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Volcano in paradise by Phil Davison

Volcano in paradise

by Phil Davison

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Volcano in Paradise by Phil Davison | Print | Email
Monday, 03 February 2003
A riveting account of a natural disaster that continues to disrupt the lives of an island people.
Foreign correspondent Phil Davison has written an account of a devastating natural disaster in what has come to be known as "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" and has given it all the hallmarks of a well-constructed thriller. He neither blinds us with technical data nor sensationalises the events that caused such disruption to the island of Montserrat from 1995 to 1997. Initially he introduces us to the main characters in the story, the native Montserratians such as Rose Willock, the mainstay of the local radio station, and Danny Sweeney, fisherman and watersports entrepreneur. Also in the cast are Frank Savage, representing Her Majesty's government on the island, and Frank Hooper, a Sussex policeman who decided to take up a post in the Caribbean as an alternative to early retirement. The author assembles the cast of characters, describing both the people and their duties in some detail but not without humour, and placing them in the idyllic and relaxed setting of the island that saw many Irish settlers. Davison then proceeds to chronicle the precautions taken by those in authority in light of a possible eruption, combined with the threat of two hurricanes also approaching the island.

In introducing us to so many of the main players, and by describing both the topography and the lifestyle of the Montserratians in such detail, the author has ensured that the reader becomes totally caught up in the steadily unfolding drama. What surprises is that the problems caused by the pyroclastic flows from the Sourfriere Hills, known locally as The Mountain, continued for two years or more, halving the population of the island and forcing those who remained into a decreasing "safe zone". Davison concentrates on those who remained, on the very few who refused to heed advice and stayed in their homes, some to perish but others to miraculously escape, and on the way in which the bulk of the remaining population tried to rebuild their lives. Their indomitable spirit is exemplified by the way in which men such as Kevin West continued their businesses from makeshift shelters each time they were moved further north. The incredible work carried out by helicopter pilots, in particular Canadian Jim McMahon, and the dedication to his parishioners shown by Dublin priest Fr Larry Finnegan are in marked contrast to the apparent indifference shown by the government minister responsible for reacting to the disaster, Clare Short. Following the major eruption in June, 1997 the islanders were given the option of evacuation to Britain but felt, rightly or wrongly, that it was a ploy to force them to leave their homes for good and very few availed of the offer.

This is a gripping account of the devastation caused on Montserrat, by a man who is not unfamiliar with situations of extreme danger during the course of his work.
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