In 1989, Montserrat was devastated by Hurricane Hugo, the first hurricane to strike the island for 61 years. No part of the island was untouched by the 150mph winds as 400-year-old trees were uprooted, 95% of the housing stock was damaged or destroyed, agriculture was reduced to below subsistence level and even the 180 ft jetty at Plymouth harbour completely disappeared, causing problems for relief supplies. However, within a few months, all public utilities were restored and the remaining standing or injured trees were in leaf again.
In 1995 the lives of Montserratians were again disrupted, this time by volcanic activity. The residents of Plymouth and villages in the south were evacuated to the north as lava, rocks and ash belched from the Soufrière Hills for the first time since the 1930s. Activity increased in 1997; during March and April pyroclastic flows reached two miles down the south side of the volcano, the former tourist attractions of the Great Alps Waterfall and Galways Soufrière were covered, there was a partial collapse of Galways Wall and lava flowed down the Tar River Valley.
In May the volcanic dome was growing at 3.7 cubic metres per second and in June a huge explosion occurred when a sudden pyroclastic flow of hot rock, gas and ash poured down the volcano at 200mph. It engulfed 19 people, destroyed seven villages and some 200 homes including Farm’s and Trants to the north of the volcano. The dead and missing people were reported to have gone back to their homes in the evacuated zone to feed their animals and tend to their property. The flow, which resulted from a partial collapse of the lava dome, came to within 50 yds of the sea, close to the airport runway, which had to be closed. The eruption sent an ash cloud six miles into the air and people were forced to wear ash masks. In August another bout of activity destroyed Plymouth, which caught fire under a shower of red hot lava. It now looks like a lunar landscape, completely covered by grey ash.
In December 1997 there was a huge dome collapse which created a 600 m amphitheatre around Galways Soufriére. The lava flows destroyed the deserted communities of St Patrick’s, Gingoes and Morris and severely damaged Trials, Fairfield and Kinsale, south of Plymouth. The White River delta was increased to about 1½ km and the water level rose by about 1 m. During 1998-99 dome collapses continued, with ash clouds at times up to eight miles high, but scientists reported that the dome, while still hot, was gradually cooling and entering a quieter phase. In 2000, however, there was further activity. For daily scientific updates about the volcanic activity try the Internet at www.geo.mtu.edu