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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Dec. 6, 2001 – Montserratians "can coexist with the volcano," the island's acting governor, Sir Howard Fergus, told former residents and friends during a visit to St. Thomas over the weekend.
Speaking at a meeting of the Montserrat Association of St. Thomas-St. John at Victor's New Hideout on Saturday, Fergus described life on his island since the volcano began acting up, forcing many Montserratians to relocate. Nowadays, he said, there is both reconstruction and new building, and the nearly 5,000 people still living and working on Montserrat are looking to revive their island economically.
He said his "gut feeling" is that the spared areas will continue to be spared and will suffer only ashfall. The hard-hit Richmond Hill and Cork Hill areas will be inhabited again one day, he predicted, but "not in our lifetime."
Although scientists expect several more years of intermittent activity from the Soufriere Hills volcano, Britain is phasing out grants-in-aid beginning in 2002. This, Fergus said, will result in hardship to the homeless, the elderly and children. Montserratians are "not parasites," he said, for they came out of grant-in-aid in the 1980s. But he feels Britain must be held to its obligation.
Construction, important to the economy, is reviving, he said, and the Building Society is "coming back and paying off earlier members." Building lots have been made available at Lookout. Places are being found for the elderly and the mentally challenged. Housing loans are being made, with priority given to current residents.
Fergus, who served for 26 years as speaker of the Montserrat Legislative Council, presiding over his last session on Sept. 20, said Montserratians living abroad should try to acquire land on the island now. Many own property in what is now the forbidden zone, he noted, and the problem of compensation needs study and resolution.
The volcano eventually buried Plymouth, Montserrat's capital. The mid-island town of Salem became the social center of the island. Government services became scattered all over in available buildings but many offices eventually consolidated in the safe northern area.
There is an ambitious project to build a town –– a "new capital" – at Little Bay, Fergus said. Infrastructure including a fishing dock and a public market is planned. But while a design concept is in place, the actual work will be a while coming, he said. Ground breaking is set for a theater/cultural center, with funds raised toward that project by Sir George Martin, formerly an associate in the major recording studio that once lured many stars to the island.
Having frequently served as acting governor during his years as council speaker, Fergus has continued to do so since stepping down. He acknowledged that the list of problems Montserrat faces is long — transportation, education, health care, jobs , a lack of flat land for an airport, the need for a community college; and Montserrat is not part of the Caribbean Community's plan for free movement of workers between countries. But he said that, one by one, the hurdles can be overcome.
Fergus comes from Long Ground, the first village to be evacuated when the volcano became active in 1995-96. A resident tutor at the University of the West Indies School of Continuing Studies, he has written and edited more than 30 books, among them a number of poetry books including several about the volcano. He wrote a poem about Melville Cuffy, who died as a result of volcanic activity; it was published in "Volcano Song," a book sold to raise money for Montserrat relief. He also has written several West Indian historical works, including "Montserrat in the Twentieth Century: Tribulations and Triumphs," published this year.
Long a poet and historian, long a government official and legislator, he says emphatically that "I'm not a politician." Also active as a Christian, he preached at a Sunday morning service on St. Thomas.
He also was one of four special guests at an Inner Life Christian Ministries Church Women Ministry recognition service and dinner on Saturday night. The event honored four St. Thomas residents: Pastors Agnola Martin, Edwin R. White and Franklin Connor; and Maloria Hodge, president of Deeper Life Women Ministry.
Each honoree was surprised with the arrival of an off-island close friend or childhood pal. Fergus and White were boyhood chums in Montserrat and continued their friendship into their adult years. White is one of many Montserratians profiled in Fergus's collection of biographies, "Gallery Montserrat."

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