The Eruption

In late April, 1902, clouds of smoke erupted from a crater on Mount Pelee, Martinique. Martinique is located in the West Indies and is owned by the French. On the 23rd, smoke and ash started billowing out the top of Mount Pelee. Red ants and centipedes crawled away from the volcano's ash falls, biting people and animals as they entered Saint Pierre. Thousands of snakes also fled the ash falls, entering Sainty Pierre as well. A total of 50 people died. A nearby lake almost started boiling and spilled out hot water, killing 23 people until it washed into the sea. It made a 9ft high tsunami that flooded low lying areas. On the same day, a committee of civic leaders climbed Mount Pelee to see the danger. The group said there was nothing to fear. The governor, Governor Mouttet had troops stop any refugees from leaving the city to Fort-De-France, Martinique. The governor also had the local paper downplay the danger, causing the population to reach about 30,000.Suddenly, on May 8Th, the eruption happened. Lava and mud spilled out the crater and down the Valley of the River Blanche.

Saint Pierre

The eruption from Mount Pelee was a pyroclastic flow. Pyroclastic flows are a mixture of solid pieces of hot, expanding gases that flows down the flank of a volcanic. This eruption is heavier-than-air and moves like a snow avalanche, except that it is very hot, contains toxic gases, and moves at hurricane-like speeds, over 100 km/hour. The type of flow that hit Saint Pierre was a Nuee Ardentes. These contain dense lava fragments from the collapse of a growing lava dome or dome flow. Saint Pierrre had about 30,000 people living in it in 1902. The pyroclastic flowed through the valley and into Saint Pierre. Within minutes, Saint Pierre was destroyed. It was so hot that iron melted easily like a broom next to a fire.


Ludger Sylbaris (or Louis-Auguste Cyparis) was eating breakfast in his cell for assault when smoke drifted through the door. Soon afterward, ash and fire were spewing out the volcano. Ludger ran into his cell and stuffed wet clothes by the door. 4 days later rescue teams found him. In total, the eruption killed about 30,000 people. There were only 2 survivors, Ludger and a shoemaker. Bodies were found with people holding undamaged scarves and towels to their mouths. A body was found wearing perfect looking shoes. Ludger's cell was so far underground that most of Pelee's heat (over 1000 degrees Celsius) didn't reach the cell.

The shoemaker, Léon Compere-Léandre remembers,"I felt a terrible wind blowing, the earth began to tremble, and the sky suddenly became dark. I turned to go into the house, with great difficulty climbed the three or four steps that separated me from my room, and felt my arms and legs burning, also my body. I dropped upon a table. At this moment four others sought refuge in my room, crying and writhing with pain, although their garmets showed no sign of having been touched by flame. At the end of 10 minutes one of these, the young Delavaud girl, aged about 10 years, fell dead; the others left. I got up and went to another room, where I found the father Delavaud, still clothed and lying on the bed, dead. He was purple and inflated, but the clothing was intact. Crazed and almost overcome, I threw myself on a bed, inert and awaiting death. My senses returned to me in perhaps an hour, when I beheld the roof burning. With sufficient strength left, my legs bleeding and covered with burns, I ran to Fonds-Sait-Denis, six kilometers from St. Pierre."

Fun Facts

 Mount Pelee is named after the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele.

 It has been 76 years since Mount Pelee last erupted, in 1929-1932. The eruption was milder than the 1902 eruption.

 Mount Pelee is located on the island of Martinique, in the West Indies.

 Mount Pelee is a stratovolcano, which means it explosively erupts ash and lava and is shaped like a cone.
 Martinique is controlled by the French, who have an observatory on Mount Pelee.

 Mount Pelee was dormant in 1851 until 1902.

 Mount Pelee is 4,583 feet above sea level.

 The most famous eruption of Mount Pelee was in 1902.

 Mount Pelee is not currently active.

 The Tower of Pelee was a lava dome that rose out of Mount Pelee in October. When it reached its full height, it was as tall as the Pyramid of Giza, twice the size of the Washington Monument. After growing for 11 months, it became unstable and collapsed.

 Saint Pierre is located southwest of Mount Pelee. And in 1900, Saint-Pierre becomes the first rum exporter in the world


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Rosen Publishing Group Inc.
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Checkmark Books
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5/28/08, Pelee
Smithsonian Institution