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, which was the epicenter of thousands of small earthquakes for a week, March 25, 2022 (AFP – PATRICIA DE MELO MOREira)

“At this stage, it is still difficult to say whether there will be an eruption, and whether it will be on land or in the sea,” adds this expert, who came to the site from the continent to install additional seismographs to study the phenomenon. he describes as “amazing”.

“Usually, there are several dozen earthquakes a year in San Jorge, and there, in a few days, starting from last Saturday, their number is about 3,000,” he said.

The island forms a long volcanic mountain range, culminating at over 1,000 meters. It is known for its cow’s milk cheese and very fertile land nestled at the foot of imposing cliffs created by ancient lava flows or landslides.

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