Categorized | Features, General

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ERUPTION OF THE SOUFRIERE HILLS VOLCANO ON JUNE 25TH, 1997

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ERUPTION OF THE SOUFRIERE HILLS VOLCANO ON JUNE 25TH, 1997, WHICH CLAIMED THE LIVES OF 19 PERSONS

First and foremost, I must give thanks to God for being with the People of Montserrat throughout the past 20 years.  As we look back there is no doubt that from the start of the crisis in 1995, through to the events of June 25th, 1997 and since God’s hand has been with the people of Montserrat; with those who evacuated and live beyond our shores and those who have remained to hold the fort, including of course Nationals, Non-Nationals and friends of Montserrat.  The evidence is there for all to see that we are a blessed people and we know it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

I also take this opportunity to say special thanks to Her Majesty’s Government, to our CARRICOM and OECS organisations, and to all other donors and friends around the world for the good that has been done and will be done to assist the people of Montserrat over the past years and in the years to come. A very special thank you to the people of Antigua who, since the beginning of the crisis, but particularly after June 1997, have opened their arms and their homes to Montserratians passing through and Montserratians settling there.

But let us go back twenty years. Some weeks before June 25th 1997, Mr.  Glen Lewis came to where I was working and urged me to go back to the east to film the landscape which he said would be wiped out soon.  It struck me that if the landscape would be wiped out then the people in those areas would also be wiped out along with it. 

So one day I got my filming equipment together and journeyed there through St Georges Hill all the way to Harris’ interviewing individuals in one village after the other.  I started with a farmer from Streathams filling his containers with water at the stand pipe on St George’s Hill and ended with an 80 plus-year-old lady in Harris’. 

The responses I got plainly showed that, two years on from the beginning of the volcanic crisis, they still had little idea of what the volcano could do, what they were dealing with. I spent the following days going from office to office trying to warn and beg the authorities to act swiftly to save them.  I was too late.  We were too late. And I know from many conversations that I have had over the years that I have not been the only one to have struggled with terrible feelings of guilt and loss after that fateful day.  I also know that facing up squarely to the full truth of why they died is a crucial part of the healing process for all of us.

On behalf of the Government and People of Montserrat, I express our sympathy and offer prayers and support to the families and friends of those who lost their lives twenty years ago today.  This commemoration indicates that we remember your pain and your grief and we will never forget each and every one of the 19 who lost their lives that day:

Alwin Allen,   Winston Allen,  Benjamin / Joseph Brown,    Felina Celestine,  Melville Cuffy,  Beryl Grant,  Edith Greenaway,  Joseph Greenaway,

Mary Bernardine Harris,   Alicia Joseph and her baby Allister Joseph,

Isolyn Lewis,  Chana Rueben Boatswaine / Horrance Murraine, Keithley Ponde, Hezekiah Riley,  Phillip Robinson, Anthony Sutton, Virginia Sutton,

Joseph / Simon Tuitt / White.

Nineteen of our own. Nineteen precious pieces of the heart of Montserrat lost in minutes. Gone! And with them, the hopes and dreams that they shared with their loved ones.

With them also, and with each succeeding eruption, familiar landscapes disappeared: whole valleys, the paths some of us ran to school on, the cemeteries where generations are buried, our favourite mango tree, the Evergreen, the Clock Tower… Bit by bit, all gone!

Gone with them an island lifestyle:  village life, domino games under a village street light …

Families torn apart, father here, mother and children there, old parents and grandparents somewhere else: Antigua, Boston, Toronto, London. Children confined in high-rise apartments dreaming of the grassy hillsides where they used to roam free.

Gone too, more familiar faces, one by one, some at home, so many in volcanic exile, some coming home for one last look of what is left…

We are a resilient people, and that resilience grounded in a solid faith in God has brought us through some tough times.  Some VERY tough times.  But I wonder if perhaps what we need today is to take a break from resilience.

As I considered June 25th 1997 and all that it means to us all, I thought of Jesus facing Lazarus’ grieving sisters. Knowing that He was going to raise their brother, He could have preached a powerful sermon on the miracle to come. But confronted with their pain, Jesus simply broke down and wept with them.

As we think of what we have lost, and most of all of those we have lost, let us not be ashamed of our tears. I pray that today, God may use those tears to wash away some of the pain, guilt, and misunderstandings that many of us have been living with for twenty years. I pray that it will offer us all, wherever we are, on the Rock or in exile, an opportunity to draw closer to each other, give thanks, comfort each other, and strengthen each other with grace and truth.

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ERUPTION OF THE SOUFRIERE HILLS VOLCANO ON JUNE 25TH, 1997, WHICH CLAIMED THE LIVES OF 19 PERSONS

First and foremost, I must give thanks to God for being with the People of Montserrat throughout the past 20 years.  As we look back there is no doubt that from the start of the crisis in 1995, through to the events of June 25th, 1997 and since God’s hand has been with the people of Montserrat; with those who evacuated and live beyond our shores and those who have remained to hold the fort, including of course Nationals, Non-Nationals and friends of Montserrat.  The evidence is there for all to see that we are a blessed people and we know it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

I also take this opportunity to say special thanks to Her Majesty’s Government, to our CARRICOM and OECS organisations, and to all other donors and friends around the world for the good that has been done and will be done to assist the people of Montserrat over the past years and in the years to come. A very special thank you to the people of Antigua who, since the beginning of the crisis, but particularly after June 1997, have opened their arms and their homes to Montserratians passing through and Montserratians settling there.

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But let us go back twenty years. Some weeks before June 25th 1997, Mr.  Glen Lewis came to where I was working and urged me to go back to the east to film the landscape which he said would be wiped out soon.  It struck me that if the landscape would be wiped out then the people in those areas would also be wiped out along with it. 

So one day I got my filming equipment together and journeyed there through St Georges Hill all the way to Harris’ interviewing individuals in one village after the other.  I started with a farmer from Streathams filling his containers with water at the stand pipe on St George’s Hill and ended with an 80 plus-year-old lady in Harris’. 

The responses I got plainly showed that, two years on from the beginning of the volcanic crisis, they still had little idea of what the volcano could do, what they were dealing with. I spent the following days going from office to office trying to warn and beg the authorities to act swiftly to save them.  I was too late.  We were too late. And I know from many conversations that I have had over the years that I have not been the only one to have struggled with terrible feelings of guilt and loss after that fateful day.  I also know that facing up squarely to the full truth of why they died is a crucial part of the healing process for all of us.

On behalf of the Government and People of Montserrat, I express our sympathy and offer prayers and support to the families and friends of those who lost their lives twenty years ago today.  This commemoration indicates that we remember your pain and your grief and we will never forget each and every one of the 19 who lost their lives that day:

Alwin Allen,   Winston Allen,  Benjamin / Joseph Brown,    Felina Celestine,  Melville Cuffy,  Beryl Grant,  Edith Greenaway,  Joseph Greenaway,

Mary Bernardine Harris,   Alicia Joseph and her baby Allister Joseph,

Isolyn Lewis,  Chana Rueben Boatswaine / Horrance Murraine, Keithley Ponde, Hezekiah Riley,  Phillip Robinson, Anthony Sutton, Virginia Sutton,

Joseph / Simon Tuitt / White.

Nineteen of our own. Nineteen precious pieces of the heart of Montserrat lost in minutes. Gone! And with them, the hopes and dreams that they shared with their loved ones.

With them also, and with each succeeding eruption, familiar landscapes disappeared: whole valleys, the paths some of us ran to school on, the cemeteries where generations are buried, our favourite mango tree, the Evergreen, the Clock Tower… Bit by bit, all gone!

Gone with them an island lifestyle:  village life, domino games under a village street light …

Families torn apart, father here, mother and children there, old parents and grandparents somewhere else: Antigua, Boston, Toronto, London. Children confined in high-rise apartments dreaming of the grassy hillsides where they used to roam free.

Gone too, more familiar faces, one by one, some at home, so many in volcanic exile, some coming home for one last look of what is left…

We are a resilient people, and that resilience grounded in a solid faith in God has brought us through some tough times.  Some VERY tough times.  But I wonder if perhaps what we need today is to take a break from resilience.

As I considered June 25th 1997 and all that it means to us all, I thought of Jesus facing Lazarus’ grieving sisters. Knowing that He was going to raise their brother, He could have preached a powerful sermon on the miracle to come. But confronted with their pain, Jesus simply broke down and wept with them.

As we think of what we have lost, and most of all of those we have lost, let us not be ashamed of our tears. I pray that today, God may use those tears to wash away some of the pain, guilt, and misunderstandings that many of us have been living with for twenty years. I pray that it will offer us all, wherever we are, on the Rock or in exile, an opportunity to draw closer to each other, give thanks, comfort each other, and strengthen each other with grace and truth.