Mount Pelee located on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean is best known for its formidable eruption of 1902. A stratovolcano, this ominous mountain, had been quiet for a period of more than two centuries prior to its early twentieth century explosion. Standing at a height of 1400 meters above St. Pierre, the sleeping volcano had not been considered as a threat to reckon with.
Just before the explosion took place, the mountain started shooting out clouds of hot steam followed by tremors and then a light ash rain a few weeks later. Signaling that the mountain was finally awake, ash spurts continued and a strongly pungent smell of gas ensued. All these signs were heralds of what was to follow. Finally on May 8th, 1902, Mount Pelee vented forth a full scale explosion that completely wiped out the town of St. Pierre within minutes killing all 30,000 of its inhabitants.
The massive eruption featured a gigantic pyroclastic cloud that brought total destruction in its wake. The cloud of hot gas struck St. Pierre at a speed of 100 mph and the force was enough to tumble cement walls and twist metal girders. The extreme temperatures resulted in igniting fires and explosions in their wake. This phenomenal event has been marked as the worst volcanic disaster of the twentieth century.
Later in the same month there was a second explosion on May 20th that was equal in size to its earlier counterpart. This subsequent eruption of the mountain annihilated what ever little was left of the hazard stricken town. In August of the same year, another powerful eruption caused further damage with pyroclastic flows that spread beyond those of the earlier May explosions. This episode was the final one in the 1902 series of explosions, and Mount Pelee has caused no further casualties to this date.
This historic volcanic event gave birth to the term Pelean Eruption and became the basis of the modern day volcanology.
In October 1902, a volcanic spine started to emerge from the crater of the mountain. A volcanic spine is a vertical monolith that is pushed forth from a volcanic vent. This structure of viscous lava grew till it reached a height of 300 meters and eventually collapsed in March 1903.
The city of St. Pierre never fully recovered from the mountain’s fury and now has an estimated population of a little over 4000. Mount Pelee continues to be an active volcano to this day and is now closely monitored for any extraordinary activity.
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