The game changer that I thought was going to kill me
Nuee ardente, pyroclastic flow, searingly hot ash avalanche...whatever you choose to call it, I reckoned I had less than a minute before it killed me...
A large lorry drove past behind me as I sat in the undergrowth jotting details of the frog I'd seen. A part of my brain slowly registered that something was not right: "Hang on, there are no roads around here". I turned around to see a wall of volcanic ash a mile away heading down the valley towards me. It looked a text book example of a pyroclastic flow. Typically travelling at speeds of 100 km/h, and with temperatures exceeding 1,000oC I knew that I was going to be dead very quickly. I recalled the 30,000 who died on Martinique in 1902 when Mt Pelee similarly erupted.
Half a minute passed and the billowing cloud of ash didn't get any closer. The summit of the volcano was obscured by low cloud and I realised what must have happened: the volcano had erupted, sending a column of ash upwards which had then collapsed. What I had seen was the descending ash escaping down the valleys radiating from the flanks of the volcano; aided by gravity rather than driven by a lateral blast.
This was a game changer. What we'd all feared had finally come to pass - the once dormant Soufriere Hills volcano had woken up. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Time to get out of here.
This is just one of the stories that inform my talk Montserrat - surviving the volcano