On several occasions there was shot from the crater of each volcano a thick and heavy cloud of incandescent ashes and steam, which rushed down the mountain side like an avalanche, red with glowing stones and scintillating with lightning flashes. Forests and buildings in its path were leveled as by a tornado, wood was charred and set on fire by the incandescent fragments, all vegetation was destroyed, and to breathe the steam and hot, suffocating dust of the cloud was death to every living creature. On the morning of the 8th of May, 1902, the first of these peculiar avalanches from Mt. Pelee fell on the city of St. Pierre and instantly destroyed the lives of its thirty thousand inhabitants.
The eruptions of many volcanoes partake of both the effusive and the explosive types: the molten rock in the pipe is in part blown into the air with explosions of steam, and in part is discharged in streams of lava over the lip of the crater and from fissures in the sides of the cone. Such are the eruptions of Vesuvius, one of which is illustrated in Figure 219.
Submarine eruptions. The many volcanic islands of the ocean and the coral islands resting on submerged volcanic peaks prove that eruptions have often taken place upon the ocean floor and have there built up enormous piles of volcanic fragments and lava. The Hawaiian volcanoes rise from a depth of eighteen thousand feet of water and lift their heads to about thirty thousand feet above the ocean bed. Christmas Island (see p. 194), built wholly beneath the ocean, is a coral-capped volcanic peak, whose total height, as measured from the bottom of the sea, is more than fifteen thousand feet. Deep-sea soundings have revealed the presence of numerous peaks which fail to reach sea level and which no doubt are submarine volcanoes. A number of volcanoes on the land were submarine in their early stages, as, for example, the vast pile of Etna, the celebrated Sicilian volcano, which rests on stratified volcanic fragments containing marine shells now uplifted from the sea.
Submarine outflows of lava and deposits of volcanic fragments become covered with sediments during the long intervals between eruptions. Such volcanic deposits are said to be contemporaneous, because they are formed during the same period as the strata among which they are imbedded. Contemporaneous lava sheets may be expected to bake the surface of the stratum on which they rest, while the sediments deposited upon them are unaltered by their heat. They are among the most permanent records of volcanic action, far outlasting the greatest volcanic mountains built in open air.
From upraised submarine volcanoes, such as Christmas Island, it is learned that lava flows which are poured out upon the bottom of the sea do not differ materially either in composition or texture from those of the land.