Soufriere Hills

Montserrat Tour, Jan 2006 

(with comparative pictures from previous visit in Sept. 2002), by Richard Roscoe

in deustch


 (Fig.1)

Fig.1 - Author by remains of Catholic Church, Plymouth

The Soufriere Hills volcano on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat has been erupting since 1995.  The most severe destruction occurred in 1997, when pyroclastic flows devastated large parts of the southern half of the island, including parts of the capital Plymouth to the W and various settlements to the SW, E and NE (including Bramble Airport).  Many areas have also been affected heavy ash fall and by lahars, including the remains of the Capital Plymouth which are gradually being buried in lahar deposits.

Eruptive activity continues, with the volcano presently showing renewed dome growth.

Maps for orientation

Due to volcanic hazards, the south of the island is designated as an exclusion zone.  Unauthorized entry into this zone is illegal (see Fig.2) and is not encouraged by the author of this report.

 (Fig.2)

Garibaldi hill provides a good view of the Volcano and Plymouth (Fig.3).  The path of lahars through the center of town is clearly visible.  Fort Ghaut river which flowed through the town has now been completely filled with deposits.  Lahar activity continues to bury the remains of Plymouth as can be seen from comparable pictures of the town center from 2002 (Fig.4) and 2006 (Fig.5).  See most distant part of town in pictures.

(Fig.3)  (Fig.4) (Fig.5)

The burial of Plymouth is further illustrated by the following pictures of the Plymouth Court Building.  The next picture shows the Court Building and the Methodist Church (Fig.6 (picture from "Holiday Montserrat 1993/94 Brochure)).  The following pictures show the Court Building in 2002 (Fig.7) and in 2006 (Fig.8).

 (Fig.6) (Fig.7) (Fig.8)

The following pictures show the Methodist Church (Fig.9) and the War Memorial Clock Tower (Fig.10) in 2002.  Both have now been completely destroyed by Lahars following the major eruption in 2003.  Fig.11 shows Letts Building (right) and Arrows Manstore in 2006 both of which are partially burried.

(Fig.9)  (Fig.10)(Fig.11)

The dome is presently best observed from the W side of the island.  There is now a purpose built viewpoint on Jack Boy Hill at the edge of the exclusion zone.  Fig.12 shows the older inofficial viewpoint on JBH in use in 2002 with the large dome in the background.  Fig.13 shows the massive dome in Sept. 2002.  The current dome is growing in the crater left by the destruction of the former dome in 2003 (Fig.14).

(Fig.12)  (Fig.13)  (Fig.14)

Due to the small size of the dome, it was possible to visit the old Bramble Airport buildings (Fig.15).  These currently provide a good viewpoint for observing pyroclastic flow activity in the Tar River Valley.  During a two day observation period during unusually poor weather conditions, one PF was observed (Fig. 16 and 17).  This flow occurred on 20.01.06 at approx. 16.45 local time and extended over 1 km from the dome which was not visible due to cloud cover.

(Fig.15)  (Fig.16)  (Fig.17)

18

19  20 21

Silent witnesses of the buried city

Travel Information:

Travellers to Montserrat should be aware that the only regular form of transport to the island are Winair flights from Antigua to the new Gerrards Airport (Situation in 2006).  High winds and heavy rain can lead to closure of the new airport which is located in an exposed position on a hilltop.  This can lead to missed connections in Antigua, as I unfortunately experienced. 

Low cloud is a more usual problem on Montserrat.  Best viewing time is probably March / April.  However, even then a week on the island can easily pass without getting clear views of the dome.

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   2006 photos and text by Richard Roscoe, last modification 4.2.2006