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Montserratians return home for the island’s 50th anniversary celebration


by Oscar Ramjeet Fri Jan 04, 2013

The Montserrat volcano which erupted in 1995 and 1998, killing 19 persons and forcing two-thirds of the population to remove from the island, is still active and is spewing approximately 300 tons of sulphur per day. Despite this, more than 3,000 persons went back last week to celebrate the island’s 50th anniversary of Festival.{{more}}

The volcano is under constant supervision by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) comprising a dozen persons, including highly qualified scientists. Dr Paul Cole, who headed the MVO for several years, said that he would not be surprised if there is another eruption because the volcano is still active, but he stressed that if there is another eruption it would not be as devastating as the one in 1998 which caused 19 deaths and forced two-thirds of the population to evacuate their homes, with many leaving altogether to build new lives in Britain, the USA and neighbouring islands.

When quizzed about the effect of the daily sulphur which emanates from the Soufriere Hills, Dr Cole declared that it is not dangerous to life and explained that “the stuff” is bluish and disappears in seconds in the Caribbean sea. I spoke to him the day before he departed Montserrat after several years, for the United Kingdom, to take up another position. Another scientist, Rod Stewart, who served on the island before, will return to head the MVO.

I served Montserrat several years before the volcano erupted, as Magistrate/Registrar between 1986 and 1988, and lived in Dagenhaam which was just outside the capital Plymouth, along with Richmond Hill, Cork Hill, Spanish Pointe, the W.H. Bramble Airport and other areas which were completely destroyed. I visited the area last week and was saddened to see the areas were buried in deep ash. It was a beautiful island and once a thriving and commercial centre, which now resembles a dust-covered lunar landscape.

The island was the centre of offshore banks and international business companies which yielded millions of dollars in revenue. I wore many hats and I recall one Friday afternoon, in my capacity as Registrar of Companies, I incorporated 20 banks.

During my sojourn in Montserrat in the late 1980s, there were only a handful of Guyanese, but today there are hundreds and they comprise more than 25 per cent of the population and I am proud that they are doing extremely well in their various endeavours. There are also scores of Jamaicans. The island is not doing too well in terms of finance, since it only depends on tourism and tax from imported goods. Agriculture is on the decline, because the fertile and level areas once used for planting have been destroyed. Fruits and vegetables are being imported from Dominica. However, sand from the volcano is being exported to other Caribbean islands and even as far as the UK.

I asked one of the Montserratians who returned to the island to participate in the Festival why he spent so much money to return to the island merely for the Festival and his response was that “ ah ya me ban, ah must come back”, ..meaning that he was born in Montserrat and must return.