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Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the risk to British citizens in Montserrat caused by the partial collapse of the dome and subsequent volcanic activity of the Soufrière Hills volcano; and what emergency contingency plans are in place. [HL3168]

The Soufrière Hills volcano is monitored continuously at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO), which is permanently staffed by professional volcanologists. The MVO regularly assesses the hazard and risk posed by the volcano to the community of Montserrat. The director of the MVO provides advice to the Governor and the Government of Montserrat on the volcanic activity and decisions on appropriate responses are taken. The safety of the community is the top priority.

The current increased activity and accelerated dome growth began on 4 October 2009. This resulted in major pyroclastic events before Christmas 2009, which forced the night-time evacuation to the north of the island of those residents living in the zones closer to the volcano. Further large pyroclastic events followed on 8 January, 5 February and 11 February. Since the last event, volcanic activity has returned to relatively low levels. The evacuation order remained in place until 23 February 2010, when residents were allowed to return to their homes full time. The current Montserrat hazard level rating is 3, on a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is the lowest and 5 is the highest.

With support from the Department for International Development (DfID), Montserrat’s National Disaster Response Advisory Committee, chaired jointly by the Governor and the Chief Minister, has commissioned an assessment of the pyroclastic flow and surge models in the occupied zones closest to the volcano to review current risk and hazard levels.

In addition, a disaster management capability review of Montserrat was carried out by Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID officials in November 2009, which examined Montserrat’s state of preparedness and its plans for all disasters, including volcanic eruptions and hurricanes.