Scientists warned residents to stay in the northern tip of Montserrat on Monday, saying an “explosive event” from the island’s smoldering volcano seemed all but imminent.
Rapid buildup of lava and pressure inside the volcano may cause the dome to collapse “at any time,” the Montserrat Volcano Observatory said.
A collapse could send avalanches of super-heated ash and rock - or pyroclastic flows - as far as the central coastal town of Salem, it said. Previous eruptions have rained volcanic pebbles and ash on the town, which lies on the northern edge of the evacuated zone.
The observatory said volcanic activity had increased to a “dangerous level” and urged all residents to head north “immediately.”
A series of small pyroclastic flows raced down the volcano’s western flank early Monday to within a half mile of Salem, according to scientist Stephen Sparks.
More than half of the island’s 11,000 residents have left since the Soufriere Hills volcano awoke in July 1995. The southern two-thirds of the 39-square-mile island is off limits, but residents sometimes ventured back to check on homes and tend livestock. About 5,000 people are packed into shelters and homes on the north.
“Over the next six months, at least, it will be extremely dangerous to go into these areas,” Sparks said, referring to the off-limits zone.
Winds from Hurricane Erika swept ash from Montserrat to nearby Antigua on Monday, forcing businesses there to shut down and residents to don ash masks.