Montserrat volcano exiles to go home

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RESIDENTS OF two towns on volcano-ravaged Montserrat will be allowed to return home in the next few months as the Caribbean island starts returning to normal, government officials said.

A massive cleanup of ash around the towns of Salem and Old Towne will begin immediately, after which 1,200 residents will be allowed to return home to live. "This is a day that we've all been waiting for," the Chief Minister, David Brandt said.

The decision came following a report by scientists last week that the Soufriere Hills volcano, which became active in July 1995 after four centuries of dormancy, is entering a period of quiet that could last 30 years.

"We've begun to see the end of the eruptions," said Richard Robertson, chief scientist with the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

Twenty people were killed in June 1997 when they ignored evacuation orders and were caught in pyroclastic flows of superheated rock and gases .

Currently, 3,000 of the original 11,000 residents live on Montserrat, others moved to Britain, other Caribbean islands or the United States as the island economy collapsed.