Catastrophe (part thirty-four)

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique

(part thirty-four)















Interview with M. Lagarrigue

A moving voyage aboard the Rubis, on the morning of the 8th



M. Lagarrigue, the confessor of Saint-Pierre, is—I do believe—the only priest belonging to that city who lives. He owes his life to being called to Fort-de-France on the 7th. He would have gone back to Saint-Pierre on the 8th, embarking on the Rubis, at 8:50 a.m.

He told me about this crossing…that carried him within view of the burning city, where all that was his had perished, where his house had burned, annihilating all he owned.


“We were about to climb aboard, when a woman said to me: ‘Look!’, and I saw a grey, ashy cloud rise from the mountain above the peaks of Carbet. But we settled ourselves on board. At ten minutes after eight, the sea pulled back and the moorings of the boat broke loose. Still the captain took his post, and we left. We were barely 150 meters from the wharf, when a hail of ash and pebbles fell on us. We kept to our route. When we reached the heights of Case-Navire, we met a yacht heading opposite. They shouted to us, ‘Go back! Go back!’ We ask them to stop and explain, but they flew as though they hadn’t heard.

“The Rubis went aside and followed the yacht to Fort-de-France, to the carénage. The pilot told us that arriving before Case-Pilote, he had heard an enormous noise, had been hit by a rain of pebbles, saw the smoke, and that Saint-Pierre was destroyed.

“‘That too, you saw?’


“Then the Rubis left again for Saint-Pierre. On the beach of Carbet were people making us the sign to turn back. We went on. Just outside Carbet, we saw a vast smoke along the coast. A new vent of the volcano, someone said. But it was a building that burned.

“This was near eleven o’clock.

“We arrived at the cove of Latouche. Everything was burned. With the ashes and heat, we were forced to stop. All Saint-Pierre was on fire, all. The city, the harbor, the fields. All!

“We returned to Fort-de-France horrified, anguished… Our people, were they in that furnace? En route we met with the Suchet, as she tried to approach the city.

“On the 12th, I went to Saint-Pierre. The fires were out. I saw corpses and rubble. A meter and a half of rubble, and thousands of corpses. My fellow citizens, naked and scorched. I would have said an electrical burn…but this is not my area of competence.

“What struck me most was that in this ruin, this chaos of death and terror, the buried pipes still flowed, clear and fresh, with the waters of the Goyave. And I drank.”








The Service of the Gendarmes



It is the fashion in France to mock the police. They are to the light-minded an easy subject for cheap laughs. Oh, well! In the course of these tragic events, the police have come to prove time and again, that if they have boots…

I think I can skip the rest. These boots are worn by brave men.

On the 8th of May, at three o’clock, a detachment of gendarmes, including the brigadier Marty, and the Constables Santandréa, Patin, and Allard, under the direction of Captain Leroy, embarked aboard the Pouyer-Quertier.

After stationing itself before Carbet, of which all the north part was burned, and the people come to be taken away, the ship tried to dock at Saint-Pierre. For the wreckage of ships burning in the harbor, it proved impossible. They sailed on; at sunrise arriving to a view of Cape Martin. At six a.m., they approached Macouba. Their hails went unanswered.

The houses looked intact; it was the same at the Grande-Riviére.

At Prêcheur, a crowd was on the beach, and a blinding rain of ashes fell. The crew put two cutters in the water, but the rough sea made landing impossible. They used canoes to carry women and children, who climbed in with shrieks and tears. The rescuers learned that 300 people north of Prêcheur had had nothing to drink or eat for three days.

On La Talie hill were 300 calcined corpses. The Prêcheur had been hit by a tidal wave, and a rain of fire.

At 11 o’clock, came an undersea eruption. At noon, the mayor sent a letter to the governor, asking aid for five thousand without food and water.

At twelve-thirty, the bad sea made the work impossible.

Said Captain Leroy: “We couldn’t make out the coast anymore. The rumblings were like trains passing on metal bridges, one after another. Fumes and bubbles churned up the sea all around the ship. At three o’clock, we left.”






La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique dead
Catastrophe (part thirty-five)
















(1902, Jean Hess, La Catastrophe de la Martinique; 2018, translation, Stephanie Foster)




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