Plymouth:- The Government of Montserrat continues to focus attention on making the designated safe area of Montserrat not only a comfort zone, but a new centre of life and business.
National initiatives include: the erection of pre-fabricated buildings to alleviate the strain on community centres, church and school buildings which have been converted to temporary shelters; the construction of an ancillary hospital; establishment of a safe area power station; upgrading fuel storage; acquisition of land for the relocation of livestock farms; road repairs; programmes for sports & culture, counselling and guidance. The business community and non-government organisations have submitted their plan of action for government support as they maintain efforts to rejuvenate business outlets opened in the north since July, 1995.
Implementation of the wide range of contingencies for both the private and public sector on Montserrat is effectively creating a new centre of activity on about twenty (20 sq mls) of land in north Montserrat.
No plan for mass off-island evacuation for the some 10,000 people of this 39.5 square mile Caribbean island is being implemented. The Government is however facilitating a system of voluntary evacuation which has gained the support of the British and Caricom governments.
Chief Minister, the Honourable Reuben Meade says his government is amenable to offering Montserratians a range of options for dealing with the current crisis. He believes the voluntary evacuation option may be taken advantage of by "a number of residents while others may wish to stay and struggle it out and continue with the rebuilding process." According to the Chief Minister, there is no wish to hold people hostage to a situation from which they can take a break and return later to rejoin the island's re-development programme.
Arrangements for voluntary evacuation to the U.K. include eligibility for employment, income support, housing and enrolment of Montserratian children in British schools for two years in the first instance. Non-Montserratian residents who have been living on the island for a long time are also being considered on a case by case basis.
The latest response comes amidst concerns over the strain being built up on the sparse infra-structure in the north as scientists at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory maintain that the current state of instability at the Soufriere Hills Volcano could persist over months or years. Governor Frank Savage re-affirmed at a press conference Tuesday, April 23 that the British relief effort does not indicate a move towards off-island evacuation for everyone.
While residential areas, mainly on the flanks of the volcano comprising Montserrat's East, West and South coast, remain danger areas, a 1987 Wadge and Isaac's Study/Report of the Soufriere Hills Volcano has been reviewed and validated by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. The MVO's current hazard map designates the north as a safe haven even in a worst case eruption scenario. The Government and most of the island's population remain confident that north Montserrat is a safe area.
Head of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, Dr. William Ambeh says a complete off-island evacuation would not be necessary. He observes that people from outside are actually surprised that people in Montserrat live normal lives
Since April 3, 1996, some one thousand, three hundred and eighty one (1,381) residents have been living in shelters. Another three thousand (3,000 approx.) people are renting accommodation or sharing the homes of friends and relatives in areas stretching from Cork Hill north across St. John's to the W H Bramble airport which remains open.
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