National Geographic : 1997 Jul
ERARD DYER was harvesting his crops, a normal enough pur suit on a cloudless April morn ing on Montserrat. Half a mile above him, however, at the top of a peak but tressed by forested ridges, steam curled from fissures in a dome of gray rock. Gerard stopped to shake my hand, then turned right back to his work. Moving from patch to patch on ten slop ing acres, he hoed sweet potatoes from long mounds of earth, pulled up carrots, picked parsley and tarragon. Satisfied that he'd taken enough, he loaded the produce into a battered pickup truck parked by the dirt track that led to the main road-our only escape from Sou friere Hills volcano. On Montserrat these days there's no telling when a quick exit might be needed. In July 1995, the year before I met Gerard, Soufriere Hills awoke after almost four centuries, throw ing skyward a superheated cloud of ash, steam, and rocks in the first of a series of eruptions that would turn the lives of Montserratians upside down. "I was right here the first time it blow," Ger ard recalled. "The rock come falling down, but we weren't scared. We just stay here and watch the ash drift." He gestured toward half a dozen Hot clouds of gas, ash, and rock that race down the sides of the volcano at nearly a hundred miles an hour have turned the Tar River Valley into a waste land. The area was still tropically lush when Joe Devine, a geologist from Brown University, risked a visit to col lect rock samples in April 1996 (above). "I didn't waste any time there," he says. "It was get in, get out, and thank your lucky stars."