Saint Pierre & the Volcano that destroyed it

Saint Pierre & the Volcano that destroyed it

Saint Pierre is a tiny village on the northern coast of the island of Martinique.  Back in the late 1800's this was a bustling port city, that at the time was known as the "Paris of the Caribbean".  Ships hauled away precious loads of sugar and rum, grown elsewhere on the island, there was a beautiful theater and it had become the official cultural capital of the French colony.


The only problem was that it lay just 7 kilometers away from the volcano called Mount Pelee.  The mountain was quiet though, other than a few rumblings and an ash shower in 1851, it had been quiet for over 50 years.


In April 1902 however, it started to come to life with a string of small tremors and a few wafts of sulphuric gases down the mountain, but overall life in St.Pierre carried on as normal.

On May 2nd, 1902 there was another small eruption and the residents noticed that the summit of the mountain seemed to be on fire.  It was spewing golden rocks and lighting up the night sky.  The next day residents found dead birds in the area, and a boat captain noticed an area of dead fish.  In the following days the mountain continued to grumble.... “This morning the whole population of the city is on the alert, and every eye is directed toward Mount Pelée, an extinct volcano,” wrote Clara Prentiss, the wife of the American consul in St. Pierre, in a letter to her sister. “Everybody is afraid that the volcano has taken into its head to burst forth and destroy the whole island.” Full story found here


These rumblings caused some concern with the residents over the coming days, but it was printed in the newspaper and the local expert (the local science teacher) reassured the public that the mountain was safe.


However on May 8th, the volcano exploded and in a few minutes the whole city of St.Pierre was buried in a deadly mix of hot gas and rocks.  One farmer in the distant hills was a witness to the disaster and he wrote “A flash more dazzling than a lightning happened … At the same time, a cloud that formed on the summit of  [Mount] Pelée literally fell on Saint-Pierre with such rapidity that it was impossible for anyone to escape.”

30,000 people died in an instant.  For days afterwards the town burned and smoldered.  The ships in the port burned and sank at anchor.  Here is a photo I found online...

The volcano erupted again a few days later, again burying the town, and hampering rescue efforts.  When finally the rescuers were able to enter the town, they only found 1 survivor... and that was prisoner still in his jail cell.

Nowadays St.Pierre, is just a quiet sleepy little French village on the northern coast of the island.  In the village there are new buildings and lovely quaint French stores, and then in-between them there are still some ruins.  Here is Justin & Maya in one of the ruins, he is touching that lintel and saying how old it must be.

Here is a video of me telling you all about it.


Here is a cute video of us on the dock.


I love this photo of our first little boat anchored off St.Pierre.  See how you can see the church steeples in the background.


And in this photo, it is taken looking in the other direction so you can see the volcano in the background.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.