THE ISLAND OF Montserrat, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, is part of the chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea that were formed millions of years ago by volcanoes, some of which remain active, while others are completely dormant. Montserrat itself is composed of 7 active volcanoes of varying ages, which have been mostly inactive since the time of the island’s colonization in the 1630s. But in July 1995, the Soufriere Hills began to emit hot ash and gases, forcing over two-thirds of the population from their homes and the abandonment of nearly half the island. Like its neighbors to the north, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat was colonized by the British mostly for its potential for raising sugarcane. Its neighbor to the south is the French overseas department of Guadeloupe. These islands also are volcanic in origin, and the Soufriere de Guadeloupe is an active volcano. Nevertheless, there had been little sign of imminent danger on Montserrat, and no emergency plans had been laid. Some evidence indicates that the island saw its last eruption about 18,000 to 19,000 years ago, but other evidence suggests it could have been as recent as the early 17th century, just before colonization. Indeed, the name of the most recently active area is the Soufriere Hills, named for the French term soufrière, a vent or fumarole that emits sulfurous gases and vapors (the French word itself is related to the English word sulfur).