Dome of Montserrat's volcano partially collapses

A lava dome that had been rapidly growing atop a volcano on this Caribbean island partially collapsed Friday, sending large clouds of ash over the sea, scientists said. No injuries were reported.

The dome had been building since the last collapse on May 20 and formed the highest part of the 3,000-foot (920-meter) Soufriere Hills volcano, said Sue Loughlin, director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

"Today's collapse is the result of a high amount of seismic activity at the volcano," Loughlin said.

The partial-dome collapse, which started at about 1 p.m. local time (1800 GMT) and lasted for 20 minutes, followed two earthquake swarms in recent days in which the observatory's seismic network recorded 1,236 small earthquakes at the Soufriere Hills volcano during a roughly weeklong reporting period, she said.

Fast-moving bursts of hot gases and rock fragments shot down the eastern flank of the volcano into the Caribbean during the collapse. Nearly all the gray plumes of ash spread over the sea with a small amount coating inhabitable areas, Loughlin said.

Montserrat's volcano sprang to life in 1995. More than half the British Caribbean territory's 12,000 inhabitants moved away. An eruption in 1997 buried much of the south, including the capital, Plymouth, and killed 19 people.

The southern part of the tiny island is deserted and off-limits after dark, while the island's 5,000 residents now live in the north, reports AP.