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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
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

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker / Telesales

£15000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading supplie...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales Executive - Dereham

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation is proud to b...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales Executive - OTE £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation is proud to b...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project