We are now in the fourth week of our second period of relocation which began on 1 December 1995 when the volcanic alert was upgraded from Upper Orange to Red. At that time the level of volcanic activity had reached a stage where the scientists could not rule out the possibility of pyroclastic flows to the East of the island and it was estimated that there was around a 5% chance of a major eruption within 3 to 7 days which could have affected Plymouth and villages to the South West and across the Central corridor.
The Government's position throughout this whole crisis is that the life of every single Montserratian is of paramount importance and that we will not take chances with the lives of our citizens. Thus when the scientists informed the Government of the worsening situation at the beginning of December , a relocation of persons from Plymouth east to Long Ground and south to St. Patrick's was immediately ordered.
We are aware that the relocation over the Christmas period has been difficult, particularly for those who needed to relocate into shelters. However the resilience and hospitality for which Montserratians are renowned shone through brighter than ever this Christmas. The business community rose to the occasion, and much was done to make everyone feel comfortable even though many were away from home. The Government congratulates all those who were involved in any way in making life easier for relocated persons over the Christmas holiday.
While the country was making the best of Christmas, the scientists continued with their work 24 hours per day, gathering scientific data which is analysed on a daily basis. They kept a particularly close watch on the rapid growth of many spines over the past three weeks, the majority of which have now collapsed without causing great damage to the environment. It was against this background that a major scientific review took place on Wednesday morning, 27 December following which the scientists have reported the following to the Government of Montserrat:
Dome growth is continuing in the Castle Peak area at a moderate rate, and as long as this continues, there remains a potential danger to persons living in certain parts of the island; the rapid growth of the spines, and subsequent collapse without pyroclastic flows, is an indication that the magma at, or close to the surface has lost much of its energy, or gases, and in consequence does not represent as great a danger as originally thought; Gages Wall is considerably stronger than at first feared, and with no evidence of a cryptodome growing close to Gages and no accumulation of material from the collapsing spines within English's Crater, the scientists believe that the potential risks are considerably reduced. An EDM reflector has been re-established close to the top of Gages Wall which should give the scientists an early warning of any deformation of the wall.
The scientists have monitored particularly carefully the emission of gases which has shown that there are only minor concentrations of toxic gases being emitted from the volcano, and these are found mainly in the mountains, within a radius of 1.5 kilometres or slightly less than 1 mile from the centre of the crater. There is no populated area within this radius. Sampling of gases in Plymouth and other villages has indicated that there is no appreciable danger to the public from gases from the volcano.
The public is advised that the area up to 1.5 km or slightly less than one mile from the volcano continues to be extremely hazardous. In addition to the dangers from falling rocks and minor concentrations of toxic gases, there is also evidence of acid rain in the area. The scientists continue to emphasise that no member of the public should enter this area at any time.
The scientists cannot rule out the possibility of an explosive eruption in the future but from the data and information available, and the sophisticated instruments at their disposal, they are now confident of their ability to give a minimum of 24 hours notice should there be a danger of a serious escalation of activity.
On the basis of their research, the scientists were able to lower the level of alert downwards from Red alert to Upper Orange during the Christmas period. They have also advised that if there is no further escalation within the next five days, they expect to be in a position to recommend a phased return to certain areas.
Please understand that in the event of no further escalation we expect shortly to be able to give details of the areas to which people may return. Some parts of the island may continue to have too high a risk factor even at that stage and the scientists will require more time to study the situation further before we could consider allowing residents to return.
As part of the Government's programme to keep the public up todate with the volcano situation, we are taking this opportunity to pass on the information coming out of the major scientific review. We ask you to be ready for more information over the course of the next few days. Please continue to listen to the radio over the next five days for further details of the areas to which we hope shortly to allow people to return.
Government Information Service