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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 23:22 GMT

World: Americas

Surviving in the shadow of a volcano
image: [ The eruption left most of the island uninhabitable ]
The eruption left most of the island uninhabitable

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, is going to Montserrat at the weekend to witness the determination of the remaining population not to be driven off their island by volcanic eruption.

[ image: The island only has one hospital]
The island only has one hospital
Only a third of the original 12,000-strong population remain on the small Caribbean island. The exclusion zone, which began in the area directly beneath the Soufriere Hills volcano, has now spread to cover almost all of Montserrat.

The few thousand people who remain live huddled together in the relatively unscathed northern tip of the island. But there are few basic facilities to provide for them.

The Montserrat Health Minister, Adelina Tuitt, said the island now has only one hospital, a make-shift collection of wooden huts and beds that is insufficient for the high numbers of sick among the remaining residents.

[ image: Adelina Tuitt:
Adelina Tuitt: "This is home"`
"We are faced with a problem on our hands that can very well push people off the island and this is not something we are looking forward to," Ms Tuitt said.

"Montserrat is home and for as long as we are advised by the scientists we can stay on Montserrat, we will remain on Montserrat. And for those who remain, we must provide health care."

These comments outline what will be the key issue for Mr Cook on his visit to Montserrat: money. Though Britain offered each resident who decided to flee the island £2,500, its aid for those who stay has been less certain and slower to arrive.

[ image: Volcano watching: scientist monitor tremors]
Volcano watching: scientist monitor tremors
The remarks of the International Development Secretary, Clare Short, have not helped matters. Many Montserrat inhabitants are still angry at her claim that they would be "wanting golden elephants next".

Some optimism can be found in Montserrat in the one primary school, which has banded together the remaining children from the previous nine schools.

Teacher Rosamund Meade said: "People are going to come back. Things are going to change.

"We have to realise that we are going through a change and when we get off this change we make good."

The Volcano Observatory on Montserrat has the job of making sure the remaining population receives early warning of any future eruptions.

[ image: Richard Robertson:
Richard Robertson: "As safe as elsewhere"
Its chief scientist, Richard Robertson, said for the moment there is no reason why people who have stayed this long should change their minds and leave.

"Certainly in the northern part of the island, it's as safe as other areas in the Caribbean which are exposed to similar types of hazards," he said.

"The question really is not whether or not people can survive in existing conditions, it's more a case of economics."

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