La Catastrophe : The 1902 Eruption of Mount Pelee, the Greatest Volcanic Disaster of the 20th Century

Scarth, Alwyn

Published by Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2002
ISBN 10: 0195218396 / ISBN 13: 9780195218398
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Synopsis: On May 8, 1902, on the Caribbean island of Martinique, the volcano Mount Pelée loosed the most terrifying and lethal eruption of the twentieth century. In minutes, it killed 27,000 people and leveled the city of Saint-Pierre. In La Catastrophe, Alwyn Scarth provides a gripping day-by-day and hour-by-hour account of this devastating eruption, based primarily on chilling eyewitness accounts.
Scarth recounts how, for many days before the great eruption, a series of smaller eruptions spewed dust and ash. Then came the eruption. A blinding flash lit up the sky. A tremendous cannonade roared out that was heard in Venezuela. Then a scorching blast of superheated gas and ash shot straight down towards Saint-Pierre, racing down at hundreds of miles an hour. This infernal avalanche of dark, billowing, reddish-violet fumes, flashing lightning, ash and rocks, crashed and rolled headlong, destroying everything in its path--public buildings, private homes, the town hall, the Grand Hotel. Temperatures inside the cloud reached 450 degrees Celsius. Virtually everyone in Saint-Pierre died within minutes. Scarth tells of many lucky escapes--the ship Topaze left just hours before the eruption, a prisoner escaped death in solitary confinement. But these were the fortunate few. An official delegation sent later that day by the mayor of Fort-de-France reported total devastation--no quays, no trees, only shattered facades. Saint-Pierre was a smoldering ruin.
In the tradition of A Perfect Storm and Isaac's Storm, but on a much larger scale, La Catastrophe takes readers inside the greatest volcanic eruption of the century and one of the most tragic natural disasters of all time.

Review: When nature kills on a grand scale, it does so indiscriminately: a murderer may be spared and an orphanage destroyed. So it was with the May 8, 1902, eruption of Mount Pelee on the Caribbean island of Martinique, author Alwyn Scarth shows in La Catastrophe, his study of the event. The explosion, more specifically, its aftermath--a 300 mph burst of superheated gas as well as roiling mudflows and tsunamis--killed more than 28,000 people, sank a dozen seaborne ships, and reduced the city of Saint-Pierre to rubble. Scarth, after briefly delineating the island's geology and history, methodically describes the increasingly fraught days before the event and, with gruesome precision, the event itself. Most welcome are his many sidebars, including firsthand accounts by survivors, newspaper stories, and lists of widespread rumors (and their dispelling). As well, the book is amply and instructively illustrated. The prose is powerful and understated, and the book somberly thrilling and perceptive. Nor does it avoid ghastly ironies. A few months after the eruption, Scarth observes, "the ruins of Saint-Pierre suffered the supreme indignity of becoming an attraction for boatloads of tourists." --H. O'Billovich

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Title: La Catastrophe : The 1902 Eruption of Mount ...
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Incorporated
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Brand New
Edition: First Edition, First Printing.

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