MONTSERRAT: Volcano on island spews superheated debris, forces evacuations from valley

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Montserrat's rumbling volcano spilled superheated debris toward a populated valley on the Caribbean island's west coast, prompting authorities to order dozens of resident to evacuate.

The debris, including boulders the size of houses, has come within 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of the populated zone, Montserrat Volcano Observatory director Paul Cole said Friday.

"The pyroclastic flows are getting farther and farther down the valley," Cole said. "They would incinerate anything in their path."

Cole estimated that fewer than 100 people are affected by the nighttime evacuation order. Islanders are allowed to visit their homes during daylight hours, when authorities can provide more warning of danger.

Authorities raised the volcano's "hazard level" to 4 on a scale of 5 on Thursday, triggering the evacuations.

The pyroclastic flows have been accompanied by dozens of small earthquakes. But Cole said the volcano displayed similar activity earlier this year and he has not noticed anything unusual.

The Soufriere Hills volcano became active in 1995 and killed 19 people when it erupted two years later, burying much of the British territory and prompting half its 12,000 inhabitants to leave.

PUERTO RICO: Island seeks to slash response times by issuing defribillators to firefighters, police

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico is strengthening an emergency response system that has been criticized as slow and inefficient after the deaths of a 13-year-old student and an elderly U.S. tourist.

According to the island's emergency services agency, it usually takes ambulances 10 to 15 minutes to respond to 911 calls — far slower than the four- to eight-minute guideline set by the National Fire Protection Association.

This week, the government began issuing defibrillators — which are currently carried only by EMTs — to firefighters and to officials with the disaster and emergency response agency.

The goal is to increase the number of possible first-responders carrying the equipment, and possibly save some of the 5,000-plus people who die each year from heart conditions.

Police in the U.S. Caribbean territory will begin receiving defibrillators in 2010, according to emergency response spokesman Ramon Alejandro Pabon.

Defibrillators are widely used by firefighters and police on the U.S. mainland, said Fire Capt. David Lewis with the Florida-based U.S. First Responders Association.

Emergency services in Puerto Rico have come under fire since March, when a Chicago tourist died of a heart attack at the airport. Relatives said she might have been saved had there been a defibrillator on hand, and also complained that EMTs were slow to arrive.

Last week, senators demanded an investigation into the death of a 13-year-old epileptic student who died at school after recently undergoing a heart operation. The probe will look at whether enough was done to save the student.

GUYANA: Lawmaker, junior education minister dies after car crash; grandson, 2, also hurt

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — A Guyanese lawmaker and junior education minister has died from injuries sustained in a car crash earlier this week.

Desrey Fox was one of only three Amerindians serving in Guyana's 65-member Parliament.

She was a former university professor who served eight years as legislator, and previously led the Amerindian Affairs department at the University of Guyana.

Fox was driving in the capital of Georgetown late Tuesday when her car collided with an ambulance and slammed into a taxi.

Her 2-year-old grandson was also hurt and is recovering at a hospital.

Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy said Fox died early Friday.

PUERTO RICO: Canadian drug maker Patheon to close or sell plant, consolidate operations

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Canadian drug manufacturer Patheon Inc. says it will consolidate its Puerto Rico operations into one site in the north coast town of Manati.

A statement from the contract pharmaceutical company says Patheon will ultimately close or sell its plant in the central city of Caguas.

CEO Wes Wheeler says the company is developing plans to offer Caguas employees positions at the Manati site.

Company spokeswoman Wendy William said Friday that the consolidation should be completed at the end of fiscal year 2011. She could not speculate on possible layoffs.

Puerto Rico has been a pharmaceuticals hub for decades, although the closure of several plants in recent years has aggravated the island's recession.