“I know that there was no flame in the first wave that was sent down upon St. Pierre. It was a heavy gas, like firedamp, and it must have asphyxiated the inhabitants before they were touched by the fire, which quickly followed. As we drew out to sea in the small steamship, Mont Pelee was in the throes of a terrible convulsion. New craters seemed to be opening all about the summit and lava was flowing in broad streams in every direction. My estate was ruined while we were still in sight of it. Many women who lived in St. Pierre escaped only to know that they were left widowed and childless. This is because many of the wealthier men sent their wives away, while they remained in St. Pierre to attend to their business affairs.”
The British steamer Horace experienced the effect of the explosion when farther from land. After touching at Barbados, she reached the vicinity of Martinique on May 9th, her decks being covered with several inches of dust when she was a hundred and twenty-five miles distant. We quote engineer Anderson’s story:
“On the afternoon of May 8 (Thursday) we noticed a peculiar haze in the direction of Martinique. The air seemed heavy and oppressive. The weather conditions were not at all unlike those which precede the great West Indian hurricanes, but, knowing it was not the season of the year for them, we all remarked in the engine room that there must be a heavy storm approaching.
“Several of the sailors, experienced deep water seamen, laughed at our prognostications, and informed us there would be no storm within the next sixty hours, and insisted that, according to all fo’cas’le indications, a dead calm was in sight.
“So unusually peculiar were the weather conditions that we talked of nothing else during the evening. That night, in the direction of Martinique, there was a very black sky, an unusual thing at this season of the year, and a storm was apparently brewing in a direction from which storms do not come at this season.
“As the night wore on those on watch noticed what appeared to be great flashes of lightning in the direction of Martinique. It seemed as though the ordinary conditions were reversed, and even the fo’cas’le prophets were unable to offer explanations.
“Occasionally, over the pounding of the engines and the rush of water, we thought we could hear long, deep roars, not unlike the ending of a deep peal of thunder. Several times we heard the rumble or roar, but at the time we were not certain as to exactly what it was, or even whether we really heard it.
“There would suddenly come great flashes of light from the dark bank toward Martinique. Some of them seemed to spread over a great area, while others appeared to spout skyward, funnel shaped. All night this continued, and it was not until day came that the flashes disappeared. The dark bank that covered the horizon toward Martinique, however, did not fade away with the breaking of day, and at eight in the morning of the 9th (Friday) the whole section of the sky in that direction seemed dark and troubled.