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“you Could Never Forget Those Events”

July 2024
1min read

On the site of St. Pierre today are many gaping ruins, with trees growing between the roofless walls. Though the town has been partially resettled it has never regained its vibrancy. Overlooking the bay is a small white building with a pillared entrance. It is a museum built and maintained largely by American citizens; here are many mementos of the great eruption, as well as of other volcanic explosions all over the world. The curator, an aged Martiniquais named Joseph Bonnet-Durival, was living just outside St. Pierre on that terrible May morning in 1902. He recently recalled his experience:


I was at the very landmark where stopped the eruption, between St. Pierre and the next village, Carbet. In the next cottage, our neighbours were killed, we not. We ran away, but by fear, because there was no time to [lose]: in half a minute the town was destroyed. It was an explosion. The eruption was a cloud of water steam carrying stones and ashes, with a heat of 1,100 degrees centigrade and rolling [along] the ground with a speed of 500 feet per second (our volcano had made the atomic bomb before scientists). Then I saw very well the eruption coming down to St. Pierre and towards us, with a dreadful noise of boiling water. The cloud, running on the ground, has passed at some distance from us, but from its edge, over us, we receive little hot pieces of coal, stones and much water from its condensation.... They arrived on us burning, but not too much. Running to the other village, we were stoned hard, wet and as with cement upon us (water and ashes forming a paste). The eruption was over, but while running we were afraid, seeing the houses burning behind us in the country with high flames. Not ours, because by the best blessing, it was the first cottage safe towards the south. And in the evening, when I was going to Fort de France by sea from the other village, Carbet, I saw in the harbour of St. Pierre the liner Roraima still burning with a high flame at 6 P.M., ten hours after the eruption, [which had taken] place about eight o’clock in the morning. You could never forget those events.”

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