1902 eruption of Mount Pelée: Volcano kills 30,000 as governor decides election is more important.

In April 1902, the Mount Pele volcano erupted on Martinique. (Carl Simon/United Archives/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A few months ago, when the idea of ​​postponing the U.S. presidential election to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was being considered, The proposal itself caused a huge backlash and was withdrawn. More than a century ago, West Indies government officials refused to issue an evacuation order, citing a disastrous election loss. Specifically, it ended with the 1902 eruption of Mount Pele, which killed everyone in the city.

Paris in the Caribbean

A quaint town on Martinique in the French Caribbean, Saint-Pierre was the region’s port city, commercial center and cultural mecca. Providing a stunning backdrop for the beautiful city, Mount Pele towers about 4,600 feet above sea level. The mountain has bright green slopes and occasional deep canyons, perfect for hikers and adventurers.

Mount Pele may have contributed to St. Pierre’s splendor, but danger lurked beneath its majestic summit. The inhabitants of Saint-Pierre, like all the mountains of the Lesser Antilles, knew that Mt. Pele was a volcano, but they regarded Mt. I was dealing with

the awakening

Mount Pele seemed to be asleep, but beneath the surface the volcano was waking up. It’s not that there is no history of activity in the past, but there are some very recent ones. In 1792 Mount Pele brought a thin layer of volcanic ash to parts of Martinique. Sixty years later, the mountain creaked eerily, with only a few minor landslides causing damage. Residents of Saint-Pierre believed that if the mountain erupted again, it would be another minor incident.

In 1902, however, some strange events occurred that are now known to portend the return of Mount Pele. Hordes of ants, spiders and centipedes descended the mountains and invaded the farmlands at the foot of the mountain. Hundreds of copperheads then invaded St. Pierre and fled the mountains. Hikers returned reporting a faint odor of sulfur, but in April 1902 the mountain cramped and shook, erupting mudslides and killing several farmers. An undersea telegraph cable running from Martinique to the neighboring island of Dominica has mysteriously snapped, but no one has linked it to the tremors of Mount Pele.

Elections and Eruptions

On the night of May 2, 1902, Mount Pele erupted. This small eruption caught the attention of Saint-Pierre residents who had witnessed red-hot rocks and embers erupting from the top of the volcano all night long, and when dawn broke, hundreds of birds littered the ground. He said he was surprised to see the corpse. . covered with heavy ash. The staff of the city of Saint-Pierre rushed to discuss this situation, because in fact there was something else to discuss other than “Let’s get out of here.”

As would have been the case at any other time, a few days later he had a big election scheduled for May 11th. The Socialists in Martinique were trying to wrest power from the Conservatives, but St-Pierre had a large Conservative voter base and the Governor wanted the votes. Local politicians did not consider Mount Pele to be a threat enough to postpone the election, so no evacuation order was issued.

bad call

On May 8, 1902, around 8:00 a.m., Mount Pele erupted and became a major problem. A huge plume of superheated gas, called a pyroclastic flow, erupted from the volcano’s summit and raced down its slopes at speeds in excess of 160 miles per hour. It took less than 2 minutes to drive to Saint Pierre. Over 30,000 people died within minutes, almost the entire city. Only one of him survived the 1902 eruption of Mount Pele, his 25-year-old condemned man, Auguste Siparis, who was held in the dungeons of the city prison. The whole situation was definitely a blessing for him, as his sentence was later commuted and he went on tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

The 1902 Mount Pele eruption wasn’t the worst ever. The 1815 Tambora eruption killed 92,000, and the 1883 Krakatoa eruption claimed an estimated 36,000 lives. However, it was unique in that all deaths caused by the eruption were direct. Fashionable results. . It was also the first time a pyroclastic flow was observed in real time, as many people on boats in the harbor observed. Their explanations helped scientists better understand this strange volcanic phenomenon.