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 fmcdonald@igc.apc.org
To: Oostdam Ben boostdam@marauder.millersv.edu
Subject: Fwd: news article on Montserrat
Ben, For your info franklin
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Date: Sunday, 20-Oct-96 02:58 PM
From: Greg Chamberlain \ CompuServe: (100074,2675)
To: Tony Glaser \ Internet:(mni-info@gemradio.com)
Subject: news article > Via MNI-INFO
Susan and everyone:
....Here's that article that appeared in the
Palm Beach Post.


(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 other islands.
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, but quiet.''
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 occupants' departure.
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

first version: October 22, 1996; latest version: November 10. 1996;
file: mtsoct96.html;

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