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Soufriere Hills Volcano

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Before 1995, the small Caribbean island of Montserrat was a relatively quiet tourist destination -- a British Overseas Territory with a population of 11,000. Then, the Soufriere Hills volcano came to life after remaining quiet since the 17th century. Thousands lived in the direct path of ensuing mudflows and pyroclastic flows -- cascades of hot gas and rock. The capital city of Plymouth and 20 other settlements were completely destroyed. Dozens lost their lives initially, and thousands were evacuated as eruptions continued off and on for years afterward. More than 7,000 residents moved away, and tourist dollars vanished. While the volcano is still active, it has been relatively quiet since early 2010, and nearly half of the island remains a designated exclusion zone. [31 photos]

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A view of the Caribbean island of Montserrat, with the Soufriere Hills volcano erupting, viewed from orbit aboard the International Space Station on October 11, 2009. The volcano has been active off and on for thousands of years. The most recent period of activity began in 1995, and continues to this day. (NASA)
A view of the Caribbean island of Montserrat, with the Soufriere Hills volcano erupting, viewed from orbit aboard the International Space Station on October 11, 2009. The volcano has been active off and on for thousands of years. The most recent period of activity began in 1995, and continues to this day. (NASA)
Smoke, steam and ash billow from the Soufriere Hills Volcano as seen from Fort Ghaut, on Montserrat, on August 4, 1997. A pre-dawn eruption sent people racing away from an old "safe zone", as the government ordered hundreds of people to evacuate. (AP Photo/Kevin West) #
Emmanuel Ryan, 2, looks to the darkened skies over Olveston, Montserrat, from his mother's arms, on April 8, 1996. The Soufriere Hills volcano erupted again, spewing ash up to forty thousand feet into the sky. (AP Photo/John McConnico) #
Plymouth, the former capital of Montserrat, now sits as a ghost town, on August 21, 1997, as debris from a pyroclastic flow from the Soufriere Hills volcano enveloped the town. (Reuters/Colin Braley) #
Rescue workers pull bodies recovered from the village of Trants, Montserrat, on June 26, 1997. Pyroclastic flows moved through the village, destroying everything in its path and claiming at least 7 lives. (AP Photo/Kevin West) #
Rescue workers near the village of Trants, Montserrat, on Friday June 27, 1997. (AP Photo/Kevin West) #
Smoke and ash billow from the Soufriere Hills volcano, on August 19, 1997. (AP Photo/Kevin West) #
Ash and volcanic debris cut through a section of Plymouth, Montserrat, seen from the air, on August 20, 1997. (AP Photo/Kevin West) #
The Soufriere Hills volcano emits ash and steam as seen from near Salem, Montserrat on August 25, 1997. (AP Photo/John McConnico) #
A church in downtown Plymouth lies beneath up to ten feet of ash and what scientists call pyroclastic flow, or superheated rock and ash, on August 28, 1997. (AP Photo/John McConnico) #
A Royal Navy Lynx helicopter from HMS Liverpool, piloted by Lt-Cdr Darryl Whitehead and Lt Glynn Owen from Weymouth, Dorset, surveys the volcanic damage on August 22, 1997. (Reuters/Ho New) #
A thick layer of ash covers the smoldering central market in Plymouth, on August 4, 1997, after super-heated rocks and ash from the Soufriere Hills volcano set buildings ablaze in Montserrat's abandoned capital. (AP Photo/Kevin West) #
A lone dog wanders the ash-filled streets of Plymouth, on August 28, 1997, weeks after the town was covered by a pyroclastic flow. (Reuters/Colin Braley) #
A former branch bank in Plymouth, Montserrat burns after being inundated by a pyroclastic flow, on August 4, 1997. (AP Photo/Kevin West) #
The town of Plymouth, Montserrat lies beneath up to ten feet of ash, on August 28, 1997. (AP Photo/John McConnico) #
An abandoned video store in the downtown section of the capital city of Plymouth, on August 28, 1997. (AP Photo/John McConnico) #
A traditional British phone booth lies half buried in volcanic ash in the deserted town of Plymouth, on March 2, 1998. Winds whip the ash into the air, making breathing difficult without a mask. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) #
Abandoned homes near previous pyroclastic flows on the lower flanks of Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat, on October 11, 2002. (AP Photo/ Tomas van Houtryve) #
A man sits in a cemetery buried in ash and mud from the Soufriere Hills Volcano, on July 15, 2003. Residents cleaned up after the volcano's dome collapsed days before, leaving the island under another thick layer of ash. (AP Photo/Tomas van Houtryve) #
Canadian tourists on a one-day island tour view the active Soufriere Hills volcano from an observation gazebo set up just outside the Monserrat Exclusion Zone, at Jack Boy Hill, on May 4, 2006. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) #
More than ten years since the first eruption, downtown Plymouth, the formerly vibrant capital of Montserrat, lies almost completely buried beneath ash flows, on May 5, 2006. Despite the cloudcover, ash and rising gases can be seen erupting from the Sourfiere Hills volcano in the background. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) #
Structures of downtown Plymouth, the former capital of Montserrat, almost completely buried beneath ash flows, inside the Monserrat Exclusion Zone, on May 5, 2006. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) #
The runway of Montserrat's Bramble Airport, mostly buried by pyroclastic flows, in a Google Earth image, using imagery from between 2008 and 2010. The entire runway is now obliterated, buried in a 2010 eruption. (Google, Inc.) #
A cloud of superheated ash and gas flows from the Soufriere Hills volcano, seen from Olveston, Montserrat, on January 8, 2007. The cloud reportedly shot up more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) into the sky. (AP Photo/Wayne Fenton) #
The Soufriere Hills volcano erupting on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, on January 23, 2010. Three weeks after this photograph was taken, the dome volcano dome experienced another major partial collapse, triggering hours of eruptions and pyroclastic flows. (AP Photo/Wayne Fenton) #
A view or the northeast shore of Montserrat, overlooking the former location of Bramble Airport, on May 1, 2012. See photo #23 above for a view of the same area pre-2010. Original here. (CC BY Pat Hawks) #
From a helicopter trip above Plymouth, on on May 24, 2012. Original here. (CC BY Pat Hawks) #
From a helicopter trip above Plymouth, on on May 24, 2012. Original here. (CC BY Pat Hawks) #
From a helicopter trip above Plymouth, on on May 24, 2012. Compare with photo #8 above to see the change over the past 15 years. Original here. (CC BY Pat Hawks) #
A swimming pool near Plymouth, completely filled with ash from eruptions of Soufriere Hills volcano. Original here. (CC BY Pat Hawks) #
Interior of an abandoned hotel near Plymouth, photographed on April 30, 2012. Original here. (CC BY Pat Hawks) #

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