Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thoughts on the Volcanoes

Dominica is home to one of the highest concentrations of volcanoes on the planet. Some experts say 8, some list 9, but all agree on one point: we are overdue for an eruption here. And of course the area of densest population around Roseau (where we live) is where some of the worst volcanic risk exists. We have heard that the merchants of the island have bought up property in Portsmouth just in case it should become again the capitol city. Even for a Queen of Denial like myself, it is enough to give pause.

Mount Pele today.
In 1902 Mount Pele erupted just next door in Martinique, killing 30,000 denial prone people like myself in the "Paris of the West Indies", Saint Pierre. The mountain had been rumbling for quite a while, spewing ash, and the streets were awash with panicked snakes, centipedes, ants and the like. Still the people stayed at the foot of Pele, until May 8, 1902 when a pyroclastic cloud with temperatures to 1000 degrees C descended, covering the town and harbor.



Blessing of the dead in Saint Pierre.


The Wiz and I visited the Mount Pele museum last year and stood slack-jawed staring at the artifacts fused and warped by the intense heat. Looking at old pictures of the streetcars and the opera house in Saint Pierre it is a bit understandable how this sophisticated European community felt it could never happen to them.

Dominica is just 30 miles from Mount Pele, so the eruption had a great impact on this island also, including this observation by our most famous daughter, Jean Rhys:

At her home at the corner of Cork Street and Granby Street, now Independence Street, the 11-year-old Gwen Rees-Williams, later in life to be known as Jean Rhys, was taken to a window by her mother and was shown the glow to the south and the falling ash:

'My mother woke me and without saying anything led me to the window. There was a huge black cloud over Martinique. I couldn’t ever describe that cloud, so huge and black it was, but I have never forgotten it. There was no moon, no stars, but the edges of the cloud were flame-coloured and in the middle what looked to me like lightening flickered, never stopping. My mother said: ‘You will never see anything like this in your life again.’ from Mount Pele and Dominica


So, here we are looking at property at the foot of Morne Anglais. Hmmm.

livingdominica: I just may change my name to Cleopatra since I am the Queen of Denial...

6 comments:

Canuck said...

Although it's more convenient to live near Roseau now, do you think with all the recent construction in the north-east, that services and amenities will soon follow?

Jen said...

I am sure they will! For us, we have put down roots here and to move to another part of the island would be a major starting over, yet again. Of course, if something starts to rumble we will move...

Jen said...

From an email:

"You remember that just after the merchants invested in Portsmouth there was an earthquake in the sea between there and Guadeloupe!!!"

Billy said...

my friend's grandfather escaped pele. reached dominica on a small boat.

Jen said...

Smart fellow, your friend's grandpapa! I read that Dominica got a lot of people in little boats from Martinique.

I also read that a lot of the country folk moved into Saint Pierre just before the big blow, thinking it would be safer...

Canuck said...

True, true...if it's not one thing it's another!