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Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 67, Issue 4, pp 292–313 | Cite as

The impacts of pyroclastic surges on buildings at the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat

  • Peter J. BaxterEmail author
  • Robin Boyle
  • Paul Cole
  • Augusto Neri
  • Robin Spence
  • Giulio Zuccaro
Research Article

Abstract

We investigated the impacts on buildings of three pyroclastic surges that struck three separate villages on 25 June, 21 September and 26 December, 1997, during the course of the andesitic dome building eruption of the Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, which began on 18 July, 1995. A detailed analysis of the building damage of the 26 December event was used to compare the findings on the flow and behaviour of dilute pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) with the classical reports of PDCs from historical eruptions of similar size. The main characteristics of the PDC, as inferred from the building damage, were the lateral loading and directionality of the current; the impacts corresponded to the dynamic pressure of the PDC, with a relatively slow rate of rise and without the peak overpressure or a shock front associated with explosive blast; and the entrainment of missiles and ground materials which greatly added to the destructiveness of the PDC. The high temperature of the ash, causing the rapid ignition of furniture and other combustibles, was a major cause of damage even where the dynamic pressure was low at the periphery of the current. The vulnerability of buildings lay in the openings, mainly windows, which allowed the current to enter the building envelope, and in the flammable contents, as well as the lack of resistance to the intense heat and dynamic pressure of some types of vernacular building construction, such as wooden chattel houses, rubble masonry walls and galvanised steel-sheet roofs. Marked variability in the level of damage due to dynamic pressure (in a range 1–5 kPa, or more) was evident throughout most of the impact area, except for the zone of total loss, and this was attributable to the effects of topography and sheltering, and projectiles, and probably localised variations in current velocity and density. A marked velocity gradient existed from the outer part to the central axis of the PDC, where buildings and vegetation were razed to the ground. The gradient correlated with the impacts due to lateral loading and heat transfer, as well as the size of the projectiles, whilst the temperature of the ash in the undiluted PDC was probably uniform across the impact area. The main hazard characteristics of the PDCs were very consistent with those described by other authors in the classic eruptions of Pelée (1902), Lamington (1951) and St Helens (1980), despite differences in the eruptive styles and scales. We devised for the first time a building damage scale for dynamic pressure which can be used in research and in future volcanic emergencies for modelling PDCs and making informed judgements on their potential impacts.

Keywords

Pyroclastic density current Buildings Dynamic pressure scale  

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank the British Geological Survey for funding the digital elevation model. We are grateful to the many scientists at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, especially Steve Sparks, Simon Young and Sue Loughlin, for field support and many helpful discussions, and to Lucy Ritchie, who assisted Paul Cole in the field work and the preparation of the maps of the deposits. Andrew Woods provided valuable ideas on the fluid dynamics of the 26 December 1997 eruptive event. Partial funding was also provided by the European Community, Project No. ENV4-CT98-0699.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Baxter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robin Boyle
    • 2
  • Paul Cole
    • 3
  • Augusto Neri
    • 4
  • Robin Spence
    • 5
  • Giulio Zuccaro
    • 6
  1. 1.University of Cambridge Clinical SchoolAddenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge United Kingdom
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUnited Kingdom
  3. 3.Department of GeographyUniversity of Coventry
  4. 4.Centro per la Modellistica Fisica e Pericolosita dei Processi VulcaniciIstituto Nazionale di Geofisica e VulcanologiaPisaItaly
  5. 5.Department of ArchitectureUniversity of CambridgeCambridge United Kingdom
  6. 6.Department Scienza delle CostruzioneUniversity of Naples “Federico II”NaplesItaly

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