Catastrophe (part thirty-five)

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique

(part thirty-five)












“The northern inhabitants were ignorant of Saint-Pierre’s destruction. Two hundred people from Céron refused to embark. The curé of Grande-Rivière told us of the exodus towards Basse-Terre, and La Trinité.

“In summary,” said Captain Leroy, “on this journey, the Pouyer-Quertier collected from the towns of Grande-Rivière and Prêcheur about five hundred people, of whom the greater part had nothing to eat or drink for three days. Communications with Saint-Pierre were lost with the eruption of May 5th [the Guérin factory event, prior to the deadliest eruption of May 8], and water sources had dried up.”

The same day, another mission, commanded by Chief of Squadrons Herbay, and comprising the adjutant Lagarde, the local marshal Lamfranchi, and the constables Calé and Donati, embarked on the Rubis, accompanied by R. P. Vetgli, Father Auber, the chemist Rozé, and a few customs officers.

The priests, disembarking onto the Place Bertin, gave the last rites of the dead*, and chanted the Libera. Then they went to the treasury and the bank. The treasury had been pillaged, thieves taking 103,000 francs. At the bank, in the first vault, the safe was found gutted; in the second, the safe remained intact. The vaults were surrounded by burning debris.

The information furnished by the police allowed the public prosecutor to go, next day, with Captain Evanno, and the treasurer Peyrouton, to carry out the salvage of the bank’s valuables.

On the 10th and the 11th, the police performed reconnaissance and surveillance.

On the 12th, they accompanied the incineration crew.

On the 12th, also, they learned that bandits were pillaging at Bellefontaine and Carbet. Five constables were sent to chase them.

On the 13th, a surveillance post was established at Saint-James.

On the 14th the police arrested forty-five looters.

On the 15th they made seventeen arrests.

On the 20th, the mission was exposed to the second eruption. The post of Saint-James had to flee under a rain of stones.

Etc., etc.

Add to this, information gathering in the northern communities, then the policing of all areas where looters circulated in search of abandoned houses to plunder, and you will have a feeble idea yet of the crushing task charged to the brigade of Martinique—a task perfectly accomplished, thanks to the good sense of the commanders and the devotion of the soldiers.








The Crows…



 Sad acts. Sad Accusations… The racial hatreds, the prejudice of color.




Some newspapers, which find it easier to invent the scenes they describe or illustrate, than to go look at them (it’s cheaper and faster), have portrayed the ruins of Saint-Pierre swarmed with crows.

There were none. (1) Birds flee a volcano at work. In Central America, the people recognize an approaching earthquake by the panic and flight of birds. They know that when they hear the cock crow, the earthquake is over.

So despite the piles of corpses, no living bird hovered over the carnage. Vultures, scavengers, and crows have too much fear for this. But if the menace of a volcano inspires fear in birds of prey, it does not the same in men of prey…

The notes above on the service of the police are proof. One day, forty-five looters taken in the ruins; another day, seventeen…

And these thieves are called crows.

The tribunal at Fort-de-France condemned almost one hundred in the “same batch”. The punishment was uniform: five years in prison.

Now and again the volcano takes charge of dispensing justice. Corpses of thieves killed by the eruptions have been found, which, free of police, leaves the field clear to the “crows”.

When I went to Saint-Pierre, on board the dredging-boat, a constable told me about a hunt, himself the hunter, along with a priest who watched. This officer accompanied a trader seeking his safe in the ruins. Thieves were at work already, with this same objective. The policeman took twenty of them…but a gang of a hundred almost gave him a bad end. They threw rocks at the constable, also at M. Cappa and others.

The looters were organized into real gangs, obedient to their chiefs.






(1). The prophet of the lamentations of the Bible, has noted this. [Hess’s footnote.]





This blog, ASK FATHER, gives the best summary I’ve found on the question of last rites for a disaster’s dead, where no still-living person can receive them, and the bodies have been destroyed.




And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.


It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever; from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.


But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it; and he shall stretch out upon it the line of emptiness.


Isaiah 34:9, 10, 11



La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique deadCatastrophe (part thirty-six)












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



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