History of the Mount Pelee Volcano Survivors Part 1
About the Mount Pelee survivors, history of the eruption of La Montagne volcano and the aftermath.
THE GREAT SURVIVORS
MOUNT PELEE SURVIVORS
On May 8, 1902, La Montagne, the volcano at the peak of Mt. Pelee, which had been asleep for 51 years, erupted with suddenness and intensity, destroying the entire town of St. Pierre and killing about 30,000 people. The island of Martinique's largest volcano, standing 4,583 ft. above sea level and dominating the northern end of the island, Mt. Pelee had erupted only twice before, in 1792 and 1851. In 1902 there was little fear or concern among the residents of the town, although there had been weeks of warnings, including earth tremors and mild eruptions. St. Pierre, the most populous town on the island, was French in spirit and custom. The people were fatalistic and didn't flee. As a result, they perished. Most of the deaths were caused by steam heated to 1,500 deg. F mixed with lethal gases and volcanic dust.
Miraculously, there were two known survivors--Auguste Ciparis, who was locked in an underground dungeon charged with murder, and Leon Comprere-Leandre, a shoemaker, who survived above ground.
Auguste Ciparis, a young black stevedore, was confined in the city's condemned cell waiting to be hanged for murder when Mt. Pelee erupted. The hut-shaped cell was completely solid except for a tiny window. The massive stone walls of the dungeon resisted the excessive heat and shock. As Ciparis was waiting for his breakfast on May 8, suddenly it got dark. Then hot air filled with ash came into his room through the narrow door-grating on the side away from the volcano. His flesh was burned instantly. He called for help but to no avail. The intense heat that scorched him lasted only a minute. There was no smoke, no noise, no odor of burning gas. He was wearing his hat, shirt, and pants. None of his clothing caught fire, but his back and legs were severely burned by the hot air and ash.
He had no food for three days, only the water in his cell, which was not affected by the heat.
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