The Nation With a Ghost Town for its Capital

Plymouth Montserrat

Not too many of us can name the nations of the Lesser Antilles from memory. Fewer can name the capital cities of those island nations. There is a chance you know someone who lives in one of those cities, but it is guaranteed that you can name every single person who lives in one of them. If you can’t think of a single person who resides in the capital city of Montserrat, then you have proven the point. Its city of Plymouth is the only capital city in the world that has a population of zero.

Topographic-map-of-Montserrat-enMontserrat is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom located in the Leeward Island chain of the Lesser Antilles, West Indies. Plymouth was founded in 1632. It was the primary point of entry for the island of Montserrat, so the community quickly grew in size and importance.

Plymouth became the nation’s capital city and was the center of both government and commerce. Its location brought some inherent problems, however. For one thing, the Caribbean is prone to hurricanes. This point was driven home on September 17, 1989, when Hurricane Hugo devastated Plymouth’s harbor. The storm caused extensive damage to health centers, the only hospital on the island, and several schools. Twenty percent of all buildings were completely blown apart and all electricity and communications were lost. Nearly every structure on the island suffered damage, ten lives were lost and the hilltop water tanks blew over and rolled down the mountains, leaving islanders with no fresh water. More than 2,500 people became homeless.

A greater problem stems from the fact that the island of Montserrat was created by a complex stratovolcano — a volcano that is still active. Soufrière Hills is the name given to the collection of volcanos that had been dormant for 500 years. Despite several periods of seismic disturbances, few of the residents thought there was a serious risk of an eruption. That all changed just six years after Hurricane Hugo.

In 1995 the volcano started spewing ash and rocks into the air. The eruptions continued steadily, coupled with occasion — and devastating — pyroclastic flows of insanely-hot gases and ash. By 1997 Plymouth was covered with ash. Much of the city was burned. The airport and docks were destroyed.

Topographic-map-of-Montserrat-enAlmost overnight, Montserrat’s population plummeted from 12,000 residents to just a few thousand. Plymouth was especially hard hit. To protect from further risk to human life, the government imposed an exclusion zone, blocking off nearly two-thirds of the island from human access. Included within the off-limits area was the entire city of Plymouth.

The seat of government has been temporarily moved to Brades, but Plymouth remains, officially, the capital city. This makes Montserrat the only nation in the world with a ghost town for its capital city.

Read about the volcano that brought an almost-biblical series of plagues to an island.

Read more fun facts about geography.

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