Plymouth was the capital of Montserrat, with a population of approximately 4000 people. The town and the island’s main source of income was residential tourism, an offshore medical school and Sir George Martin’s famous recording facility, Air Studios. But in July of 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano awoke from its 400 year slumber, erupting fresh lava. By August 1995, the first evacuation of local residents occurred due to volcanic ash, and by June 25, 1997, the town was fully evacuated. On this date, pyroclastic flows occurred in all directions, and the main business centre in the town of Plymouth was completely destroyed.
Eighty percent of Plymouth is now buried under 30ft (10m) of ash, and with the only airport and the two major hotels in the new exclusion zone completely destroyed, tourism died.
On Tuesday June 7, 2016, I was given a tour of Plymouth by Sun Lea, of Sun’s Montserrat Island Tours. Sun grew up on Montserrat. His first hand personal account of his life and those of local Montserrations, before and after the eruption is both fascinating and tragic.
Sun started the tour with a visit to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory where we viewed a documentary that described the history and impact of the eruption. The film was created by his father David Lea, a videographer who has lived with his wife and family on Montserrat for 36 years. David produced the film Price of Paradise which documents the story of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The film contains powerful images of the eruption and the town of Plymouth before and after the pyroclastic flows.
With the images of the volcanic eruption fresh in our minds, our visit into Plymouth afterwards felt even more surreal. The devastation caused by the pyroclastic lava flows was all around us as Sun took us to view parts of the town. Steel frames that once supported buildings had bent due to the heat, boulders wedged themselves under structures, and buildings laid buried under layers of lava flows and mud.
We toured what was left of Montserrat Springs Hotel. What I saw reminded me of life abandoned, but also frozen in time.
Sun’s personal account of places he grew up around as a child and adult, which has since been destroyed makes this tour of Plymouth a must do trip to appreciate and understand the very recent history of Montserrat and the people who live here.
For more information, please visit Montserrat Island Tours.
And for a place to stay while visiting Montserrat, check out Gingerbread Hill Montserrat