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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Consultant - Clarence Greaves, island resident
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Montserrat, the official website of the MontserratTourist Board
- "Montserrat" Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- Montserrat Volcano Observatory, the government’s official website
- Montserrat Today, information on everything visitors need to know.
© 2012 Dora Isaac Weithers