23.3.2022 – 20:59 Update
The responsible government member for civil protection Clélio Meneses has just confirmed that the alert level for a volcanic eruption has been elevated to level 4 on a scale of 5. This means there is a real risk of a volcanic eruption on São Jorge!
Since Saturday March 19 more than 2000 earthquakes have been registered on the Island of São Jorge. Thereof the population felt more than 100. Even though the events are of minor intensity with magnitudes around 2 and a maximum of 3.3 according to the Richter scale, the authorities are activating the emergency plans. Due to this evolving seismic crisis in São Jorge, the authorities advised travelers not to undertake any non-essential visits to São Jorge.
Earthquakes occur regularly in the Azores, no wonder, all 9 islands are of volcanic origin. The archipelago lies on a junction of the European, the North American and the African continental plates. The last major event on the Island of São Jorge occurred in 1964. In the western part of the island more than 900 buildings have been damaged, 400 completely destroyed. Subsequently, 5000 people have been evacuated to the neighboring Pico and Faial islands. Following the earthquake a sub aquatic volcanic eruption has been observed off the city of Velas. In 1808, the volcano of Urzelina erupted with a lava field reaching the coast. The earliest recorded eruption happened in the same area in 1580 with three eruptions in between Urzelina and Velas.
The current seismic crisis in São Jorge has similar characteristics like the previous events. A series of smaller earthquakes preceded the larger quakes and volcanic activity in the same area. So far there is no direct indication of volcanic activity or subterranean movements of magma. Even if the earthquakes are of tectonic origin, there is a risk that the movements could facilitate the magma to push towards the surface and result in a volcanic eruption. São Jorge lies on an independent tectonic fault line, therefore the neighboring islands of Pico, Faial and Terceira should not be affected directly by any event.
Precautionary emergency measures
As a reaction to the seismic crisis, the Civil Protection (SRPCBA) and the Center for Information and Surveillance of Seismic and Volcanic Activity of the Azores (CIVISA) have activated emergency plans as precautionary measures.
- Experts with special measurement equipment have been deployed to São Jorge
- The civil protection and fire brigades are on alert
- The population is asked to stay on alert
- Non essential travel to São Jorge should be avoided
- Emergency communication through SMS, social media, radio, TV
- Specially vulnerable persons to be evacuated from Velas to Calheta
- Evacuation plans for the municipality of Velas are prepared
- Evacuation zones are under preparation in the municipality of Calheta on São Jorge
- The Portuguese Armed Forces deploying additional resources
Stay calm but alert
The current level of seismic activity is above normal levels and the population is asked to stay calm but alert. So far no volcanic activity is recorded and the magnitude of earthquakes is low. Past experience shows that such seismic crises can stop but also can lead to natural disasters. Whilst the authorities are taking the necessary precautionary steps, the population is asked to follow the official information channels and measures.