The 1902 Eruption Of Mount Pelee

By | October 26, 2019

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The Pelee Mountain as seen from Turin Cove, at The Carbet in Martinique. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

In May 1902, the town of St. Pierre was beset with a plague of biblical proportions. Hundreds of ants, giant centipedes, and snakes, including deadly pit vipers up to two meters in length, descended Mount Pelee and invaded the town. They attacked livestock and people alike, even managing to get into houses. According to some records, more than one hundred animals and fifty people were killed by the rampaging pests. This event was but one of many signs of a pending apocalypse. Admittedly, the eruption of Mount Pelee didn’t end the world, but it was the end of St. Pierre and most of its 30,000 residents.

Known as the “Paris of the Caribbean,” St. Pierre was located on the northwest coast of Martinique, just seven kilometers from Mount Pelee. In 1902, it was a harbor town, exporting sugar and rum, and was considered the cultural center of Martinique. Mount Pelee had been inactive since 1851 when it released a shower of ash along northern Martinique and was popular among hikers who enjoyed trekking to the crater at its summit.

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Mount Pelee’s peak obscured by clouds. Source: (

The invasion of pests wasn’t the first sign that Mount Pelee was awakening from its slumber. It began in April 1902 with a string of tremors, clouds of sulfur flowing down the mountain, and the sudden appearance of a lake in the volcano’s caldera. The first small eruption occurred on May 2, sending lava rocks into the sky and killing birds and fish. People began evacuating the countryside and heading to St. Pierre which was reported to be safe. The nearby Rivière Blanche, which is French for “White River,” was also behaving erratically, sometimes overflowing and sometimes disappearing. But this was only the beginning.