PLYMOUTH, Montserrat (AP) _ Ash rose thousands of feet into the air and settled on the capital of this Caribbean island in the largest eruption of a long-dormant volcano since it rumbled to life three months ago.

When the eruption occurred early Friday, Chief Minister Reuben Meade was in London, trying to drum up tourism for the British colony.

Officials said they would evacuate people from Plymouth's hospital and from a home for the elderly to the north of the island. It was not immediately clear how many people would be moved.

Friday's eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano was the largest to date, seismologist William Ambeh of the Caribbean Seismic Research Unit told the private Gem radio.

After a smaller eruption Aug. 21, the government evacuated the entire southern half of the island, including Plymouth. About 6,000 people _ more than half the island's population _ crowded into the homes of friends and families and into schools and churches in the north.