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August 12, 2018: Surviving disaster on Martinique


A few years ago, my wife and I took a vacation to the French overseas region of Martinique which is one of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean.  On a guided tour, we climbed to the summit of the active volcano called Mount Pelée.  The summit was under heavy cloud cover so my hopes for some great photos were dashed. 


We also toured the ruins of the city of Saint Pierre where the eruption on May 8th 1902 wiped out a somewhere between 28,000 and 40,000 residents.  Only three people supposedly survived.  The most famous survivor was Louis-Auguste Cyparis who toured with the Barnum and Bailey Circus as the “Man Who Survived Doomsday.”  He reportedly was in a fight and subsequently jailed in the cell in the above photo which protected him somewhat from being vaporized by the pyroclastic cloud with superheated poisonous gases and steam (over 1,000 °C (1,830 °F)) that descended on the city at 670 kilometers (420 mi) per hour. 

All the structural remains we saw in the former city were still scorched black.  Saint Pierre at the time was known as “Paris of the Caribbean” for its beauty and culture.  The two other supposed survivors were a small girl who took refuge in a cave and a shoemaker who lived on the far edges of the city.  Saint Pierre is now just a small commune of nearly 5.000 residents.


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George G

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