Montserrat: A Modern Pompeii

montserrat plymouth volcao volcanic 24

Kuriositas recently featured Montserrat, calling it a “modern Pompeii.” The post gives a detailed account, and provides eerie photos of the devastation caused by the 1995 eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano.

June 1995 is a month that those living on the idyllic Caribbean island of Montserrat will remember for the rest of their days. The island’s volcano on the Soufrière Hills had been dormant for many hundreds of years. Yet in that fateful month it erupted – and it hasn’t stopped since. Much of the island was devastated. A further eruption followed in 1997. In a short time the small island nation’s capital, Plymouth, founded in Georgian times, had been buried by almost 40 feet of mud and other debris. Much of the airport and the dock were destroyed and the entire southern part of the island, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, was rendered uninhabitable.

The exclusion zone extends outside of the once thriving and lively capital city and covers about half of the island. The coastline was expanded greatly by the eruptions and these areas are also off limits to visitors. The caution of the authorities is well warranted. As recently as 2010 a new vulcanian explosion sent pyroclastic flows cascading down the sides of the Soufrière Hills towards the sea.

The authorities allow so few visitors as they still sting from the accusation that the death toll (19) of the 1997 eruptive event could have been avoided had the people of the south of the island been adequately resettled in the north following the 1995 eruption.

After the last explosion the lava dome at the top of the hills partly collapsed and this sent an extraordinary pillar of ash to an altitude of 20,000 feet. The nearby islands of Antigua and Guadeloupe experienced ash falls. Yet surprisingly, despite the carnage that nature has wreaked the parts of the island which escaped devastation remain beautifully verdant.

Around five thousand people remain on the island, which is almost ten miles long and seven wide. Yet ten thousand people were forced to flee or face almost certain destitution as the volcanic activity had destroyed their home, business, means of employment or all three. Most ended up in the chillier environs of the United Kingdom.

The British government launched a three-year $122.8 million aid program to help rebuild the economy. It also provided an additional $4.5 million to fund the ash-cleaning programme. Yet although these figures are large there is no doubt that that they are sorely inadequate to restore the island to its pre-eruption prosperity and some complain that the UK has done little to help or support its Montserrat (who were granted full UK citizenship in 2002) both on and off the island.

It seems the fate of Plymouth, and other parts of the island of Montserrat, is to remain buried under the mud and the ash – a modern day Pompeii it seems.

[Photo above by Mike Schinkel.]

For original post and photos, see

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