Living with a hot volcano
After awakening with a bang in 1995, Montserrat's volcano has defied hopes that it would quiet down fairly quickly. It continues to erupt and may do so for years to come. More than half the residents of the 39-square-mile (101-square-kilometer) British island in the Caribbean have reluctantly moved away. But 4,500 are sticking it out, and London has allocated more than 200 million dollars in aid.
Since the volcano's first blasts, holdouts have had to learn about the possible dangers to protect themselves. "When you hear a five-year-old talking about a pyroclastic flow, you know we've all become students," says Carol Osborne, owner of the Vue Pointe Hotel, referring to the clouds of ash, rock, and gas that boil down the sides of the cone with little warning. Young and old recently gathered at a lookout to get a better view of the source: the fiery dome of lava that builds, collapses, and builds again in a now-familiar cycle.
With their capital, Plymouth, up to its rooftops in ash as heavy as cement, and with many villages destroyed or off-limits, Montserratians are re-creating the landscape of their former lives—homes, schools, playgrounds, shops, offices, their hospital, the police station—in the safe zone, the once underdeveloped north.
"We were in a kind of limbo before," says Osborne, whose hotel is occupied these days by scientists. "But now we're rebuilding and getting on with our lives."
—A. R. Williams