Montserrat Before and After Volcanic Eruptions (1997)

Montserrat, known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean is located 1,200 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. It is 12 miles long and 7 miles wide. Formerly developed as a residential tourism island, the mini paradise is now being described in terms of before and after the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano.

Montserrat between the Caribbean Ocean (left) and the Atlantic Sea (right), showing location of the Soufriere Hills volcano (white in purple section).  Credit: Oskarp
Montserrat between the Caribbean Ocean (left) and the Atlantic Sea (right), showing location of the Soufriere Hills volcano (white in purple section). Credit: Oskarp | Source

On July 18, 1995, the volcano awoke, coughing smoke and rumbling with intense energy. (Scientists at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory believe that the last eruption was 1,500-2,000 years earlier). It covered Plymouth the capital under pyroclastic flows of hot rock and lava 50ft to 60ft high in some places. Labeled the exclusion zone, the southern part of the island was declared unfit for dwellings. The Soufriere Hills Volcano is now the main attraction where the capital used to be.

Plymouth's 5,000 residents needed to relocate and the 5,000 to 6,000 people scattered over the rest of the island faced major problems caused by lack of housing and disruption of the economy. Half of the island's population fled to foreign countries, including the United Kingdom which granted British citizenship to the new arrivals.

Between 1995 and 1997, the volcano remained active spitting ashes all over the lush greenery and rugged, majestic hills. Then on June 25, 1997 a major eruption occurred, killing nineteen people. “Pyroclastic flows burned much of what was not covered in ash” (R. P. Hoblitt on Wikipedia). The latest eruption of the volcano was on February 7, 2010. No ash has fallen since that date, but the volcano remains active (2012) emitting gases sporadically.

Of the island's three parishes only St. Peter in the north is inhabitable
by its 4,000 to 5,000 people. Saint Anthony and Saint Georges are part of the exclusion zone.

"On August 3, about 3 weeks after this image was taken, the first significant pyroclastic flow swept through the evacuated town."  Photo by R. P. Hoblitt
"On August 3, about 3 weeks after this image was taken, the first significant pyroclastic flow swept through the evacuated town." Photo by R. P. Hoblitt | Source
"This false-color satellite images show the southern half of Montserrat on March 17, 2007...Red areas are vegetated, clouds are white, blue/black areas are ocean water, and gray areas are covered by flow deposits."  Credit: NASA
"This false-color satellite images show the southern half of Montserrat on March 17, 2007...Red areas are vegetated, clouds are white, blue/black areas are ocean water, and gray areas are covered by flow deposits." Credit: NASA | Source
Plymouth destroyed.  Photo by Godot13
Plymouth destroyed. Photo by Godot13 | Source
A Brief History of Montserrat
1493. The Caribs and Arawaks inhabited the island when Christopher Columbus claimed it for Spain and named it Santa Maria de Montserrat.
1632. The island fell under British control and the first colony was established by Irish Catholics forcibly moved there from St. Kitts.
1660s. African slaves were brought in.
Late 1770s. Thanks to the labor of African and Irish slaves, the colony developed, promoting an economy based on sugar, rum, arrowroot and cotton.
1782. Montserrat was captured by the French during the American Revolutionary War, but was returned to Britain under the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
1834. Slavery was abolished, leading to the decline of the sugar industry.
1869. British philanthropist Joseph Sturge and family established the Montserrat Company Limited; planted lime trees; started commercial production of lime juice; allowed natives to buy and own much of the island.
1871 to 1956. Montserrat became part of the Leeward Islands Colony of Great Britain.
1956. The island became a colony in its own right.
1958 to 1962. Montserrat joined the West Indies Federation, but returned to dependency on Britain when the Federation ceased to exist.
1979. The Beatles producer George Martin opened AIR Studios. World-famous musicians flocked there to record and enjoy the island’s tropical beauty.
1989. Hurricane Hugo wrought havoc on Montserrat and the studio closed.
1995. The Soufriere Hills Volcano awoke, and is still considered active.
Montserrat Cultural Center opened in 2007.  Photo by David Stanley
Montserrat Cultural Center opened in 2007. Photo by David Stanley | Source
Montserrat National Museum.  Photo by Christine Walker Hawks
Montserrat National Museum. Photo by Christine Walker Hawks | Source

After The Volcano

The natives and the volcano continue to co-exist quietly. According to Clarence Greaves, Montserratian resident, “The separation of families was and still is the worse tragedy of all.” Visitors to the island have much to gain by witnessing the strength, creativity and resilience of the friendly islanders.


THINGS TO SEE

Sir George Martin (knighted in 1996) was one of the major donors towards the construction of a new concert hall/conference center on the island, used for weekend movies, musical performances, wedding celebrations and the like.

Salem Village (familiar to the author during the 1970s) lies on the western side of the island and buzzes with life as usual during the day. It offers a reasonable night life in bars where natives can play pool or just sit and chat over rum and coke.

Duck Pond National Park occupies 6 ½ acres at a height of 1,650 feet providing wonderful views of the southern part of the island.

Garibaldi Hill is also a good location from which to view the former capital, Plymouth and the volcano.


Little Bay, Montserrat.  Photo by David Stanley
Little Bay, Montserrat. Photo by David Stanley | Source
Clockwise:  ashew, breadfruit, mango, Ylang ylang.  Credit:  David Stanley
Clockwise: ashew, breadfruit, mango, Ylang ylang. Credit: David Stanley | Source

THINGS TO DO

Montserrat is the only country outside Ireland where St Patrick's Day is a national holiday. Montserratians celebrate St. Patrick's Day in the midst of a weeklong St. Patrick’s Festival every year. They highlight their Irish background and feature events which include a Catholic Church service, a Freedom Run, St. Patricks Day dinner and a Calypso Competition.

Among the many activities which tourists can enjoy are: bird watching (there are 34 native species, plus others on their migratory tours); hiking—up the Cott Trail, pass the banana plantation and the Cot which was once the Sturges’ family summer cottage; or up the Center Hills Trails where the tree frogs and the mountain chickens can be seen. Swimming, fishing, horse-back riding and night clubs can all be arranged.

There are about 30 restaurants on the island, and they are never short on tasty menus which offer locally-grown foods. Goat water, lobster burgers, coconut scallops and saltfish are among the favorites. They serve fresh juices made from native fruits like mangoes, guavas, soursop, tamarind and some you may never know until you get there.


WHERE TO STAY

The Tropical Mansion Suites which opened in 1999, is the only hotel to date. It is located within minutes of the new John A. Osborne Airport, the beaches and the shops. There is a swimming pool, a central gazebo, and a view of the hills for your enjoyment. All eighteen rooms have balconies and some have kitchenettes. Surrounded by all the tropical views you dream of, you wouldn’t miss a thing.

In addition, there are apartment, campground and villa rentals, as well as guesthouses. Cable television, air condition or ceiling fans are usually available.


Caribe Queen sails between Antigua and Montserrat.  Photo by David Stanley
Caribe Queen sails between Antigua and Montserrat. Photo by David Stanley | Source

Travel to Montserrat

­ In February 2005, the British Princess Royal, Anne opened the new John A. Osborne airport (also called the Geralds Airport after the village near it). New docking facilities have also been constructed at Little Bay in the northwest where a new town is developing.

Visitors to Montserrat can enter through the neighboring island of Antigua by air or by sea. The daily fifteen-minute flights are operated by two airlines—Fly Montserrat and SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) Airlines, on small nine-seater aircrafts. The two-hour ferry service is operated by an Antiguan-based company called Ondeck on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The daily tours include an island tour, volcano viewing and lunch.

Montserrat in the Caribbean sounds like the perfect place for your next vacation.

Credits

  • Consultant - Clarence Greaves, island resident
  • Montserrat, the official website of the MontserratTourist Board
  • "Montserrat" Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  • Montserrat Today, information on everything visitors need to know.

© 2012 Dora Isaac Weithers

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Comments 24 comments

Pamela-anne profile image

Pamela-anne 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

What a wonderful hub your pics are great; it just goes to show us that mother-nature rules in the end! It is amazing that people had lost everything and were forced to leave their homes; but those who came back to rebuild showed their love for Monserrat thanks for sharing! take care pam.


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 4 years ago from london

Your hubs are many and varied, and you show an excellent ability to turn a story into useful journalism and excellent inspiration. As just illustrated, you do have a good eye for history and the right symmetry in which to espouse same. I commend you on an informative hub.


robhampton profile image

robhampton 4 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

Great article! Very informative. Voted up


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Pamela-anne, you're so right. Mother Nature is beyond our control and Montserratians do love their country. Thanks for your comment.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Manatita, you're very kind. Thank you very much for your commendation. Glad you're inspired.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Rob, thanks for the comment and the vote. I appreciate you!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I couldn't believe the damage that happened on the island. Although thanks for pointing out that the island it's still alive. Voting this Up and Interesting.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks alocsin. Yea, the people are very resilient and determined to rebuild. Exceptional people!


Lennox Abrigo 4 years ago

MsDora: For your brilliant work here, I owe you a debt of gratitude. This delightfully skillful narrative, which focused on Montserrat, introduced me to important historical data related to the Eastern Caribbean. Thanks! Your work is invaluable.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you liked the article.


unvrso profile image

unvrso 4 years ago from Mexico City

Interesting! This is an example of how destructive volcanoes can be. Fortunately knowing the dangers and how to react as a consequence can save many lives. Voted useful! and thanks for the follow!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks to you Unvrso for following the link. I learned so much from your article.


yazan 3 years ago

you have good enspiration of volcanoes


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thank you, yazan. I appreciate you, stopping by.


shofarcall profile image

shofarcall 3 years ago

Hi Msdora,

This was such an interesting hub for me as I visited Montserrat in November 2011 because I have a daughter and grandchildren living there.

I was so blessed while there as for the first time since the volcano blew in 1995 - the exclusion zone closest to the volcano was opened for brief daily visits. We were able to go into the suburbs surrounding Plymouth and that was such an eye opener. All these homes which would have been quite opulent given over to nature with trees growing up through their verandahs and even inside the houses. Even the roads were beginning to be reclaimed by nature. It was fascinating.

My daughter lives just inside the safe zone and I believe most of the residents there would disagree regarding the statement that there is no longer any ash because depending on what direction the wind is blowing in or if the volcano is rumbling, and spewing, they sometimes have a dark thick layer on their kitchen counters in the morning and on the outside verandahs and on the plants.

What an amazing island it is though. And such welcoming, friendly people. I was amazed at how they have managed to re-create the infrastructure on what was the least populous part of the island, including the airport, hospital, school etc.

I have really enjoyed your hub. Thank you. God Bless Voted up and useful, interesting


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Shofarcall, thanks so much for sharing your experience on this beautiful island. I worked there as a teacher in the 1970s and have always wanted to revisit. Hope I can, soon. I agree, it is an amazing island.


Amai 3 years ago

thanks for the informati0n on montserrat and my home work


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Amai, glad you found the article. Montserrat was and still is a beautiful island. Would like to revisit. Take care!


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK

An interesting article MsDora, with fine, wide-ranging photos and a nice history lesson on the island, its culture, and its recent troubles at the hands of Mother Nature. Also a very informative video to commence the article - a video which is a great advertisement for the island and the spirit of the islanders. MsDora, I am sure some who may have been deterred from visiting Montserrat by news from the island, may think again after reading your excellent review of the island and its recovery since the volcanic eruption. Voted up. Alun.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Greensleeves, thank you for reading. The effect you described is the exact effect I would the article to have on other readers. I lived on the island for three years in its pristine beauty, and the remaining residents are trying their best to rebuild.


dis-cover profile image

dis-cover 2 years ago from Serbia, Belgrade

An interesting, educative and informative hub. What a turbulent history of this amazing island. Fertile land attracts the people to co-exist with volcano. Unfortunately, that kind of relationship can be fatal sometimes. Thank's for sharing this with us. Voted up!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Dis-cover, these people are fully aware of their danger, having witnessed fatalities resulting from the inhalation of volcanic ash months after it happened. They're adventurous and they love their island. Thanks for your input.


Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis Rix 2 months ago from UK

Interesting hub. Voted up and shared. The volcanic expulsion was dreadful - it received a lot of news coverage here in the UK.

Hopefully the residents are now rebuilding their lives.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks Glenis. Two years after my article, Blane Bachelor wrote in a FoxNews Travel article about Montserrat:

"The pivotal project on the horizon is a new capital city and port that will be built on the northwest coast, in Little Bay. . . the project will include a hotel and government buildings and is estimated to cost around $300 million. Completion is estimated for 2020."

There is hope.

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