|Tiny crabs occupy some of the shells that make up the floor|
She was referring to this tiny island’s series of very bad luck in the recent past. First, on September 17, 1989 in the early hours, Category 4 Hurricane Hugo struck Montserrat with its 140 miles per hour winds. Ninety percent of the structures on the island were damaged. AIR Studios, the recording studio that Beatles producer George Martin opened in 1979 and attracted world-famous musicians, (who came to record in the peace and quiet and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat¬) was closed. The tourist trade was nearly wiped out. But in a few years, the island had recovered considerably and according to a video we watched, building were new and stronger, people were united and felt very positive about the future of the island…but disaster struck again.
As if they hadn’t put up with enough, for the first time in 400 years, the dormant Volcano known as Soufriere Hills volcano, erupted on July 18, 1995 and then again and again over the following years. Two-thirds of the island's population was forced to flee abroad; few have returned.
The eruption even continues today but on a much smaller scale, and is confined to the areas around Plymouth. Once the main port city and capital with its docking facilities and the former airport, of which the last remnants were buried by flows from volcanic activity as recent as February 11, 2010!
|The structure to the right of the square building with the two peaks on the roof is the top of the Government Building featured on the Caribbean’s “EC” $20 dollar bill.|
I felt like I was back in time, looking at the ruins of Pompeii under the volcano Mount Vesuvius... a few years after it happened. This is what a city of thousands looks like mostly wiped from the face of the earth. But unlike the tragic that was Pompeii, we now have the technology to warn people and no one should have died from this Volcano. Those 19 who did die, were farmers who talked their way past guards to work in the fields and were tragically caught by a pyroclastic flow.
And on the other side of the island, things were safe.
“I started with nothing. And there was nothing here. I mean nothing, no other business on this side of the island. The hurricane wiped me out and I started over,” John said. “Everything you see I planted and once I started, people started bringing me plants to add. The ceiling and walls are my own museum. My tribute to the island. See the Irish water cans? Those are from when this island was first settled. I love to walk on the beach and I find drift wood and things, then I bring them to the restaurant and put them up,” he said.
But everything changed when the other side of the island blew up and thousands flocked to this side. A guidebook said the entire population is now 4,500 but locals said it is more like 3,700 residents, down from the high of 12,000 mostly living in or around Plymouth. Still today, those who live in neighborhoods closer to the exclusion zone are evacuated periodically due to volcanic activity.
As a part of my OceansWatch volunteering tasks, I met with the assistant marketing director for the Tourism Department. Rebuilding the island’s economy due to everything they have been through is an enormous task. She told me that they were working on events to drive tourism to the island. The largest is the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, the largest in the Caribbean. Due to its Irish heritage of those who first settled here, it is a popular and growing 10 day event.
|Vaccant oceanfront houses. Owners forced to leave inside the exclusion zone.|
The caution is “Orange” the day we toured which means boats can pass close to the beach, but not stop. Stopping can mean a fine of $10,000 US per passenger! A higher caution would mean we would need to stay two miles out. The safe side of the island is now becoming built up and the “new” capital city is being constructed right where John first bought land, in Little Bay.
|The OceansWatch boat viewed from Ponts restaurant|
|Sunday is Barbeque Day at Ponts Beach View Bar and Restaurant|
|Historic photo: The City of Plymouth before being completely covered in 37 feet of ash and rock|