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2 days ago
🤓 We just received a fascinating local history lesson we weren’t expecting! 📖
Yesterday, we sailed from Rodney Bay in St. Lucia to St. Pierre in Martinique. *Little did we know* this quiet French town was the site of one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in recorded history and its reign of terror revolutionized the understanding of volcanos and the danger they pose. 🌋
St. Pierre lies at the foot of the Mt Pelee volcano, not far from where European settlers wiped out the last of the Carib residents in 1658. It is said that before the last ones died they uttered horrible curses, invoking the mountain to take its revenge. Time marched on, and over 200 years later, the town had become the capital of the lush island of Martinique.
Beautiful and bustling, St. Pierre was known as the “Paris of the Caribbean” until 1902, when the towering volcano would finally awaken.
🔥 In the days before, Mt Pelee’s summit seemed to catch fire, rendering the night sky incandescent. Residents found birds had plummeted from the air, weighted down by ash. A large nearby river fluctuated wildly, sometimes overflowing, other times disappearing completely. Perhaps most horrifying of all, a plague of insects and snakes slithered down from the mountain, disturbed by its violent quaking. Among the invaders were gigantic centipedes and deadly 2-meter long pit vipers. Soldiers shot the serpents in the streets in a futile effort to protect the people. Throngs of terrified residents from the countryside filled St. Pierre, which the newspapers reported was safe. Still...bad omens seemed to permeate the town. 🐍
On the morning of May 8th, barrels and cases filled the docks as people attempted to do their business. At least 12 tall ships fill the small bay. The market stalls could barely cope with the demand for fresh fruit from sailors too long at sea. Merchants and seamen filled the bars throughout town and told tales to the local townspeople. The town exuded life. But a few short moments later, an infernal blast of hot gas and volcanic debris would rain down on St. Pierre. Within minutes, nearly 30,000 people were dead, including the governor of Martinique and his family who had come to reassure the population. Most of the victims perished from suffocation and burns that scorched their skin and lungs.
Captain Edward Freeman, commandant of the Roddam arriving on the scene declared: “We have arrived in hell; you can telegraph to the world that no one is left alive in Saint Pierre.”
The explosion leveled the town, ships in the harbor smoldered and sank. St. Pierre would never again be what it was.
Today, the small town offers a museum dedicated to the catastrophe, and a labyrinth of winding crumbling stone ruins. One of the most interesting aspects is the scuba diving in the harbor. Those ships still lay at the bottom, and offer visitors a haunting look at St. Pierre’s past. Jacques Cousteau and his team helped document the area fully by 1980.
We only stayed for the night, as we make our way back up the island chain. We came ashore for a nice meal of poulet et frites (chicken and fries) covered in a fresh local pepper salsa. Unfortunately, a squally day of rain in St. Pierre meant the bay was too murky for diving, but we absolutely plan to come back and dive the wrecks for ourselves. For now, we are simply humbled by the insurmountable forces of nature. It is an important reminder of what we can build, and what mother nature can so easily wash away. ... See MoreSee Less
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