On 18 July 1995, the previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano, in the southern part of the island, became active. Eruptions destroyed Montserrat's Georgian era capital city of Plymouth. Between 1995 and 2000, two-thirds of the island's population was forced to flee, primarily to the United Kingdom, leaving fewer than 1,200 people on the island in 1997 (rising to nearly 5,000 by 2016). The volcanic activity continues, mostly affecting the vicinity of Plymouth, including its docking facilities, and the eastern side of the island around the former W. H. Bramble Airport, the remnants of which were buried by flows from volcanic activity on 11 February 2010.
An exclusion zone, encompassing the southern part of the island to as far north as parts of the Belham Valley, was imposed because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity. Visitors are generally not permitted entry into the exclusion zone, but a view of the destruction of Plymouth can be seen from the top of Garibaldi Hill in Isles Bay. Relatively quiet since early 2010, the volcano continues to be closely monitored by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
In 2015, it was announced that planning would begin on a new town and port at Little Bay on the northwest coast of the island. While additional plans proceeded, the centre of government and businesses was moved to Brades. After a number of delays, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in early 2020, in June 2022, ground was broken on the Little Bay Port Development Project, a £28 million project funded by the UK and the Caribbean Development Bank.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island Santa María de Montserrate, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery of Montserrat, on Montserrat mountain, near Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. "Montserrat" means "serrated mountain" in Catalan.
Map - Montserrat