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Montserrat Before and After Volcanic Eruptions (1997)

MsDora grew up, received early education and taught school in the Caribbean. Read her love and pride of the region—people and place.

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

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. 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, 1995 the first significant pyroclastic flow swept through  Plymouth.

On August 3, 1995 the first significant pyroclastic flow swept through Plymouth.

Plymouth, the former capital, destroyed.

Plymouth, the former capital, destroyed.

Southern half of Montserrat on March 17, 2007. Red: vegetated. White: clouds. Blue/black: ocean water. Gray: covered by flow deposits.

Southern half of Montserrat on March 17, 2007. Red: vegetated. White: clouds. Blue/black: ocean water. Gray: covered by flow deposits.

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, with an economy based on sugar, rum, arrowroot and cotton.
  • 1782. Montserrat was captured by the French during the American Revolutionary War, but 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 recorded there and enjoyed 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, used for weekend movies, musical performances, wedding celebrations and the like.

Salem Village 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.

Montserrat Cultural Center opened in 2007.

Montserrat Cultural Center opened in 2007.

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.

Little Bay, Montserrat.

Little Bay, Montserrat.

Clockwise:  ashew, breadfruit, mango, Ylang ylang.

Clockwise: ashew, breadfruit, mango, Ylang ylang.

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.

Caribe Queen sails between Antigua and Montserrat.

Caribe Queen sails between Antigua and Montserrat.

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 Weithers

Comments

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 18, 2016:

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.

Glen Rix from UK on September 18, 2016:

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.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 18, 2014:

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.

Nikolic Predrag from Serbia, Belgrade on April 18, 2014:

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!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on October 21, 2013:

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.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on October 21, 2013:

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.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 10, 2013:

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

Amai on September 10, 2013:

thanks for the informati0n on montserrat and my home work

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 14, 2013:

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.

shofarcall on January 14, 2013:

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

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on December 11, 2012:

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

yazan on December 10, 2012:

you have good enspiration of volcanoes

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on August 01, 2012:

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

Jose Juan Gutierrez from Mexico City on August 01, 2012:

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!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 20, 2012:

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

Lennox Abrigo on July 20, 2012:

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.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 13, 2012:

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

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on July 13, 2012:

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.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 12, 2012:

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

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 12, 2012:

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

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 12, 2012:

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

Rob Hampton from Port Richey, Florida on July 12, 2012:

Great article! Very informative. Voted up

manatita44 from london on July 12, 2012:

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.

Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on July 12, 2012:

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.

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