Montserrat Today

For Wednesday/Thursday May 6/7, 1998
Presented by the Information Unit of the
Government of Montserrat's Emergency Department


The activity at the Soufriere Hills Volcano, which has been at a low level for a number of weeks, increased early this morning (Wednesday) with an intense burst of small volcano-tectonic earthquakes. The burst lasted for just about 15 minutes and brought about a number of small rockfalls from the dome.

Yesterday there were two hybrid earthquake signals and one regional earthquake signal, located some 60 kms north east of Montserrat.

Today the summit of the volcano is very clear and the large spine extruded in early March at the peak is clearly visible. Dust levels at all monitoring stations are at low levels.


The scientific re-assessment of the Soufriere Hills Volcano carried out in England on April 20-25th produced nine key points:

  1. The last five months since the December 1997 assessment in Antigua have seen the volcano at its highest level of activity this century, and included the major destructive eruption of 26th December 1997.
  2. Since early March, the dome has no longer been growing perceptively and the level of earthquake activity has been very low. However some ground movement and some small scale seismic activity continue to be recorded.
  3. It is premature to conclude that the eruption is in decline after only a few weeks of repose. Observations suggest that internal pressures in the volcano may still be high. The dome remains very unstable and ground deformation continues. Many dome eruptions on other volcanoes show periods of repose alternating with periods of heightened activity.
  4. The scientific team consider it more probable that there will be further significant eruptions of the volcano, than that the volcanic activity is now in a period of permanent decline. The threat from the major hazards of explosive activity and dome collapse remain, particularly on the northern flank of the volcano.
  5. Even with no further eruptions the volcano will remain hazardous over the next six months to two years from volcanic mud flows, landslides triggered by non volcanic processes and volcanic dust in the southern parts of Montserrat.
  6. The scientific team recommend a cautious approach. They do not recommend an immediate change of the risk zonation map. The revised risk analysis gives only a modest decrease in risk levels. It is not sufficiently different from the analysis in December 1997 to justify any change in zonation.
  7. If the period of quiescence continues, the six monthly meeting to assess the status of the volcano should be brought forward from October to mid - July. The intervening period will allow further analysis of the significance of the inactivity and for authorities to plan for possible changes to the risk zonation map.
  8. Any re-occupation must be planned with the awareness that a volcano of this kind can commonly erupt again after months or years of repose and that escalation to dangerous levels can take place very rapidly.
  9. A more detailed report is in preparation and will be issued shortly.


    Yesterday (Tuesday) the Acting Governor, H.E. Dr Howard Fergus CBE, and the Chief Minister Hon. David S. Brandt, issued the following statement:

    "The senior scientists associated with the monitoring of the volcano on Montserrat met in Nottingham, England a few weeks ago to review the December 1997 scientific assessments of the likely course of the eruption and the hazards it posed for the population (the key points to emerge from this meeting are shown above).

    The scientists believe that it is too early to conclude that the volcano is in decline and it is probable there will be further significant eruptions. They point to the fact that the Boxing Day collapse was the largest event of the eruption so far. They therefore recommend against any change in the present zoning arrangements. However, should the volcano remain quiet they suggest that the next scientific review be brought forward from October to mid July when they will be able to better judge the significance of this period of inactivity. We call on those wishing to return to their homes in the Exclusion Zone to be patient. The Government of Montserrat is keenly aware that people are anxious to resume their normal lives at the earliest opportunity but their safety must be our paramount concern.

    The Government will keep the situation under constant review and when it is safe to do so, assuming the present lull in activity continues, will aim to allow former residents of Salem, and Old Towne daytime access under controlled conditions, to clean and repair their properties. However, to do this we will need to be sure that arrangements for a rapid evacuation of the area are in place in case there is a dangerous increase in activity (this could happen with little or no warning). The Emergency Department, working closely with other lead agencies, has now drawn up a plan to cope with the immediate evacuation of areas south of Lawyers River. This plan will be made available to the public this week together with a guide to residents.

    We are concerned that more people are entering the Exclusion Zone, in particularly areas south of the Belham Valley, without permission. Although the volcano is quiet at the moment there is, as we have said, still achance of a rapid resumption of dangerous activity. It is possible that further devastating events might occur and during heavy rains there is also a danger of hot mud flows. There are no grounds at present for changing the Exclusion Zone boundaries or the rules of entry. People with a justifiable need to enter the Exclusion Zone must apply to the Police.

    Residents are reminded that if at any time the sirens sound this indicates that volcanic activity is increasing and that everyone must listen to radio or TV for instructions. The sirens will be tested every Wednesday at 3 pm.

    We repeat the situation will be kept under review and the public informed immediately of any changes". (END)


    Miss Ros Armitage of the British Red Cross visited Montserrat today (Wednesday) to review ongoing projects here.

    May is Red Cross month in Montserrat and Miss Armitage took the opportunity to visit the new old people's home under construction, the proposed site for the Red Cross children's playground at Look Out and visited several shelters as well as Red Cross HQ in Woodlands.

    Miss Armitage also met with Emergency Dept officials to discuss with them evacuation plans and Red Cross roles in such plans. The Emergency Dept keeps evacuation plans up to date in case volcanic activity increases.

    More information later in the week...........................

    Presented by the Information & Education Unit, Emergency Dept
    St Johns Village, Montserrat, Leeward Islands, West Indies.
    Tel 664 491 7166, Fax 664 491 2474, E Mail:
    Richard Aspin, Unit Co-ordinator.