MVO Seeks Local Knowledge on Possible Source of Sinkhole

MVO Photo taken by Adam Stilton of inside the Sink Hole discovered on February 17, 2016 on the North Bluff.
MVO Photo taken by Adam Stilton of inside the Sink Hole discovered on February 17, 2016 on the North Bluff.

Stories of sinkholes and local knowledge of Montserrat’s coastline is playing a role in the ongoing study of the sinkhole which was discovered last week by scientists here.

According to Director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) Dr Rod Stewart, they are very interested in speaking to residents who may have information about possible caves along the Northern coastline.

Stewart was speaking Tuesday at a press conference led by Her Excellency the Governor Elizabeth Carriere to discuss the status of the investigation into the cause of the large hole which was found on the North West Bluff, during a routine check of scientific equipment there.

The director said since the announcement of the discovery, farmers who use the area have shared that they first noticed smaller holes in December 2015. Stewart, said however, the hole at its current size was not visible one month ago when they last visited the area. The sinkhole is more than 15 feet wide. The depth is unknown as it narrows as it deepens.

“The area is unsafe and people shouldn’t go there,” cautioned Governor Carriere. She added that every effort will be made to keep the public abreast of any discoveries but the safety of the public was important.

Disaster Management director Billy Darroux said his department is working with the MVO to bar off the area from wondering animals and people. He added that the location of the hole would make it very difficult to mount any type of rescue operation and no equipment to get someone out of the hole is on island.

The officials said the location of the hole is not visible on the ground and so it would be very easy for someone to fall into it. The area right around the sinkhole is also said to be unstable and more cave-ins are possible.

Stewart told the press that of note, is that debris from the collapse is not visible in the cavity, which says that the hole is a lot deeper than they can see from above. Over the coming days, the plan is to send down a camera to see what the walls and also how deep the hole goes.

According to reports received, there may be caves on the northern bluff and this could be connected to one of them. The volcanologist noted, they believe there is some truth to a connection as the steam coming from the hole is salt. However, they do not yet have an explanation for how it is being heated. A possible connection to the dormant volcano at Silver Hills is not being ruled out.

Further investigations into the sinkhole and the possible connections to the sea will include weekly measurements of ground deformation to see if any materials are moving. Currently there is no evidence of such, Stewart added. Gas measurements and sampling of the steam will continue.

The MVO is looking for ways to measure the cavity. As there is no such equipment on island, they are reaching out to colleagues to see if the equipment can be brought in.

“Work will become slower as it will be more complicated but we will share further results and communicate to the public,” the MVO director said.

He credited social media for enabling them to gather some good theories on how the sinkhole could have developed. They plan to continue using Facebook to share photos and updates as they progress. Many residents have shared that sinkholes are not new on island and some exist in Woodlands and other areas but may be inaccessible now.

All of the officials cautioned the public to stay away from the area and that their continued safety was paramount.

MVO Director Rod Stewart explains the possible causes of the sinkhole discovered on the Northern tip of Montserrat last week.

Posted by Discover Montserrat on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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