The chain of islands that make up the eastern Caribbean are very new in geological time. They were formed when the small Caribbean Plate started to rub up against the Atlantic Plate. The Caribbean Plate went over the top of the other and caused fissures. Lava flowed out of these forming volcanoes that eventually pierced the water surface in numerous places. A string of islands from Grenada to St Thomas was formed, some of which still contain active volcanoes or some sort of volcanic activity. To the east and west, the overlapping of the plates caused the coral lined sea bed to rise and emerge. Several islands were formed in this way, Barbados, most of Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla and Anegada.
On the west side, only the little Aves or Bird Island emerged. This little sand bank has caused more trouble in the Caribbean than anywhere else. Venezuela have laid claim to it as it means they can also claim the substantial fisheries around it and any oil that may be lurking there. Aves lies west of Guadeloupe though and is over 400 miles from the Venezuelan mainland. To be able to substantiate their claim, a small army billet has been established; the posting from hell. Everything, including fresh water has to be flown in. All for a little bit of rock and a large chunk of sea.
The volcanic activity in the region terrifies a lot of people, quite rightly. Ash fell from Soufrière Mountain in St Vincent in 1987, turning the northern part of the island white. In 1997, the eruption of the Montserrat volcano killed many, made thousands homeless and devastated both the capital and airport. The subsequent emigration took the population down from over 10,000 to a little more than 3,000. However, the land based volcanoes are not the biggest threat. A massive active volcano lies between Grenada and St Vincent. Called Kick ‘em Jenny, it is bubbling away under the surface. If that one blows, and many people think the time is drawing very near, it will create a tsunami large enough to swamp coastal towns across the eastern Caribbean. Earthquakes are a real threat. In Tortola, there are reputed to be two a day. Fortunately this means that the pressure is released regularly, even so, you feel a good shake at least once a month.
If the tectonic problem of living on a plate edge are not enough, the Caribbean islands lie in the direct line of hurricane development from the mid Atlantic. For most of the year there are no worries, but there are about four months, two really serious ones, where hurricanes can fly in at short notice. Waves of warm air come off the Sahara and pick up huge amounts of moisture from the hot seas. If conditions are right, positive feedback kicks in and they continue to grow and strengthen, moving westwards all the time. Jostling for position in amongst all the other weather systems, it is difficult to predict their tracks, and often the three day forecast can show them moving in a broad cone that covers most of the islands. The islands are so small that a single country may miss most of the hurricanes, if you are on the edge of the system you just get some high winds and a lot of rain. If you are right in the track of the eye of the hurricane, there is a twenty four hour period of intense, unrelenting winds, heavy rain and a lot of damage to the entire island.