Montserrat's Soufriere Hills volcano yesterday shot trails of steam and ash into the air, just days after scientists noted an increase in activity on the northwest side of the mountain.

Associated Press reports indicate that the volcanic ash was sent trailing over the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Puerto Rico.

Officials at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory continue to monitor the volcano and post constant reports.

Access to all areas south of Richmond Hill, and south of Jack Boy Hill to Bramble airport and beyond is prohibited at all times. The daytime entry zone, comprising the top part of St. George’s Hill, is open from 6 am to 6 pm. The maritime exclusion zone around the southern part of the island extends 2 km off shore from Pelican Ghaut to Roches Yard on the east side of the volcano, 2 km offshore from O’Garras to Gingoes on the south-west, and 200 m offshore from Plymouth.

After laying dormant for over half a century, the Soufrière Hills Volcano rumbled to life in 1995 and has been active ever since.

Activity increased in 1997, with huge eruptions of lava, rocks and ash changing the face of Montserrat forever. Entire villages were engulfed by pyroclastic flows, and the southern half of the island was evacuated.

The W H Bramble Airport was forced to close and the capital, Plymouth, was abandoned after being buried under layers of volcanic dust. More than half of Montserrat’s inhabitants moved away after their homes and businesses were destroyed.

Plymouth has been compared to a modern day Pompeii. Buried deep in ash, the once thriving business and commercial centre of the island now resembles a dust-covered lunar landscape.

At present, entry to Plymouth is only possible with a police escort. The volcanic exclusion zone covers the entire southern half of the island, as well as extending two kilometers off-shore.