Caribbean Blast

Following is the text of an article by Jeremy Lennard in
The Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 1997:
> PHOTOS: (Page One) 1) WATCHING: A boy and his father look toward
> Soufriere Hills volcano from waters off Montserrat last month. BEBEBTO
> MATTHEWS/AP. 2) VIOLENT RUMBLINGS: Smoke, steam, and ash billow from
> Soufriečre Hills volcano on Montserrat August 4. Over the weekend, the
> government offered residents the option of leaving the Montserrat for
> other islands, including Antigua and Guadeloupe. KEVIN WEST/AP. 
> MAP: Showing Montserrat. GAIL-MARIE LORANDEAU
> -HD-
> Montserrat Reels After Eruptions
> -HL-
> -BY-
> Jeremy Lennard, Special to The Christian Science Monitor
> -DL-
> 19970818
> -TX-
> On the morning of August 8, silence fell over the tiny Caribbean
> island of Montserrat. Birds stopped singing, and the incessant
> chirping of insects died away. The air of this British territory was
> filled by a deep and ominous rumble.
> Within seconds, the rumble became a thunderous roar and the Soufričre
> Hills volcano belched a plume of smoke and ash tens of thousands of
> feet into the sky. As the mushroom cloud dispersed, the sun was
> blotted out for 15 minutes, and ash and pumice pebbles rained down on
> two-thirds of the 39-square-mile island. Locals watched the eruption
> with cardboard boxes over their heads to protect themselves from the
> abrasive deluge.
> The volcano awoke for the first time in four centuries in July 1995.
> It has been erupting sporadically ever since, forcing thousands to
> abandon their homes.
> On Saturday, the government offered an evacuation package for
> residents. Those people wanting to leave Montserrat will be offered an
> unspecified amount of money and transportation to neighboring islands,
> including Antigua and Guadeloupe, the government said.
> Montserrat's population has dropped from 12,000 to 5,000 in the past
> two years, but it was not until this summer that the volcano claimed
> its first lives. On June 25, Soufričre sent rivers of superheated gas,
> rock, and ash tearing down its slopes at more than 100 miles per hour.
> Material heated to 900 degrees F. filled farming valleys, killing 10
> people and leaving nine missing.
> Since the beginning of August, the volcano has erupted every 12 hours
> or so. On Aug. 5 and 6, it laid waste to the capital, Plymouth - a
> once-bustling town of 5,000 people.
> Pyroclastic flows deposited rocks the size of small vans on the
> outskirts of the town and buried the center under yards of ash.
> "I doubt Plymouth will be inhabitable for generations," says Police
> Commissioner Francis Hooper.
> In August 1995, several hundred people were moved from the slopes
> around the volcano and housed in Gerald's Park emergency shelter.
> The accommodation was intended for very short term use - a week at the
> most - but two years later they are still there, living in conditions
> that clearly violate guidelines laid down by the United Nations High
> Commissioner for Refugees and the British Overseas Development Agency.
> Tough conditions
> Evacuees live in plastic, windowless hangar tents in which families of
> four or more are allocated an area 8 by 8 feet, with no storage space.
> They store their food and cooking equipment under their beds. Reports
> are rife of sexual molestation, and there has been a rise in teen
> pregnancy. In some shelters there is only one pit toilet for every 50
> people. "When it rains [which it does most nights] the toilets
> overflow," explains Eleanor Riley, a mother of four children.
> Ms. Riley, like all other shelter inhabitants, receives a monthly
> voucher allowance of $30 and $7.50 for each of her children. "Pampers
> for my baby cost $10 a month," she shrugs.
> To make up the shortfall, Clifford, the father of her children,
> returned to work his crops in the danger zone at the foot of the
> volcano before leaving the island in search of work.
> Due to inconsistent advice from the government and volcanologists some
> never left the danger area for fear of worse conditions awaiting them.
> The residents of Cork Hill were still there June 25 when a pyroclastic
> flow passed within yards of a school full of children. Even after the
> event, the government took two days to move residents.
> The chief independent scientist at the time, Willy Aspinall, hinted
> during a public meeting nine months earlier that authorities had no
> place to house evacuees from Cork Hill.
> Britain has pledged $37 million in aid so far this year. But the
> evacuees have yet to see improvements. Following meetings in London
> last week, Montserrat's Chief Minister Bertrand Osbourne announced at
> a press conference last Thursday that changes were just around the
> corner. But locals were unimpressed by his promises.
> "I have been to the same press conference five times in the last 18
> months," says local activist Donald Romeo. "Seeing, not hearing, is
> believing."
> Montserrat's government has attempted to shift blame for the island's
> sorry state onto Britain and time-consuming bureaucratic processes.
> But it is unclear where responsibility lies.
> The one man central to relations between Britain and Montserrat,
> London-appointed Gov. Frank Savage, was off the island and unavailable
> for comment.
> So what is next for Montserrat? While locals wait to feel the effect
> of Britain's aid, volcanologists suggest that Soufričre is likely to
> continue erupting for some time to come.
> "The mountain has disgorged some 130 million cubic meters of material
> so far - about a third of its potential - and similar volcanoes have
> shown continued activity for up to five years," explains Jill Norton,
> deputy chief scientist at the island's Volcano Observatory in Salem.
> All indicators suggest that magma pressure will have to be released
> before Soufričre becomes dormant again. Experts are reluctant to
> predict how and when this may happen. And they are not prepared to
> rule out the small possibility of one huge, sustained eruption.
> Such an event, they say, could throw boulders a foot in diameter into
> the northern "safe" zone.
> After a week of deliberation, the Montserrat government responded
> Saturday to pressure from the Volcano Observatory to extend the danger
> zone on the island. Chief Minister Bertand Osborne announced that
> Salem, which has already been pelted by ash and pebbles on several
> occasions, would be evacuated immediately.
> Mr. Osborne acknowledged the chronic housing situation in the safe
> area, and said that plans for a voluntary off-island evacuation would
> be announced early next week. "This is the day we have been battling
> two years to avoid," he said.
> "But the forces of nature have proved greater than our ability to
> protect the people of Montserrat."
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first version: September 18, 1997; file:/~ehem/car/islands/MTS_19970818.html;

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