Exploring the forgotten towns of Montserrat
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In 1995, and again in 1997, the Soufrière Hills volcano on Montserrat erupted, warranting the immediate evacuation of a number of towns across the southern end of the small island. More than half of the tiny Carribean country was rendered an uninhabitable zone of exclusion with approximately two thirds of the population departing permanently (most to the United Kingdom), many never to return. Those who chose to remain relocated their lives to the more habitable areas in the north.
The southern area’s, being Plymouth, Richmond and Cork Hill were evacuated, closed off and declared as unsafe due to such close proximity to the now unpredictable volcano. Adding to this were high amounts of ash fall which would prove to be detrimental to peoples health. Now, after almost 20 years of abandonment, these areas have become engulfed in nature and foliage with homes now barely visible through thick forests that have bloomed in the wake of the event. However, unlike Plymouth (images here), Richmond and Cork Hill have not been widely documented. No longer sitting within the exclusion zone, these areas are now open, allowing me to spend 5 uninterrupted days wandering the streets, taking a voyeuristic peek inside the many discarded homes around the area.
Years of ash build up meant that most front doors couldn’t be opened, so I climbed through windows. The homes were a mixture of excessive mansions, beachside holiday apartments and modest homes. It is important to note that Montserrat was also the home of the infamous AIR Recording Studio which brought a number of celebrities to the island, particularly in the 80's...so I assumed that some of the mansions were perhaps once owned by those with fame and money. The interiors still contained some household items and belongings, now covered in a thick layer of ash and dust. In terms of architecture and design, I was usually greeted with either a 60's, 70's or 80's kitschy space (i.e.: lots of wood panelling, crazy stone and retro beach furniture including cane, plastic and fiberglass). Some interiors were sparse with nothing at all inside while others were filled with household items and bits and pieces. It was interesting to note how many lounge rooms had these common arched doorways (and I started to take my photos using these doorways as the central focus). There was no indication of life after 1997, with VHS tapes, cassettes and dated letters scattered over floors and tables (objects of the time). Some bedrooms still contained clothes hanging in closets and shelves full of books (which I spent a while sifting through). Wasp nests dangled from ceilings while large frogs had taken up residency across the floors. In many backyards I found green swimming pools filled with algae and toads.
The Cork Hill Medical Clinic (see link) sits hidden behind overgrown ferns and trees. Some medical implements and items still remain on tables and scattered over the floors. I found a birth report which listed the names of babies born in 1986/87.
There was a hotel on top of a hill (see link) with guest rooms, a reception and a swimming pool filled with years of ash fall and a perfect view of the volcano in the back ground.
Occasionally the smell of sulphur along with a faint mist would descend over the area which was a creepy reminder as to how close I was to an active volcano. Even though I had been advised by locals that the chances of an eruption reaching this area (at the present time) was unlikely, it still felt a little uncomfortable…I guess it was a little like Silent Hill meets Hawaii 5.0. A great place to check out if modern ruins is your thing.