Foulkes is spared blast on volcano isle

If he had feared a "cataclysmic volcanic eruption" - his own much-quoted words of two weeks ago - or just a hail of rotten eggs from hecklers, George Foulkes, Britain's international development minister, ran into neither when he arrived on the Caribbean island of Montserrat yesterday.

The Soufriere Hills volcano, which he said two weeks ago could engulf the whole British colony, spewed ash clouds but kept quiet as Mr Foulkes flew in by helicopter from neighbouring Antigua on a fact-finding mission for the Prime Minister Tony Blair. The islanders were too polite, or simply disinterested, to protest.

"People here are still very sad, thinking of Princess Di. We are all too much in mourning to care about this government man," said Jane Sweeney, owner of a tiny wooden shack bar next to the helicopter landing pad at Gerald's Bottom in the northern "safe zone" of of the island. A few refugees left their nearby tent shelters to watch the British governor Frank Savage and Montserrat's Chief Minister David Brandt greet the envoy.

Mr Foulkes was the man whose "cataclysm" remarks, and suggestion that even the north was unsafe, triggered an evacuation, a media invasion, the overthrow of the local government chief and a rebuff for his boss, Clare Short. British scientists said his remarks were "hopelessly wrong".

In an attempt to put him straight, the scientists took him up on their own helicopter yesterday for a flight around the crater and a look at the devastated capital, Plymouth, and other stricken villages, as well as the "safe zone".

He then went into talks with Mr Brandt, who was reported to have rebuked him and called for urgent British material and moral support for the between 4 to 5,000 Montserratians now squeezed into the tiny northern zone. At least 6,000 islanders have fled to other islands.

"The clear message we are taking on this visit is that Britain will never abandon the people and the island of Montserrat," said Mr Foulkes. Responding to Mr Brandt's suggestion that any compensation should be for those islanders who stay as well as those who leave, he said he wanted to emphasise that Montserratians should have the option of going or staying.

"One of the things we will be doing is to determine what are the basic facilities that need to be provided in health, education, transportation and housing in the north to make life tolerable initially, and ultimately comfortable for those who wish to remain on the island."

Islanders, most of whom have lost everything they owned, were taken aback two weeks ago when Ms Short, then in charge of the British response to the crisis, accused them of whingeing. "They'll be wanting golden elephants next," she said.

Appearing to confirm that his boss had been removed from the Montserrat loop, Mr Foulkes said on his way to Montserrat: "[Mr Blair] told me he wanted me to resolve the situation and that he was relying on me to do that."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'