Montserrat offers a very rare opportunity to witness an active volcano from a safe distance. After laying dormant since prehistoric times (pre 1632 for Montserrat), the Soufrière Hills Volcano in the southern part of the island began erupting on 18 July 1995 with a phreatic explosion (steam and ash) following a 3 year period of seismic (earthquake) activity 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. Shortly afterwards the first evacuation of southern Montserrat was initiated. Plymouth itself was finally abandoned the following year. It now lies buried under layers of volcanic debris deposited by pyroclastic activity and mudflows - each time it rains here in the Emerald Isle, a little more of the former capital disappears forever.
1997 is probably uppermost in people's minds when they recall the eruption to date, and saw pyroclastic flows and surges sweep down the north-eastern flanks of the volcano causing the abandonment of the W H Bramble Airport. By this time more than half of Montserrat's inhabitants had been moved away after their homes and businesses were destroyed and the island's tourism industry was also adversely affected.
Since then an Exclusion Zone encompassing the Soufrière Hills Volcano has been in place and life has refocused to the north. Montserrat's tourist industry is now undergoing a revival, with the volcano representing one of the island's most unique draws. Visitors can learn about its geological origins and history as well as view the volcano from safe locations around the island.
Whilst the volcanic Exclusion Zone covers the entire south-eastern half of the island, as well as extending four kilometres off-shore along the eastern coast to what is known as the Maritime Exclusion Zone, there are various vantage points from where it is possible to view the volcano and the destruction it has wrought on the island.