Government Information Service

Re-Occupation Of Plymouth And Other Areas
Monday, January 01, 1996

Government Information Service Tel: (809) 491-4851/7164
Chief Minister's Office Fax: (809) 491-7227
P.O.Box 292
Plymouth, Montserrat
West Indies, January 01, 1996

Address to the nation by His Excellency, the Governor, Frank Savage LVO, OBE.:

It has now been five days since a major scientific review confirmed a stabilization in Soufriere Hills Volcano activity and now after several weeks of relocation we enter the New Year with renewed optimism. Volcanic activity is now at a level which the scientists believe offers no immediate cause for concern. This means, that from today some residents can return to areas evacuated since December 1st, 1995.

Our relocation for a one month period was necessitated by the threat of a volcanic eruption without warning which the scientists informed us could have affected the capital, Plymouth and communities lying on the East and South-West flanks of the volcano. Our second major relocation exercise of 1st and 2nd December, 1995 reminds us all of the challenges posed when the population in the areas threatened by the volcano is forced to move out of its way.

A week ago, scientists of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory presented the government with the results of a major review which were encouraging. There was every indication at that stage that volcanic activity had stabilized. However, Standing Operating Procedures and our own desire to be cautious, required a further five day period of close monitoring. The scientists have now reported that:

  1. There is no further indication to change the advice for the re-occupation of certain areas previously evacuated;
  2. dome growth remains a potential danger for persons living in areas stretching from Bethel to Long Ground in the East;
  3. the molten rock beneath the volcano appears to have lost most of its gas through phreatic eruptions and quiet dome growth. Several large spines which grew during the past month have collapsed without causing any major damage to the environment;
  4. Gages Wall, which is the major barrier enclosing the crater above Plymouth, remains uncompromised by material which has accumulated from the collapsing of spines and the spalling of dome rock within English's Crater. The EDM reflector on the wall remains intact and continues to be a reliable indicator for any changes that may occur;
  5. the area up to 1.5 kilometres, or just less than one mile from the volcano continues to be extremely hazardous. Minor concentrations of gases from the volcano are limited to this area, and hence residents are cautioned against any visits to this area. The rest of the population remains safe from these very low level gas emissions from the volcano;
  6. there is a possibility that debris flows, pyroclastic flows and possibly associated ash surges could still affect the areas of the East from Bethel to Long Ground.

The scientists, assisted by a range of sophisticated instruments, are confident of their ability to provide adequate notice should there be a danger of a renewed escalation of volcanic activity. They have now lowered the alert stage downwards to Upper Orange for most areas previously designated unsafe.

Against this background of scientific advice, the Government of Montserrat is today advising the public of the re-occupation of the capital Plymouth, eastwards to Trant's and south to St Patrick's. The scientists will continue to monitor the situation until such time as level of risk is lowered to allow residents of Spanish Point, Bethel, Tuitt's, Bramble's Village and Long Ground to return home. A further review for these areas is due in two weeks time on January 15th, 1996.

The current re-occupation is expected to be completed over the next two days starting today Monday, 1st January and continuing through Tuesday, 2nd January, 1996. Most public services will be operating from their usual offices in Plymouth by Wednesday, 3rd January, 1996. The major exception will be the Glendon Hospital and the Margetson Memorial Home which will remain in St John's on a precautionary basis for some time yet. The Ministry of Health will be issuing a statement shortly to advise members of the public where to go for medical services.

Please understand that this re-occupation may not mean the end of the crisis. Do continue to remain vigilant while the volcano continues at its present level of activity. Remember our disaster preparedness theme-Be prepared, even though we continue to pray and hope that our volcano quickly returns to its previous level of dormancy. The Chief Minister, I am sure, will tell you more about Government's unfolding contingencies for making the safe area of the north more of a comfort zone if we ever need to repeat the exercise of relocating.

As we leave for home today, let us give thanks to God for bringing us safely into the New Year, 1996. We return home also thankful to the many organisations and particularly the church community and private citizens who provided for our stay-over in the north over the last several weeks.

In keeping with the Government's commitment we will continue with our efforts to keep you, the public, up to date with the volcanic situation on Montserrat. Please continue to listen to your radio for details of the re-occupation especially as to how the transition will affect government and other services.

In conclusion, I should like to wish you all a Happy New Year and may 1996 bring us peace and tranquility.

Government Information Service