We didn't get to see Plymouth (the old capitol) because there was fresh pyroclastic flow and there were associated ash clouds. There was also steam at the water's edge where the hot pyroclastic flow turned the sea into steam, and there was smoke from buildings that were burned. Some of the photos show both of these phenomena.
The helicopter pilot tried to get over to the old capitol, but each time the way was blocked by clouds. He stayed well away from the clouds because getting ash into the motor would make the helicopter crash.
The Soufrière Hills Volcano in the southern part of Montserrat began erupting on 18 July 1995 with a phreatic explosion (steam and ash) following a 3 year period of earthquakes which began in 1992. The first large event occurred in August 1995 blanketing Plymouth in a thick ash cloud which brought almost complete darkness for about 15 minutes. Plymouth was finally abandoned the following year. It now lies buried under layers of volcanic debris deposited by pyroclastic activity and mudflows
In the beginning, in times of relative dormancy of the Soufriere Hills volcano, it was felt that if there was a good warning system, people could go back to their homes and could be evacuated quickly. This proved not to be true. 1997 is when pyroclastic flows and surges swept down the north-eastern flanks of the volcano causing the abandonment of the W H Bramble Airport.
So in 1997, an Exclusion Zone was set up which extended from Plymouth south to St. Patrick's and included Windy Hill and Harris. This is a high risk place to go due to lava bombs (flying rocks), pyroclastic flows and lahars. There is still livestock in the Exclusion area which were abandoned there and survives on their own because no one can get to them.
Some parts of the remaining 1/3 of the island are still vulnerable to these volcanic phenomena, so nowhere on Montserrat is really safe. What remains of the tourism industry is mainly people who hope to observe the volcano. Mostly this is done by day trips from Antigua such as we took.
The area surrounding the volcano is an Exclusion Zone; some of the Exclusion Zone is open to the public 6 AM to 6 PM, but it is illegal to enter some parts at any time.
If you drive into the Exclusion Zone, you will find the degree of destruction almost unimaginable & the amount of ash almost unbelievable. (And your vehicle WILL be covered with ash.)
THE BOATSMAN WAS CONCERNED ABOUT THE CONDITIONS, AND WAS COMTEMPLATING TURNING AROUND. I'M GLAD HE DECIDED NOT TO (I GUESS HE NEEDED THE $100 I WAS PAYING HIM). STILL, HE WAS EXPLAINING TO ME THE DANGER OF FALLING DEBRIS, THOUGH NOTHING WAS FALLING EVEN CLOSE TO WHERE WE WERE.
HERE IS A VIEW OF THE VOLCANO FROM THE CAPITAL. NOTE THE PERSON JUMPING OVER THE FENCE. HE IS THE DRIVER OF ANOTHER BOAT, AND DROPPED OFF A GROUP OF THREE PHOTO JOURNALISTS ABOUT AN HOUR BEFORE, AND IS COMING BACK AFTER SEARCHING FOR THEM. HE TOLD ME HE WANTED TO GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE DUE TO THE HEIGHTENED ACTIVITY FROM THE VOLCANO, AND WAS PRETTY MAD THAT HIS CLIENTS WERE MAKING HIM WAIT!
THIS IS PLYMOUTH, THE CAPITAL. I HAVE A POSTCARD SOMEWHERE, TAKEN FROM ABOUT THE SAME ANGLE, SHOWING WHAT THE TOWN USED TO LOOK LIKE, WHICH I WILL POST HERE FOR COMPARISON PURPOSES ONCE I FIND IT.
On our cruise, Montserrat was emitting lava and ash/smoke, so the Captain slowed down, actually stopping here until late at night so we could get to see it at night....fireworks over the Caribbean! Seabourn Cruise lines is the Best!
I RENTED A PRIVATE BOAT AND DRIVER TO TAKE ME ALONG THE COAST TOWARD THE VOLCANO. THE BOATSMAN LET ME TAKE THE WHEEL FOR THIS PHOTO...
THIS PHOTO IS A GOOD ILLUSTRATION OF HOW MUCH ASH WAS BEING EMITTED FROM THE VOLCANO. THE 'CLIFF' ON THE BEACH IS ACCUMULATED ASH.