The volcano on Montserrat

This island in the East Caribbean used to be a tourist hotspot. Now it's just a hotspot. On July 18, 1996, the long-dormant Soufriere Hills volcano in the south end of the British colony of Montserrat began exhibiting signs of major activity, about 350 years after its last eruption.

For the next two years, the 5,000 residents of Plymouth, Montserrat's capital city and port, endured temporary evacuations because of volcanic ash clouds and related seismic activity.

In June 1997, the lava dome inside the volcano burst. An International relief effort evacuated people to the north of Montserrat after lava traveling at up to 200 miles per hour caused fatalities and destroyed seven small villages. Plymouth was a ghost town by the time lava flowed into it that August. Today the town lies burned and partially buried by volcanic rubble and gray ash.

Two-thirds of the island is still unsafe, but permanent resettlement has begun in the north. Hotels have been built, and a trickle of tourists has returned.

Though volcanic activity has subsided, ash clouds up to eight miles high have been recorded. Lava flowing down the island's White River has formed a delta extending into the sea.

Chelston Lee, a spokesman for the Montserrat Volcano Observatory on the island, says that no one can predict what the volcano will do next. Such forecasts are "not an exact science," he said by phone.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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