21. The Twentieth Century’s Worst Volcano
The charming city of Saint Pierre was the largest settlement in Martinique at the turn of the twentieth century, outshining that French island’s capital city, Fort-de-France. Saint Pierre was Martinique’s economic center, with a busy harbor bustling with ships, offloading imports, and carrying off the island’s exports of rum and sugar to the rest of the world.
Saint Pierre was also Martinique’s cultural center, known as “the Paris of the Caribbean”. However, the beautiful city had a major drawback: it was nestled beneath a massive volcano, Mount Pelee. At 7:52AM on the morning of May 8th, 1902, Pelee blew its top. A column of dense smoke shot skywards, forming a mushroom cloud that darkened the sky for about 50 miles. Another dense cloud of glowing black smoke shot horizontally, straight into Saint Pierre. The cloud consisted of super heated steam, gasses, ashes, and dust known as tephra, and it raced into Saint Pierre at roughly 420 miles per hour.