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Montserrat Volcano Threatens Capital

A volcanic eruption sent super-heated gas, rock and ash tearing through Montserrat’s deserted capital Sunday, apparently setting aflame homes and buildings that were abandoned two years ago.

Plumes of smoke and flame could be seen shooting up in the capital from Salem, a town about 5 miles north of Plymouth in an area considered safe from the Soufriere Hills volcano.

“We’re experiencing a bit of a crisis,” said Jill Norton, deputy chief scientist at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, shortly after the volcano began a major eruption at 6:15 p.m.

It was the first time the fiery debris - known as pyroclastic flows - had reached Plymouth, which was evacuated along with the rest of the southern half of the island when the volcano first sprang to life in July 1995.

Norton said other eruptions over the past few days had filled a ravine on the volcano’s southwestern flank and left Plymouth exposed.

She said scientists planned to fly over Plymouth with a helicopter late Sunday to inspect the damage.

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