MONTSERRAT, GHOST TOWN
Following is a much-traveled message containing the text
of a fascinating article dated October 17 in the Palm Beach
Post by Cheryl Blackerby.
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 96 13:28:12 -0500
From: Franklin McDonald firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Oostdam Ben email@example.com
Subject: Fwd: news article on Montserrat
Ben, For your info franklin
------- FORWARD, Original message follows -------
Date: Sunday, 20-Oct-96 02:58 PM
From: Greg Chamberlain \ CompuServe: (100074,2675)
To: Tony Glaser \ Internet:(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: news article > Via MNI-INFO
Susan and everyone:
....Here's that article that appeared in the
Palm Beach Post.
VOLCANO LEAVES MONTSERRAT LIKE A CARIBBEAN GHOST TOWN
By CHERYL BLACKERBY
(Cox News Service, 17 Oct 96)
.....WOODLANDS BAY - Police stopped the car at a roadblock
and asked to see papers showing government permission to leave the "safe zone."
It was a scene from a battlefield, the West Bank or Belfast - not an idyllic Caribbean island known for visiting
jet-setters such as Mick Jagger and Elton John.
> The enemy in this British colony is a volcano, silent
for 350 years until it roared to life in July last year.
The black mountain exhales a constant stream of blue gases
and looms ominously over every house and valley on the island.
> The noise - a deep bellowing on a normal day,
a roar like a 747, loud enough to rattle the windows, during
an eruption - keeps residents in what one man described as purgatory.
The tourists are gone, most businesses have closed, farmland has been destroyed and the economy is crippled.
On Oct. 8, the seven-seat parliament was dissolved by Gov.
Frank Savage amid charges that the volcano crisis was mishandled. The island is preparing for elections.
One of the candidates is a fortuneteller.
Islanders jokingly sing the prophetic "Volcano",
a song recorded in Montserrat by Jimmy Buffett:
"I don't know where I'm a gonna go when the volcano blow."
Now, there's nowhere to go but the safe zone at the island's northern tip. Everywhere else, the 3,000-foot volcano
in the Soufriere (French for sulfur) Hills threatens.
It has killed cattle and trees with 1,700-degree,
fast-moving pyroclastic flows - not lava but hot ash and rocks.
Fist-size hot volcanic stones,thrown as far as 11 miles, have smashed car and house windows.
In the capital city of Plymouth, about 3 miles (as a
crow flies) from the volcano, the 200-year-old Georgian houses, built from stone that came from England as ballast on sailing ships, and modern government buildings are covered with 6 to 12 inches of volcanic soot as fine as face powder.
The volcano has attracted scientists from around the world, including a team from Japan. "It's an interesting eruption," said chief scientist Richard Robertson*,
a 35-year-old geologist from Trinidad, who is coordinating
the Montserrat research. "We don't have many of those.
Mount Unzen in Japan is most similar to this."
The volcano is small, particularly compared with the
8,000-foot Mount St. Helens in Washington, which erupted
in 1980, but it is extremely dangerous.
"The dome is building and has become large and unstable.
The eruptions have gone on quite a long time," said Robertson, looking at the volcano from the back patio of a rented house
on the north end of the island, which he called "reasonably safe."
The volcano spews a constant stream of gases - water vapor, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide - and ash.
A potential health problem, he said, is "a type of siica,
a glassy mineral that could be quite harmful, but it's not
in an area that is occupied."
The volcano operates independently of other volcanoes
in the area, he said, and is not an omen of eruptions on
His prediction for this volcano: "We expect it to
continue with rock falls, and we expect the dome to continue
to build. It will last for months at least, possibly a year
or two. We don't expect it to go back to as quiet as before,
Scientists are the only visitors to Montserrat.
A lone rooster coated in gray dust roamed empty Strand Street in Plymouth next to the waterfront, where fishermen
and farmers used to set up shop at the crowded outdoor marketplace.
The only people in this port city last week were three city workers who bulldozed ash turned by rain into heavy black clay. They wore long sleeves and surgical masks for protection
against the dust.
A rusty container ship, picking up rice from Guyana
milled in Montserrat - one of the few businesses still in
operation - was the sole vessel tied up at the city's pride
and joy, the 3-year-old, $30-million seaport. The government
built the docks in hopes of attracting cruise ships.
Not even a small fishing boat was anchored in the big harbor.
From the water and air, the port city, which was one
of the prettiest in the Caribbean with its pastel houses built
on green hillsides, looks ghostly and haunted, gray and dead.
It is a pariah port in the Caribbean. No pleasure craft comes near it.
. A Windjammer sailing ship passed within 2 miles recently and
the ship's purser said it took two weeks to wash off the ash.
Planes, too, give it a wide berth.
An Air Canada plane flying at 17,000 feet through an ash cloud near the island had pitting on the windshield and in the engine, minor problems according to an Air Canada spokesman
but worrisome to airlines flying in the area.
(That plane landed safely in Barbados.)
Only Liat Airline flies to Montserrat, and my flight
on a 19-seat deHavilland Twin Otter was delayed two hours by mechanical difficulties caused by ash. The pilot said the
engines have to be washed down after each flight.
Islanders, whose British and Irish heritage calls for
a stiff upper lip, concentrate on the fact that no one was
killed in the numerous explosions since July, the last one
Oct. 1. But there is little other good news. The island has
lost almost half of its population of 12,000, who have moved
to Great Britain, the United States and neighboring islands.
The mood is tense as displaced residents crowd into evacuation centers in northern churches and schools. The
Southeast end of the island has been evacuated three times
since July - the last evacuation in April is still in effect.
A schoolroom has been set up in Andy's Bar, where
Paul McCartney, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Elton John used to
hang out. Those were the heady days before Air Studio, where
the Rolling Stones and Duran Duran recorded, was severely
damaged and closed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Many new buildings constructed with relief money after Hugo, such as Glendon Hospital, are covered by ash.
The hospital, said to be one of the most technologically
advanced in the Caribbean, never opened.
``The sad thing is that the volcano is over the most densely populated area,'' said Eustace Dyer, a former
government minister. He pointed out the sprawling American University of the Caribbean, its windows shuttered, the trees
and landscaping dead, and roofs and stairways packed with
10 inches of volcanic dust.
The police station, the Flora Fountain Hotel, the
Texaco station, the supermarket, the new library - all
deserted and covered by what looks like dirty snow.
"This was a very nice place," Dyer said sadly.
Many of the mountain villages are ghost towns.
The clothes on the lines and ash-covered cars with open
doors are horrifying testaments to the haste of the
Residents live in a continuous state of trauma.
"The last time the mountain exploded, we thought we
were dead," said Shirley Spycalla, whose father was a former
attorney general of Montserrat.
"Imagine 45 minutes of constant lightning and thunder.
That's what it was like."
Spycalla and her husband recently bought a house in
the safe zone. They had to evacuate their first house in July.
" We had three hours to get out."
Surgical masks are stuffed in pants and shirt pockets, ready in case an ash cloud drops its cargo. So far, the
islanders have been lucky and the clouds have drifted over
the sea. When it rains, people look outside to make sure it
is rain and not rocks. When it thunders, they are visibly frightened.
"The scientists say in the worst-case scenario, the
north end would be safe . We hope they're right," says
Eunicia Dyer, a young postal worker, who lives in the safe
zone. Two masks hang from her rearview mirror and her Honda
Civic has been battered by rocks and splattered with wet ash.
Meanwhile, people try to live as normally as possible.
On a recent Sunday morning, worshipers dressed in their best clothes and headed to Montserrat's many churches. The evacuees living in the churches were temporarily displaced once again.
The ash flow has formed a new land mass near the airport, a black peninsula jutting into the sea.
Montserrat is 39.5 square miles, and as a plane circled for a landing and the peninsula came into view, a young man returning home joked that the island might break 40 square miles.
There was uneasy laughter.
(Cheryl Blackerby writes for The Palm Beach Post.)
. . . The Electronic Evergreen, courtesy of GEM Radio Network
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*(please note that
Richard Robertson, the above-referred volcanologist, is also one of
our ESRA - associates)
additional info on Montserrat
October 22, 1996; latest version: November 10. 1996;
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