Pompeii (and neighboring Herculaneum) are today some of the best-preserved ruins of the Roman world and a site where so much about daily Roman life has been learned about. Its a world frozen in time. But Pompeii is not so unique - it happened before. Thousands of years before Pompeii, the ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri was also buried by a storm of volcanic ash.
This is something that continues to happen today. Disaster struck this little Caribbean paradise on 18 July 1995. On that date, the previously dormant volcano Soufrière Hills erupted in fire and fury. Over a period of 5 years between 1995 and 2000 around 66% of the island's population was forced to flee - mostly to Great Britain.
Montserrat - A (Partially) Lost Caribbean Paradise
In the Caribbean located in the Leeward Islands is the small British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. This small island territory is around 16 kilometers (10 miles) long and around 11 kilometers (7 miles) wide.
- Status: British Overseas Territory
It is an isle so beautiful it is nicknamed "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" for its resemblance to coastal Ireland as well as the number of inhabitants of Irish ancestry on the island.
- First Discovered: The Island Was First Discovered By Westerners by Christopher Columbus on His Second Voyage in 1493
The first settlers arrived from Ireland in 1632 after being exiled by the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell. More fled from Ireland when Cromwell became Lord Protector and soon Irish Catholics accounted for a majority on the island.
In 1666 the islanders tried to get the French to capture the island from the English. But the English eventually triumphed and it has remained a British possession since then. Over the years more and more slaves were brought to the island from Africa to work on the plantations.
- Monterrat Population: 13,000 In 1994 - Today Around 5,000
Back in the 80s like many other Carriberrean paradises, Montserrat was a hotspot for celebrities. And Plymouth had its share of luxury resorts.
Soufrière Hills Eruption And Buring Of The Capital Plymouth
On 21 August of 1995 ash falls and pyroclastic flows from the Soufrière Hills volcano covered the town almost completely. It also darkened the sky almost completely. Prior to the eruption, the population of the town was around 4,000. By December the entire population had evacuated.
- Eruption: 18 July 1995
The volcano first erupted in 1995 but residents soon returned only to have to flee again quickly thereafter. By 1997 there were only 1,200 people left on the island (although that has recovered somewhat to around 4,800 in 2018).
In the destruction, the little Georgian era capital city of Plymouth was destroyed and buried under volcanic ash. The volcano continues to erupt and today the whole northern half of the island is inhabitable and is part of the exclusion zone.
The volcanic activity continues to affect the vicinity of Plymouth (including the island's docking facilities) - although it has been quieter since 2010. The former airport on the eastern side of the island was also destroyed and buried by volcanic flows. For a few years after that, the only way off and onto the island was by helicopter or boat. In July 2005 a new airport was opened on the northern end of the island.
Today Plymouth in Montserrat is buried under 1.4 meters or 4.6 feet of ash. The sight and carnage are such that is it called the Pompeii of the Caribbean. The eruption destroyed around 80% of the town.
- Volcanic Ash: 1.4 Meters or 4.6 Feet
Visiting Montserrat Today
"The deserted town of Plymouth is Montserrat’s star attraction – the only volcanic-buried town in the Americas. Its ghost town feel is attributed to its eerie quiet, the absence of animals and birds, the subtle usurping of the town by the volcanic ash, even in its resting phase... it is only accessible with a certified tour guide. Tours & Taxi Association"
The exclusion zone remains in place because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and the potential for pyroclastic activity.
Visitors are generally not permitted to enter into the exclusion zone, but one can still see the destruction of the former capital from the top of Garibaldi Hill in Isles Bay. A new capital remains under construction at Little Bay.
Capital Of Montserrat:
- Official: Plymouth (de jure) - Abandoned
- De Facto: Brades
- Underconstruction: At Little Bay
To get to Montserrat one can take a 90-minute ferry from neighboring Heritage Quay in Antigua to Little Bay in Montserrat (it costs around $55) - and the airport is another option.
There are only a handful of tour companies (see VisitMontserrat.com) on Montserrat with tours starting from around $50. If one would like to visit Plymouth one should ensure the guide can get the needed permits (they cost around $100 per person).
- Permits: Special Permits Are Required To Visit Plymouth