Friday, October 28, 2016

The Events Leading Up To The 1902 Eruption of Mount Pelee

Photo of the eruption
Mt. Pelee is a stratovolcano located on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean. In 1902, the volcano erupted and virtually destroyed the growing city of St. Pierre. It was the deadliest eruption of the 20th century. An interesting thing about this eruption is the number of events that occurred leading up to it and the apparent complacency of the people that lived in St. Pierre.

In January of 1902, Mt. Pelee began to develop new fumaroles and there was increased fumarole activity on the mountain. Apparently, this had happened in the past and the volcano had not erupted in living memory, so it was not seen as a problem. Other ominous signs came from the mountain, over time, such as the spitting of ash and rumbling coming from the mountain. Still, the people of St. Pierre ignored the mountain. Some residents even continued taking excursions up the mountain.

The volcano started showing what would now be considered sure signs of a pending eruption on April 23, 1902. Small explosions began occurring near the top of the mountain. These explosions caused wildlife to flee. Countless fire ants and centipedes descended upon the local sugar mill. They bit people and animals alike and caused a great deal of turmoil. The most terrifying thing was the procession of thousands of venomous snakes that slithered through the St. Pierre. An estimated 50 people and 200 animals died as a result of bites from these panicked snakes.

The once dry Etang Sec crater of Mt. Pelee began to fill with scalding water. Visitors to the mountain said that they heard the sound of a bubbling cauldron coming from inside the crater. On May 5, the rim of the crater crumbled and the heated water poured into the Blanche River. A lahar formed when the water from the Etang Sec joined with pyroclastic debris. The lahar moved at an estimated rate of 62 miles an hour. When it reached the ocean, it caused a large wave to flood portions of the St. Pierre waterfront. Between 23 and 150 people were killed that day.

When people became nervous and decided to try and leave St. Pierre, the government wouldn’t let them. Barriers were set up on a road leading out of the city and residents were forced to return. They were told that St. Pierre was the safest place to be during the heightened activity from Mt. Pelee. This misinformation was also published in newspapers. The result was a stream of people actually entering St. Pierre in the time before the eminent eruption. By the time Mt. Pelee erupted, on May 8, 1902, the estimated population of St. Pierre was 28,000 or more.

The events that occurred before the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelee would have led to the evacuation of all people near the volcano today. However, in 1902, volcanology was a relatively new science and many people mistakenly thought that the volcano was harmless. It was anything but. It erupted so forcefully that every person in St. Pierre, except two very lucky men, died as a result of the blast, the hot gas cloud or the pyroclastic flows.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Devastation of the Okeechobee Hurricane

The aftermath in West Palm Beach
The Okeechobee Hurricane or, in Puerto Rico, Hurricane San Felipe Segundo, occurred in September of 1928. The hurricane made landfall in the Leeward Islands, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the state of Florida. The Okeechobee Hurricane was at different times a category three, four and five hurricane as it made its destructive path through these locations. The damage caused by this hurricane was at the time estimated to be one hundred million dollars. By today’s standards that would be equal to one billion dollars. A total of 4,078 people or more perished as a direct result of the storm.

The Okeechobee Hurricane was first spotted 900 miles east of Guadeloupe on September 10, 1928. Two days later, on September 12, the hurricane struck the island chain as a category three. The storm caused around 1,200 deaths in Guadeloupe and major property damage. The hurricane then hit the Leeward Islands causing 45 deaths. The damage to crops and property was devastating.

The very next day, the hurricane was at a category five when it made landfall in Puerto Rico. Winds were reported around 160 miles an hour on the island. Around 36 hours before the storm hit, the residents were warned of the danger. They were able to prepare, so loss of life was comparably low with only 300 fatalities. Hurricane Okeechobee was responsible for 50 million dollars (500 million dollars today) worth of damage in Puerto Rico. Several hundred thousand people on the island lost their homes.

The hurricane then moved across the Bahamas as a category four. In the Bahamas, residents were also prepared. There was not a single fatality on the island. Though, 18 people went missing when their sailboat was lost at sea. They are presumed dead.

On September 16, Hurricane Okeechobee made landfall in the state of Florida as a category four. The results were devastating. The eye of the storm passed over Palm Beach County and went straight for Lake Okeechobee. Most of the damage sustained on the Florida coast was in the area of Palm Beach, but loss of life in the area was minimal. There were only 26 fatalities. The population near Lake Okeechobee would not be nearly as lucky.

When the hurricane finally hit Lake Okeechobee winds were around 140 miles per hour. As the winds blew southward across the lake, a storm surge overflowed a dike on its southern edge. This resulted in floods covering hundreds of square miles of farming land and communities. A smaller flood on the northern part of the lake occurred a little later, when the dikes there crumbled.

Many of the bodies of the deceased were lost as floodwaters poured into the Everglades. The floodwaters remained for some weeks, so it was very difficult for relief workers to recover and bury the dead. Eventually mass graves were dug for the bodies, but after a few days even that was not enough. The bodies began to decay in the Florida sun, so survivors were forced to burn the dead.

All told, 2,500 people or more were killed in Florida that fateful day. Around 1,100 of them were buried in one grave in the Port Mayaca Cemetery. The hurricane caused 25 million dollars(250 million dollars today) worth of property damage in Florida.

After leaving Lake Okeechobee, the hurricane moved northeast over Florida and into Georgia and the Carolinas causing only minimal damage in these places. In the aftermath of the hurricane, it became apparent to authorities that flood control on Lake Okeechobee needed to be brought up to par. Building codes were also changed in the hopes that future hurricanes would not cause such extensive damage.


Doup, Liz, 1928-Okeechobee, Sun-Sentinel, September 11, 1988

Wikipedia, Okeechobee Hurricane, retrieved 6/5/06,

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The 1925 Tri-State Tornado

Aftermath in Griffin, Indiana
The 1925 Tri-State Tornado was the single most deadly tornado in United States history. This massive cyclone ripped through parts of southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois and southwestern Indiana. Today, most experts believe that the Tri-State Tornado was a five on the Fujita Scale, with winds between 261 and 318 miles per hour. It traveled a total of 219 miles, giving it the longest recorded tornado track in the entire world.

The Tri-State Tornado started off in the Ozark Mountains near Ellington, Missouri at 1:01 p.m. on March 18, 1925. At the time, weather forecasters were not allowed to mention tornados in their warnings, and really forecasting a tornado was impossible. Even in recent years, tornados are unpredictable. However, today we are at least allowed to hear speculations of a forming tornado and decide if we want to take shelter. In 1925, this wasn’t an option. So, as the tornado was forming in the Ozarks and getting ready to race across three states at average speeds of between 56 and 73 miles per hour, people were complacently going about their day.

Fourteen minutes after the Tri-State Tornado formed, it was in Annapolis, Missouri. It destroyed 90% of the town and killed several citizens. It then moved across the farmlands of southeastern Missouri and across the Mississippi River. It did the most damage in Illinois. It hit town after town, destroying homes, businesses and vehicles, uprooting trees and killing citizens. The tornado killed 243 people in Murphysboro alone. It is estimated that the tornado averaged 3/4 of a mile wide, but was up to a mile wide at times.

After wreaking havoc in Illinois, the Tri-State Tornado moved into Indiana. It broke up twelve minutes after destroying a quarter of the town of Princeton, Indiana. In its wake were utterly devastated towns. Schools were destroyed with children still inside them. Houses filled with their occupants were moved across the land. Rescue workers dug through rubble to search for survivors for days in some places. There were fires, power outages and shattered families.

The Tri-State Tornado claimed an astounding 695 lives. More than two thousand people were injured by the storm and roughly fifteen thousand homes were destroyed. Since the time of the Tri-State Tornado, the ban on using the word tornado in weather forecasting has been lifted. Awareness of these dangerous storms has increased exponentially. Therefore, people are able to prepare for them. Nonetheless, it is very difficult and, at times, impossible to predict a tornado. Another tornado of this magnitude in the area could still be disastrous.