Montserrat is a Caribbean island located in the Leeward Islands, part of the chain of islands known as the Lesser Antilles, in the West Indies, and a British overseas territory. The island was partially destroyed when a previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano erupted in July 1995, engulfing Montserrat’s Georgian era capital city of Plymouth with more than 12 metres of mud. Two-thirds of the island’s population was forced to flee. The volcano continued to erupt regularly during the late 1990s, including one on June 25, 1997 in which nineteen people died when they were overtaken by a pyroclastic flow. The most recent period of increased activity at the Soufrière Hills volcano, from November 2009 through February 2010, sent a fresh pyroclastic flows down several sides of the mountain, and a column of ash more than 20,000 feet into the air. Since 2010, the volcano has been relatively quiet, but the city remains mostly buried in mud and hardened rock.
An « exclusion zone » extending from the south coast of the island north to parts of the Belham Valley has been imposed because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity. Presently visitors are not permitted entry into the exclusion zone, but an impressive view of the destruction of Plymouth can be seen from the top of Garibaldi Hill in Isles Bay.
Despite the volcanic activity, a large part of Montserrat remains lush and green. In February 2005, The Princess Royal officially opened a new airport at Gerald’s in the north; the previous airport was destroyed by the volcano. A new capital town and port is being developed at Little Bay in the northwest of the island where new docking facilities are in place. The current government centre is at Brades, a short distance away.