Up to Press time, mud continued spewing several feet into the air from two large craters lying in close proximity to a pumping jack in the Los Bajos Field located at Francis Trace. The erupting mud was accompanied by the strong scent of methane gas.
Long time residents of the area told Newsday this was the first time that the area ever experienced a volcanic eruption and that there were never any signs of activity to cause concern.
Shocked villagers said they were awakened by a loud rumble yesterday morning and later discovered that a flat piece of grassy land on which they had walked and played the day before had been transformed into two mud volcanoes.
There were reports of similar activity at smaller type craters in the neighbouring Wadell Village and up to late yesterday officials were said to be monitoring the situation.
Yesterday Acting Assistant Divisional Fire Officer Anthony Jules (South) told Newsday that evacuees would be housed at Los Bajos Youth Facility at Bennet Village, Santa Flora. “There are three rooms and a kitchen and it should be able to house the evacuees.” The evacuation process of 12 households began at about 10.30 am yesterday.
According to reports, at about 2 am yesterday, residents were awakened by a loud rumble and upon checking discovered mud spewing from the earth. There were also reports of gas emissions.
Appliances from the Santa Flora Fire Station and Petrotrin’s Santa Flora facility responded to the distress call together with senior Petrotrin officials, personnel from the Office of the Disaster Preparedness and Manage-ment (ODPM), officers and councillors from the Siparia Regional Corporation. Insp Basdeo Deonarine along with officers from the Santa Flora Police Station was also on hand.
The eruption caused a traffic pile-up along the Santa Flora Main Road, while scores of curious onlookers visited the area and were spotted video-taping the activity. Petrotrin officials along with firefighters walked from house to house and informed residents about safety measures and also ordered them to evacuate their homes.
Robbie Mohammed, 26, a Petrotrin plant fitter who lives opposite the disaster area, was one of 14 members of his family ordered to leave the area yesterday. He recalled to Newsday what he heard yesterday morning.
He said, “Around 2 am yesterday I heard a loud rumble, something like a washing machine tumbling and I came outside to investigate. There was nothing at first — then all of a sudden I felt the earth rocking, I heard gas blowing out, then the ground just split open and start to throw up mud.”
He described it as a frightening experience. He said it was only on Monday that there were gas emissions coming from the area and Petrotrin officials visited and locked it off.
Mohammed’s mother, Parbatie, 53 told Newsday she has lived on the spot for 35 years and never witnessed such an activity.
“Up to yesterday the ground was normal,” she said, “I stored building material including sand and gravel on the ground but it disappeared into the earth with the eruption.”
Arthur Sanderson, Petrotrin’s Corporate Communications Manager, Santa Flora, who was on hand, told Newsday that at about 4 am the company received a report of the activity at Los Bajos Field. He explained, “This is an activity in which mud and gas are escaping from the earth’s core.”
Sanderson said he was not sure if a recent earthquake was responsible for the eruption. “At this moment there is a high density of gas and the area is very unsafe that is why officials have ordered evacuation.”
Newsday also spoke to Arnold Corneal, Petrotrin’s Corporate Communications Manager, Pointe-a-Pierre, who described the activity as a “gas leaks”, and said it was too early to determine the cause. “Petrotrin has two well heads in the area and both of them are intact. We have not determined if our wells at all are spewing gas. Our people are down there conducting testing right now and we will not be sure until some time tomorrow.”
Corneal added that the geology and landscape of Santa Flora, Rancho Quemado and Palo Seco naturally produce volcanic activity. “There are natural fissures that keep erupting with oil, gas and mud,” he said.
According to the Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, (GSTT), mud volcanoes all over the world are associated with quietly or explosively escaping methane gas and that it is reasonable to conclude that the presence of methane gas in the subsurface is also an essential feature of the phenomenon. “The mud of the volcanoes is a mixture of clay and salt water which is kept in the state of a slurry by the boiling or churning activity of escaping methane gas.
Commonly the activity of a mud volcano is simply a mild surface upwelling of muddy and usually saline water accompanied by gas bubbles. However, many instances are known of highly explosive eruptions where large masses of rock have been violently blown out hundreds of feet into the air and scattered widely over the countryside,” the GSTT stated.
On July 26 and 31 2007, an underwater mud volcano off Point Radix, Mayaro burst to life, causing the waters around the activity to change colour while tiny bubbles of escaping gas were seen. There are several mud volcanoes scattered throughout Trinidad including the most famous at Devils’ Woodyard, Piparo and Penal.