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Skip Navigation LinksHome : Volcanoes : Volcanic Activity in the Eastern Caribbean
Volcanic Activity in the Eastern Caribbean

While hurricanes are much more common in the Eastern Caribbean no hurricane has ever completely destroyed the capital of an Eastern Caribbean island (that is to say, made it completely uninhabitable) while volcanic eruptions have done so twice:
- to St. Pierre, Martinique in 1902 and
- to Plymouth, Montserrat in 1997
Additionally, while property destruction levels from severe hurricanes generally range from 10-25%, property destruction levels (and by extension, casualties) in the Eastern Caribbean caused by volcanic eruptions approach 100% in the most severely affected areas. Thus, the only appropriate action that can be taken to prevent this is a total evacuation of the areas likely to be affected. For this reason, public education and awareness in advance is crucial to successful disaster preparedness and mitigation programmes in that it equips the public with the necessary information to be able to make informed decisions and to facilitate (rather than obstruct) disaster response action in the event of a crisis.

In assessing the threat posed by volcanoes to Eastern Caribbean countries, it is useful to review data on actual volcanic disasters over the past 300 years (see tables below). Keep in mind that there have been at least 15 other eruptions that have not resulted in large numbers of deaths or destroyed enough property to be ranked as disasters.

Type of Event No. of deaths caused
Volcanoes > 30,000
Earthquakes Approx. 15,000
Hurricanes Approx. 15,000
Tsunamis Approx. 50

Actual volcanic disasters in the Eastern Caribbean over the past 300 years
Year Volcano Nature of Disaster (costs in year 2000 dollars) *
1718 Soufriere (St. Vincent) Major explosive eruption. Unknown number of casualties amongst indigenous Caribs.
1812 Soufriere (St. Vincent) Major explosive eruption. About 80 deaths. Considerable damage to the sugar industry. Economic cost unknown.
1902 Soufriere (St. Vincent) Major explosive eruption. About 1600 deaths. Considerable damage to the sugar industry. Economic cost esti-mated at US$200,000,000.
1902 Mt Pelé (Martinique) Major explosive/effusive eruption. Over 30,000 deaths. Complete destruction of the city of St. Pierre. Other damage to agriculture considerable. Economic cost about US$1,000,000,000.
1976 - 77 Soufriere (Guadeloupe) Minor phreatic eruption. No casualties but economic cost estimated at US$1,000,000,000
1979 Soufriere (St. Vincent) Moderate explosive eruption. No casualties but economic losses to the order of US$100,000,000
1995 - present Soufriere Hills (Montserrat) Moderate explosive/effusive eruption. About 20 deaths. Complete destruction of capital, Plymouth. Economic cost not yet estimated but in excess of US$500,000,000. Complete destruction of the economy.

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes share the common feature that they happen fairly infrequently but when they do happen the consequences can be devastating. By unfortunate coincidence the mean interval between such disasters is roughly comparable with one human lifetime so that the memory of the previous event would have just about faded from public consciousness when the next one occurs. Maintaining public preparedness for geologic disasters through the long, quiescent periods, therefore, presents a significant challenge.