Eruption of Mount Pelée, Martinique, in 1902, with graveyard in foreground.
Eruption of Mount Pelée, Martinique, in 1902, with graveyard in foreground.
B.L. Singley, Keystone View Company/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs - Source
License: Public Domain

Eruption of Mount Pellée

At about 7:50 a.m. on May 8, the volcano erupted with a deafening roar. A large black cloud composed of superheated gas, ash and rock rolled headlong down the south flank of Mt. Pelée at more than 100 miles per hour, its path directed by the V-shaped notch at the summit. In less than one minute it struck St. Pierre with hurricane force. The blast was powerful enough to carry a three-ton statue sixteen meters from its mount. One-meter-thick masonary walls were blown into rubble and support girders were mangled into twisted strands of metal. The searing heat of the cloud ignited huge bonfires. Thousands of barrels of rum stored in the city's warehouses exploded, sending rivers of the flaming liquid through the streets and into the sea. The cloud continued to advanced over the harbor where it destroyed at least twenty ships anchored offshore.

But before I got there I looked back -- and the whole side of the mountain which was near the town seemed to open and boil down on the screaming people. I was burned a good deal by the stones and ashes that came flying about the boat, but I got to the cave.

— Havivra Da Ifrile, one of three survivors of the 1902 Eruption of Mt. Pelée

Mount Pelée in Martinique, West Indies, and Lassen Peak and Mono domes in California are examples of lava domes. An extremely destructive eruption accompanied the growth of a dome at Mount Pelée in 1902. The coastal town of St. Pierre, about 4 miles downslope to the south, was demolished and nearly 30,000 inhabitants were killed by an incandescent, high-velocity ash flow and associated hot gases and volcanic dust. Only two men survived; one because he was in a poorly ventilated, dungeon-like jail cell and the other who somehow made his way safely through the burning city.