Saturday, May 20, 2006

I was startled, about an hour ago, by a phone call from Georgia in St. Kitts, with news of significant activity from the Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat--lava dome collapse, ash eruption. (See her two blog reports here and here.) The airport in St. Kitts, it seems, is currently closed due to all the volcanic ash in the air, which reduces visibility--St. Kitts is about sixty miles from Montserrat. (Bad news for St. Kitts, which is preparing to host its first ever international cricket match on Tuesday.)

The Montserrat Volcano Observatory website seems to be down at the moment, along with most other Montserrat government websites, so I decided to ring the observatory to find out what's really going on. I had a quick chat with the observatory director, and then with the head of the emergency department, which has issued two official press releases for the day so far.

The first release, at 10.30 this morning, announced "increased activity" at the volcano, with the collapse of the lava dome at about 7.20 a.m. and a pyroclastic flow which reached the sea on the eastern side of the island, with "heavy ashing". It's expected that this could go on for several hours, and there is some threat of explosive activity and more pyroclastic flows. There is also some threat of tsunami activity triggered by these flows reaching the sea, and small tsunamis have apparently been reported already from Antigua and Guadeloupe (the nearest inhabited islands to Montserrat). The people of Montserrat have been advised to stay indoors and "remain vigilant", but there is no immediate danger.

A subsequent release, at about midday, contains an advisory from the Chief Medical Officer that people with asthma and children under the age of five should be removed to the northern end of the island due to ash and "a level of gas" in the air.

Some of Montserrat's telephone exchanges are currently down and power has been cut to some areas (the volcanic ash conducts electricity), which might account for so many of the websites being inaccessible.

No doubt Georgia will report further this afternoon on the state of things in St. Kitts, where people must be fairly worried about what all this will mean for the cricket!

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