On May 7th 1902, a man by the name of Louis-August Cyparis was a common laborer in the city of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, the capital of the island. He was about 27 years old and found himself arrested that evening for being involved in a bar fight. Some reports suggest that the other man in the bar fight had died and therefore Louis-August Cyparis was charged with murder. This is possible since there are numerous sources that suggest Louis-Auguste was frequently in trouble with authorities and was violent. A more violent crime or a history of violence is more likely considering the fact that after his arrest he was immediately put into solitary confinement.
This cell was completely bomb-proof, had stone wall with no windows. The only way that the tiny cell got any ventilation at all was through a small grate door. Ironically the cell that was meant to be a severe punishment ended up being the most protected location in the city during the worst disaster in its history.
The next morning at 7:52 a dark cloud rose out of Mt. Pelée spreading horizontally. Another cloud followed and darkened the sky for fifty miles in every direction. The speed of the cloud was found to be 670 kilometers per hour which foreshadowed the devastation that was to follow. The 8 square miles around the mountain were the worst hit by the cloud of steam and volcanic dust. The town of St. Pierre was right inside this danger zone. Temperatures rose to 1,000°C (1,830°F) and all the buildings of the city were flattened. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people burned or suffocated to death.
Four days later rescue crews would hear the faint cries of Louis-Auguste Cyparis in his cell. He was badly burned but alive. Pulled from the rubble most reports claim him as the only person in Saint-Pierre to survive, though a few other reports claim as many as 3 people survived. Leon Compere-Leandre’s home was on the outskirts of the town and on the very edge of the devastating steam cloud. Havivra Da Ifrile got into a boat to escape the lava and survived only when her board was washed out to sea.
So what happened to Louis-Auguste Cyparis after his rescue? Read on to find out!