“My husband assures me that there is no immediate danger, and when there is the least particle of danger we will leave the place. There is an American schooner, the R. F. Morse, in the harbor, and she will remain here for at least two weeks. If the volcano becomes very bad we shall embark at once and go out to sea. The papers in this city are asking if we are going to experience another earthquake similar to that which struck here some fifty years ago.”
The writer of this letter and her husband, Consul Prentis, trusted Mont Pelee too long. They perished, with all the inhabitants of the city, in a deadly flood of fire and ashes that descended on the devoted place on the fateful morning of Thursday, May 8th. Only for the few who were rescued from the ships in the harbor there would be scarcely a living soul to tell that dread story of ruin and death. The most graphic accounts are those given by rescued officers of the Roraima, one of the fleet of the Quebec Steamship Co., trading with the West Indies. This vessel had left the Island of Dominica for Martinique at midnight of Wednesday, and reached St. Pierre about 7 o’clock Thursday morning. The greatest difficulty was experienced in getting into port, the air being thick with falling ashes and the darkness intense. The ship had to grope its way to the anchorage. Appalling sounds were issuing from the mountain behind the town, which was shrouded in darkness. The ashes were falling thickly on the steamer’s deck, where the passengers and others were gazing at the town, some being engaged in photographing the scene.
The best way in which we can describe a scene of which few lived to tell the story, is to give the narratives of a number of the survivors. From their several stories a coherent idea of the terrible scene can be formed. From the various accounts given of the terrible explosion by officers of the Roraima, we select as a first example the following description by Assistant Purser Thompson:
“I saw St. Pierre destroyed. It was blotted out by one great flash of fire. Nearly 40,000 persons were all killed at once. Out of eighteen vessels lying in the roads only one, the British steamship Roddam, escaped, and she, I hear, lost more than half on board. It was a dying crew that took her out.
“Our boat, the Roraima, of the Quebec Line, arrived at St. Pierre early Thursday morning. For hours before we entered the roadstead we could see flames and smoke rising from Mont Pelee. No one on board had any idea of danger. Captain G. T. Muggah was on the bridge, and all hands got on deck to see the show.
“The spectacle was magnificent. As we approached St. Pierre we could distinguish the rolling and leaping of the red flames that belched from the mountain in huge volumes and gushed high in to the sky. Enormous clouds of black smoke hung over the volcano.