Despite these signals, there was nothing until Monday, May 5th, to indicate actual danger. On that day a stream of smoking mud and lava burst through the top of the crater and plunged into the valley of the River Blanche, overwhelming the Guerin sugar works and killing twenty-three workmen and the son of the proprietor. Mr. Guerin’s was one of the largest sugar works on the island; its destruction entailed a heavy loss. The mud which overwhelmed it followed the beds of streams towards the north of the island.
The alarm in the city was great, but it was somewhat allayed by the report of an expert commission appointed by the Governor, which decided that the eruption was normal and that the city was in no peril. To further allay the excitement, the Governor, with several scientists, took up his residence in St. Pierre. He could not restrain the people by force, but the moral effect of his presence and the decision of the scientists had a similar disastrous result.
The existing state of affairs during these few waiting days is so graphically given in a letter from Mrs. Thomas T. Prentis, wife of the United States Consul at St. Pierre, to her sister in Melrose, a suburban city of Boston, that we quote it here:
“My Dear Sister: This morning the whole population of the city is on the alert and every eye is directed toward Mont Pelee, an extinct volcano. Everybody is afraid that the volcano has taken into its heart to burst forth and destroy the whole island.
“Fifty years ago Mont Pelee burst forth with terrific force and destroyed everything within a radius of several miles. For several days the mountain has been bursting forth in flame and immense quantities of lava are flowing down its sides.
“All the inhabitants are going up to see it. There is not a horse to be had on the island, those belonging to the natives being kept in readiness to leave at a moment’s notice.
“Last Wednesday, which was April 23d, I was in my room with little Christine, and we heard three distinct shocks. They were so great that we supposed at first that there was some one at the door, and Christine went and found no one there. The first report was very loud, and the second and third were so great that dishes were thrown from the shelves and the house was rocked.
“We can see Mont Pelee from the rear windows of our house, and although it is fully four miles away, we can hear the roar of the fire and lava issuing from it.
“The city is covered with ashes and clouds of smoke have been over our heads for the last five days. The smell of sulphur is so strong that horses on the streets stop and snort, and some of them are obliged to give up, drop in their harness and die from suffocation. Many of the people are obliged to wear wet handkerchiefs over their faces to protect them from the fumes of sulphur.