Royal Marines stand by under the volcano

CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Plans for a Dunkirk-style small- craft evacuation of some of Montserrat's remaining 10,000 inhabitants were being made yesterday under the shadow of the rumbling volcano on Chance's Peak.

The Anguillan Coast Guard vessel Dolphin has been carrying out a census of fishing vessels and small boats which could be used. Some islanders with relatives in nearby St Kitts and Nevis have already left Montserrat, according to Juliet Brade, the island's disaster co-ordinator.

Scientists on the island still believe the peak has a 70 to 80 per cent chance of erupting, though they cannot say when or how large the eruption might be. Cloud cover prevented scientists observing the three vents at the summit yesterday but there was no significant change in seismic activity, which is taking place within two kilometres of the old crater, and movement of molten rock close to the surface.

Scientists said yesterday they were concerned about the third vent, which is closest to the capital, Plymouth, in the south-west of the island.

Forty Royal Marines from 42 Commando spent last night in Antigua after flying out from RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, and are expected in Montserrat today to join the 30 already there. The Marines have constructed a large tented camp in the north of the island and have been helping with traffic control and other security duties, including guarding the island's power station in the south, an area already evacuated.

The northern area is thought to be relatively safe, although 1,000 of the island's 11,000 people have left by air. Another 1,000 are in the camp.Children and the elderly have been evacuated to churches and schools. HMS Southampton, five miles off the coast, is being used as a command ship and to broadcast messages on radio channels. Southampton's Lynx helicopter has also made 70 flights in support of the local authorities.

n Capo Miseno - Italian scientists marked the anniversary of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 by sounding a warning that residents in its shadow must be made more aware of the risks they live with, Reuter reports.

Vesuvius's most famous eruption killed some 16,000 people and buried the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Most scientists agree there is no risk of an eruption soon but disagree over how much warning Vesuvius - on the densely populated Bay of Naples - will give before exploding again.

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