Volcanic Management in Montserrat

Montserrat belongs to the Lesser Antilles island chain; a series of volcanic islands formed by subduction of the North American plate beneath the Caribbean plate.

The island of Montserrat was formed by the Soufriere Hills volcano. The eruption stated in July 1995, and before 2005 had spewed out nearly 0.5km^3 of magma.

The potential hazard on Montserrat was fairly low- although the impacts on the population were huge, it was a small population, and they are still well equipped for evacuations if the situation becomes worse. However, the vulnerability was high due to the small area of the island available for people to move out to before any international evacuations could be planned.

Impacts

The main causes of hazards have been pyroclastic flows, tephra falls, debris avalanches and occasional lava flows.

In 1997, 19 people were killed when they returned to their homes in Plymouth, which they had been evacuated from previously.

The entire southern side of the island had a thick layer of ash on top of it, such that many of the plants were entirely covered.

Many people emigrated from the island after the initial evacuation. Many of these people permanently moved to the UK, the USA or other nearby islands. The initial population was 10,728 in 1990, which had decreased down to just 6,409  people in 2000.

Outmigration had a huge impact on the country. The loss of people meant there was a lack of workers, and thus many businesses suffered huge losses. The lack of customers had a similar effect. The sense of community was lost and many were disheartened at the loss of old friends or acquaintances. A disproportionate number of those who left were the more educated citizens, leaving a less skilled population behind.

The eruption itself crippled the economy. The ash destroyed much of the farmland. The destroyed land also reduced tourism hugely – and tourism was a huge factor in the economy, to which 40,000 visitors were drawn annually.

2/3 of the island is uninhabitable.

The roughly 6500 people living in the south lost everything but what they could pack in their rucksacks quickly.

Many who evacuated north had only low quality accommodation available. Often people would be packed into small rooms with bunk beds and people they had not met before, with 6 bedrooms in a house. There was frequently little or no sanitation, and no electricity or gas available.

Management

The people living in the southern half of the island were evacuated northwards. This plan backfired somewhat as half the population emigrated overseas that had been displaced.

The infrastructure is being rebuilt. A new airport has been completed.

The UK and EU have spent about £200 million on regeneration projects.

Since 1995, scientists have started carefully monitoring the volcano, and updating the public on any changes, and, where possible, warning people as to what impacts there were likely to be. Thanks to measurements of seismic activity, volcanic gases and ground deformation, they have warned people early of pyroclastic flows and allowed preparations so people could evacuate.

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