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MONTSERRAT’S UNEXPECTED LIFE

http://www.nytimes.com/

Though its capital was leveled by a volcano and more than half of the island is now in the “exclusion zone,” this British territory remains home to a vibrant community.

    • HOTOGRAPHER
      Andrew Moore
    • HOME 
      New York
    • DESTINATION 
      Montserrat
    • TRIP DURATION 
      Nine Days
    • ABOUT MONTSERRAT
      Montserrat, an 11-mile-long island in the Lesser Antilles, had 10,000 inhabitants before the eruption; the population is now around 5,000. The island has been looking at ways to use the exclusion zone to its advantage. Sand mining has started there, and tourists have begun visiting the ruins of Plymouth.

    Several years ago, a close friend of mine, the photographer Allan Macintyre, went with a group of scientists to explore Montserrat’s former capital, Plymouth. I was struck by his black-and-white pictures of half-buried buildings. He told me there wasn’t a lot of color there because everything is covered in volcanic ash. But I really wanted to see for myself what a submerged town looked like. And also, I wanted to see how nature had filled the void.

    To get around, I enlisted the help of a man named James Daley, who goes by Scriber and is a tracker for the exclusion zone. A mature jungle is quite easy to walk through, but new undergrowth is very, very dense. Daley had to cut a path with a machete in places where there had been roads. There were also Jack Spaniard wasps, which are very aggressive and nasty, living under the leaves. Daley had to look out for them and spray them; he was stung, and my assistant was as well. We went to a village in the hills above Plymouth that had also been completely abandoned; it took us about an hour to go one mile.

    I shot some pictures from a helicopter, which offered extraordinary views, because you can see Plymouth and the volcano in the background. But on foot, you could actually see houseplants that had grown 20 feet tall and shot up through a roof.

    The director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, Roderick Stewart, is a volcanologist and a keen photographer himself. He was impressed that I was shooting with a four-by-five, a large-format camera. He took me along on a trip to one of the M.V.O. monitoring stations, at Roche’s Yard, as well as to Amersham, outside Plymouth, an area that is not yet open to tourists and to which he hadn’t been since 1997. I actually want to go back to Montserrat soon because I think that this island is going to become more and more of a destination.

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    A Pentecostal church in Plymouth. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    A residence in Plymouth, covered in ash. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Government House, formerly the official residence of Montserrat’s governor. Britain colonized the island in 1632. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    The Soca Cabana club in Little Bay. The wooden bar inside the club was rescued from AIR Studios, an offshoot of Sir George Martin’s legendary London recording studio, after it was damaged by a hurricane. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Tryouts for ‘‘Montserrat Idol’’ at the Soca Cabana club. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Cudjoe Head corner, named after a slave who fled his master but was subsequently caught and beheaded. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    A Montserrat Volcano Observatory monitoring station at Roche’s Yard.CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Ruins in Windy Hill, inside the exclusion zone. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    An abandoned apartment in Plymouth. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Molyneux, part of the now densely overgrown exclusion zone. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    A sand and gravel operation in Belham Valley; the island is hoping to strengthen its economy by exporting sand.CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Volcanic deposits near Bethel Estate, in the exclusion zone. CreditAndrew Moore for the New York Times

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    James Daley, known as Scriber, a tracker for the exclusion zone. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    View from the Gingerbread Hill guesthouse. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Cork Hill, a residential area outside Plymouth that was abandoned after the volcano began erupting. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

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    Fort Ghaut, inside the exclusion zone, with the Soufrière Hills volcano in the distance. CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times


 

Post-scriptum: 
A view of Plymouth and Amersham. The Soufrière Hills volcano is in the background. Credit Andrew Moore for The New York Times

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