The London Times correspondent, who was one of the party, wrote: "Fetid vapors swept over us, emanating from evil looking pools. Great trees, torn up by their roots, lay all around; and the whole face of the mountain wore the look of having been withered by some fierce and baleful blast. A few minutes further and we had gained the crest of the narrow ridge, and now, for the first time, looked forth upon the sight we had come to see. I hardly know which to pronounce the more astonishing, the prospect that now opened before our eyes or the suddenness with which it burst upon us. To the former no more fitting phrase, perhaps, can be applied than that of absolute, unredeemed desolation—so intense, so sad, and so bewildering that I despair of describing it adequately in detail.
"On our right, a little above us, rose the in-curved rear wall of what, eight days before, had been Sho-Bandai-san, a ragged, almost sheer cliff, falling, with scarce a break, to a depth of fully 600 feet. In front of the cliff everything had been blown away and scattered over the face of the country before it, in a roughly fan-shaped deposit of for the most part unknown depth—deep enough, however, to erase every landmark, and conceal every feature of the deluged area. At the foot of the cliff, clouds of suffocating steam rose ceaselessly and angrily, and with loud roaring, from two great fissures in the crater bed, and now and then assailed us with their hellish odor. To our eyes, the base, denuded by the explosion, seemed to cover a space of between three and four square miles. This, however, can only be rough conjecture. Equally vague must be all present attempts to determine the volume of the disrupted matter. Yet, if we assume, as a very moderate calculation, that the mean depth of the debris covering a buried area of thirty square miles is not less than fifteen feet, we find that the work achieved by this great mine of Nature's firing was the upheaval and wide distribution of no fewer than 700,000,000 tons of earth, rocks, and other ponderous material. The real figure is probably very much greater."
The desolation beyond the crater, and the mighty mass thrown out by the volcano which covered the earth, were almost incredible. "Down the slopes of Bandai-san, across the valley of the Nagase-gawa, choking up the river, and stretching beyond it to the foothills, five or six miles away, swept a vast, billowy sheet of ash-covered earth or mud, obliterating every foot of the erstwhile smiling landscape. Here and there the eyes rested on huge, disordered heaps of rocky debris, in the distance resembling nothing so much as the giant, concrete, black substructure of some modern breakwater. It was curious to see on the farther side the sharp line of demarkation between the brown sea of mud and the green forests on which it had encroached; or, again, the lakes formed in every tributary glen of the Nagase-gawa by the massive dams so suddenly raised against the passage of their stream waters. One lake was conspicuous among the rest. It was there that the Nagase-gawa itself had been arrested at its issue from a narrow pass by a monster barrier of disrupted matter thrown right across its course. Neither living thing nor any sign of life could be discerned over the whole expanse. All was dismally silent and solitary. Beneath it, however, lay half a score of hamlets, and hundreds of corpses of men, women and children, who had been overtaken by swift and painful deaths."
Although the little village of Nagasaka was comparatively uninjured, nearly all its able-bodied inhabitants lost their lives in a manner which shows the extraordinary speed with which the mud-stream flowed. When Little Bandai-san blew up, and hot ashes and sand began to fall, the young and strong fled panic-stricken across the fields, making for the opposite hills by paths well known to all. A minute later came a thick darkness, as of midnight. Blinded by this, and dazed by the falling debris and other horrors of the scene, their steps, probably also their senses, failed them. And before the light returned every soul was caught by a swift bore of soft mud, which, rushing down the valley bed, overwhelmed them in a fate more horrible and not less sudden than that of Pharaoh and his host. None escaped save those who stayed at home—mostly the old and very young.
A terrible earthquake convulsed central Japan on the morning of October 25, 1891. The waves of disturbance traversed thirty-one provinces, over which the earth's crust was violently shaken for ten minutes together, while slighter shocks were felt for a distance of 400 miles to the north, and traveled under the sea a like distance, making themselves felt in a neighboring island. In Tokio itself, though 170 miles from the center of disturbance, it produced an earthquake greater than any felt for nearly forty years, lasting twelve minutes. Owing, however, to the character of the movement, which was a comparatively slow oscillation, the damage was confined to the wrecking of some roofs and chimneys. Very different were its results in the central zone of agitation, concerning which a correspondent wrote as follows:
"There was a noise as of underground artillery, a shake, a second shake, and in less than thirty seconds the Nagoya-Gifu plain, covering an area of 1,200 square miles, became a sea of waves, more than 40,000 houses fell, and thousands of people lost their lives. The sequence of events was approximately as follows: To commence at Tokio, the capital, which is some 200 miles from the scene of the disaster, on October 25th, very early in the morning, the inhabitants were alarmed by a long, easy swaying of the ground, and many sought refuge outside their doors. There were no shocks, but the ground moved back and forth, swung round, and rose and fell with the easy, gentle motion of a raft upon an ocean swell. Many became dizzy, and some were seized with nausea."
These indications, together with the movements of the seismographs, denoted a disturbance at a considerable distance, but the first surmise that it was located under the Pacific Ocean, was unfortunately incorrect. The scene of the catastrophe was indicated only by tidings from its outskirts, as all direct news was cut off by the interruption of railway and telegraphic communication. An exploratory and relief party started on the second day from Tokio, not knowing how far they would be able to proceed by train, and the correspondent who accompanied them thus described his experiences:
"Leaving Tokio by a night train, early next morning we were at Hamamatsu, 137 miles distant from Tokio, on the outside edge of the destructive area. Here, although the motion had been sufficiently severe to destroy some small warehouses, to displace the posts supporting the heavy roof of a temple, and to ruffle a few tiles along the eaves of the houses, nothing serious had occurred. At one point, owing to the lateral spreading of an embankment, there had been a slight sinkage of the line, and we had to proceed with caution. Crossing the entrance to the beautiful lake of Hamana Ko, which tradition says was joined to the sea by the breaking of a sand-spit by the sea waves accompanying an earthquake in 1498, we rose from the rice fields and passed over a country of hill and rock. Further along the line signs of violent movement became more numerous. Huge stone lanterns at the entrances of temples had been rotated or overturned, roofs had lost their tiles, especially along the ridge, sinkages in the line became numerous, and although there was yet another rock barrier between us and the plain of great destruction, it was evident that we were in an area where earth movements had been violent."
The theatre of maximum destruction was a plain, dotted with villages and homesteads, supporting, under the garden-like culture of Japan, 500 and 800 inhabitants to the square mile, and containing two cities, Nagoya and Gifu, with populations respectively of 162,000 and 30,000, giving probably a round total of half a million human beings. Within about twelve miles of Gifu, a subsidence on a vast scale took place, engulfing a whole range of hills, while over lesser areas the soil in many places slipped down, carrying with it dwellings and their inmates. Gifu was a total wreck, devastated by ruin and conflagration, causing the destruction of half its houses. Ogaki, nine miles to the west, fared even worse, for here only 113 out of 4,434 houses remained standing, and one-tenth of the population were killed or wounded. In one temple, where service was being held, only two out of the entire congregation escaped.
Nagoya, too, suffered heavily, and thousands of houses collapsed. The damage at this place was produced by three violent shocks in quick succession, preceded by a deep, booming sound. During the succeeding 206 hours, 6,600 earth spasms of greater or less intensity were felt at increasing intervals, occurring in the beginning probably at the rate of one a minute. The inhabitants were driven to bivouac in rude shelters in the streets, and there was great suffering among the injured, to whom it was impossible to give proper care for many days after the disaster. Some estimates placed the figure of the killed and wounded as high as 24,000, whilst not less than 300,000 were rendered homeless.
Owing to the frequency of earthquake shocks in Japan, the study of their causes and effects has had a great deal of attention there since the introduction of modern science into the island empire. The Japanese have proved as energetic in this direction as they are in purely material progress on the lines of western civilization, and already they are recognized as the most advanced of all people in their study of seismology and its accompanying phenomena.
KRAKATOA, THE GREATEST OF VOLCANIC EXPLOSIONS.
BY TRUMBULL WHITE.
The Volcano That Blew Its Own Head Off—The Terrific Crash Heard Three Thousand Miles—Atmospheric Waves Travel Seven Times Around the Earth—A Pillar of Dust Seventeen Miles High—Islands of the Malay Archipelago Blotted Out of Existence—Native Villages Annihilated—Other Disastrous Upheavals in the East Indies.
One of the fairest regions of the world is the Malay Archipelago of the East Indies. Here nature is prodigal with her gifts to man, and the cocoa-palm, cinnamon and other trees flourish, and rice, cotton, the sugar cane and tobacco yield their increase under cultivation. But beneath these scenes of loveliness, there are terrific energies, for this region is a focus of intense volcanic action. In the Sunda strait, between Sumatra and Java, there lies a group of small volcanic islands, the largest of which is Krakatoa. It forms part of the "basal wreck" of a large submarine volcano, whose visible edges are also represented by Velaten and Lang islands.
For two hundred years the igneous forces beneath Krakatoa remained dormant; but in September, 1880, premonitory shocks of earthquake were heard in the neighborhood. At length the inhabitants of Batavia and Bintenzorg were startled on May 20, 1883, by booming sounds which came from Krakatoa, one hundred miles distant. A mail steamer passing through the strait, had her compass violently agitated. Next day a sprinkling of ashes was noticed at some places on each side of the strait, and toward evening a steam-column rising from Krakatoa revealed the locality of the disturbance. The commander of the German war ship Elisabeth, while passing, estimated the dust-column to be about thirty-six thousand feet, or seven miles high.
Volcanic phenomena being common to that region, no fears were entertained by the inhabitants in the vicinity; and an excursion party even started from Batavia to visit the scene of action. They reached the island on May 27th, and saw that the cone of Perborwatan was active, and that a column of vapor arose from it to a height of not less than ten thousand feet, while lumps of pumice were shot up to about six hundred feet. Explosions occurred at intervals of from five to ten minutes, each of these outbursts uncovering the liquid lava in the vent, the glow of which lighted up the overhanging steam-cloud for a few seconds.
Shortly after this visit the activity diminished. But on June 19th it was noticed at Anjer that the height of the dust and vapor-column, and likewise the explosions were again increasing. On the 24th a second column was seen rising. At length, Captain Ferzenaar, chief of the Topographical Survey of Bantam, visited Krakatoa island on August 11th. He found its forests destroyed, and the mantle of dust near the shores was twenty inches thick. Three large vapor-columns were noted, one marking the position of the crater of Perborwatan, while the other two were in the center of the island, and of the latter, one was probably Danan. There were also no less than eleven other eruptive foci, from which issued smaller steam-columns and dust. This was the last report prior to the great paroxysm.
During the next two or three weeks there was a decline in the energy of the volcano, but on the afternoon of Sunday, August 26th, and all through the following night, it was evident that the period of moderate eruptive action had passed, and that Krakatoa had now entered upon the paroxysmal stage. From sunset on Sunday till midnight the tremendous detonations followed each other so quickly that a continuous roar may be said to have issued from the island. The full terrors of the eruption were now approaching. The distance of ninety-six miles from Krakatoa was not sufficient to permit sleep to the inhabitants of Batavia. All night volcanic thunders sounded like the discharges of artillery at their very doors. On the next morning there were four mighty explosions. The third was of appalling violence, and it gave rise to the most far-reaching effects. The entire series of grand phenomena at that spot extended over a little more than thirty-six hours.
Captain Thompson, of the Media, then seventy-six miles northeast of Krakatoa, saw a black mass like smoke rising into the clouds to an altitude estimated at not less than seventeen miles. The eruption was also viewed by Captain Wooldridge at a distance of forty miles. He speaks of the vapory mass looking like "an immense wall, with bursts of forked lightning, at times like large serpents rushing through the air." After sunset this dark wall resembled "a blood-red curtain with the edges of all shades of yellow, the whole of a murky tinge, with fierce flashes of lightning." Two other masters of vessels, at about the same distance from the volcano, report seeing the mastheads and yardarms of their ships aglow with electric fire. Such effects seem to be easily explicable. When we consider how enormous must be the friction going on in the hot air, through the clash against each other of myriads of particles of volcanic dust, during ejection and in their descent, it is evident that such friction is adequate to produce a widespread electrical disturbance in the surrounding atmosphere. The rush of steam through craters or other fissures would also contribute to these disturbances.
From these causes the compasses of passing ships were much disturbed. And yet the fall of magnetic oxide of iron (magnetite), a constituent of volcanic ash, possibly had some share in creating these perturbations. On the telephone line from Ishore, which included a submarine cable about a mile long, reports like pistol shots were heard. At Singapore, five hundred miles from Krakatoa, it was noted at the Oriental Telephone Company's station that, on putting the receiver to the ear, a roar like that of a waterfall was heard. So great was the mass of vapor and dust in the air, that profound darkness, which lasted many hours, extended even to one hundred and fifty miles from the focus of the eruption. There is the record, among others, that it was "pitch dark" at Anjer at two o'clock in the afternoon of the 26th.
So great, too, was the ejective force that the fine volcanic dust was blown up to a height of fifty thousand feet, or over nine miles, into space. Another estimate gives the enormous altitude of seventeen miles to which the dust had been blown. The volcanic ash, which fell upon the neighboring islands within a circle of nine and one half miles radius, was from sixty-five to one hundred and thirty feet thick. At the back of the island the thickness of the ash beds was from one hundred and ninety-five to two hundred and sixty feet. Masses of floating pumice encumbered the strait. The coarser particles of this ash fell over a known area equal to 285,170 square miles, a space equal to the whole of the New England States, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. It is calculated that the matter so ejected must have been considerably over a cubic mile in volume.
Another distinguishing feature of this display of nature's powers was the magnitude and range of the explosive sounds. Lloyd's agent at Batavia, ninety-four miles distant from Krakatoa, reported that on the morning of the 27th the reports and concussions were simply deafening. At Carimon, Java, which is three hundred and fifty-five miles distant, the natives heard reports which led them to suppose that a distant ship was in distress; boats put off for what proved to be a futile search. The explosions were heard not only all over the province of Macassar, nine hundred and sixty-nine miles from the scene of the eruption, but over a yet wider area. At a spot one thousand one hundred and sixteen miles distant—St. Lucia bay, Borneo—some natives heard the awful sound. It stirred their consciences, for, being guilty of murder, they fled, fearing that such sounds signified the approach of an avenging force. Again, in the island of Timor, one thousand three hundred and fifty-one miles away, the people were so alarmed that the government sent off a steamer to seek the cause of the disturbance.
At that time, also, the shepherds on the Victoria plains, West Australia, thought they heard the firing of heavy artillery, at a spot one thousand seven hundred miles distant. At midnight, August 26th, the people of Daly Waters, South Australia, were aroused by what they thought was the blasting of a rock, a sound which lasted a few minutes. "The time and other circumstances show that here again was Krakatoa heard, this time at the enormous distance of two thousand and twenty-three miles." And yet there is trustworthy evidence that the sounds were heard over even greater distances. Thundering noises were heard at Diego Garcia, in the Chagos islands, two thousand two hundred and sixty-seven miles from Krakatoa. It was imagined that some vessel must be in distress, and search was accordingly made. But most remarkable of all, Mr. James Wallis, chief of police in Rodriguez, across the Indian ocean, and nearly three thousand miles away from Krakatoa, made a statement in which he said that "several times during the night of August 26th-27th reports were heard coming from the eastward like the distant roar of heavy guns. These reports continued at intervals of between three and four hours." Obviously, some time was needed for the sounds to make such a journey. On the basis of the known rate of velocity, they must have been heard at Rodriguez four hours after they started from their source.
And yet, great as was the range of such vibrations, they could not be compared with that of the air-wave caused by the mighty outburst. This atmospheric wave started from Krakatoa at two minutes past ten on that eventful Monday morning, moving onward in an ever-widening circle, like that produced when a stone is thrown into smooth water. This ring-like wave traveled on at the rate of from six hundred and seventy-four to seven hundred and twenty-six miles an hour, and went around the world four, if not even seven times, as evidenced by the following facts: Batavia is nearly a hundred miles from the eruptive focus under review. There was connected with its gas-holder the usual pressure recorder. About thirteen minutes after the great outburst, this gauge showed a barometric disturbance equal to about four-tenths of an inch of mercury, that is, an extra air pressure of about a fifth of a pound on every square inch. The effects on the air of minor paroxysmal outbreaks are also recorded by this instrument; but barometers in the most distant places record the same disturbance. The great wave passed and repassed over the globe and no inhabitant was conscious of the fact. Barometers in the principal cities of the world automatically recorded this effect of the first great wave from Krakatoa to its antipodes in Central America, and also the return wave. The first four oscillations left their mark on upward of forty barograms, the fifth and sixth on several, and at Kew, England, the existence of a seventh was certainly established.
At the same time that this immense aerial undulation started on its tour around the world, another wave but of awful destructiveness, a seismic sea-wave, started on a similar journey. There can hardly be a doubt that this so-called "tidal-wave" was synchronous with the greatest of the explosions. A wave from fifty to seventy-two feet high arose and swept with resistless fury upon the shores each side of the straits. The destruction to life and property will probably never be fully known. At least thirty-six thousand lives were lost; a great part of the district of North Bantam was destroyed; and the towns of Anjer, Merak, Tyringin, and neighboring villages were overwhelmed. A man-of-war, the Berouw, was cast upon the shore of Sumatra nearly two miles inland, and masses of coral from twenty to fifty tons in weight were torn from the bed of the sea and swept upon the shore.
The formerly fertile and densely populated islands of Sibuku and Sibesi were entirely covered by a deposit of dry mud several yards thick, and furrowed by deep crevasses. Of the inhabitants all perished to a man. Three islands, Steers, Calmeyer, and the islet east of Verlaten, completely disappeared and were covered by twelve or fourteen feet of water. Verlaten, formerly one mass of verdure, was uniformly covered with a layer of ashes about one hundred feet thick.
A few days after this eruption some remarkable sky effects were observed in different parts of the world. Many of these effects were of extraordinary beauty. Accordingly scientific inquiry was made, and in due time there was collected and tabulated a list of places from whence these effects were seen, together with the dates of such occurrences. Eventually it was concluded that such optical phenomena had a common cause, and that it must be the dust of ultra-microscopic fineness at an enormous altitude. All the facts indicated that such a cloud started from the Sunda straits, and that the prodigious force of the Krakatoa eruption could at that time alone account for the presence of impalpable matter at such a height in the atmosphere.
This cloud traveled at about double the speed of an express train, by way of the tropics of Cancer and of Capricorn. Carried by westerly-going winds, in three days it had crossed the Indian Ocean and was rapidly moving over Central Africa; two days later it was flying over the Atlantic; then, for two more days over Brazil, and then across the Pacific toward its birth-place. But the wind still carried this haze of fine particles onward, and again it went around the world within a fortnight. In November, the dust area had expanded so as to include North America and Europe.
Here are a few facts culled from the report of the Royal Society of London. On the 28th, at Seychelles, the sun was seen as through a fog at sunset, and there was a lurid glare all over the sky. At the island of Rodriguez, on that day, "a strange, red, threatening sky was seen at sunset." At Mauritius (28th), there is the record "Crimson dawn, sun red after rising, gorgeous sunset, first of the afterglows; sky and clouds yellow and red up to the zenith." 28th and 29th, Natal—"most vivid sunsets, also August 31st and September 5th, sky vivid red, fading into green and purple." On the last days of August and September 1st, the sun, as seen from South America, appeared blue, while at Panama on the 2nd and 3d of that month, the sun appeared green. "On the 2nd of September, Trinidad, Port of Spain—Sun looked like a blue ball, and after sunset the sky became so red that there was supposed to be a big fire." "On the 5th of September, Honolulu—Sun set green. Remarkable afterglow first seen. Secondary glow lasted till 7:45 P. M., gold, green and crimson colors. Corona constantly seen from September 5th to December 15th. Misty rippled surface of haze."
It remains to be said that when this now famous island of Krakatoa was visited shortly after the great eruption, wonderful changes were noted. The whole northern and lower portion of the island had vanished, except an isolated pitchstone rock, ten yards square, and projecting out of the ocean with deep water all around it. What a tremendous work of evisceration this must have been is attested by the fact that where Krakatoa island, girt with luxuriant forests, once towered from three hundred to fourteen hundred feet above the sunlit waters, it is now, in some places, more than a thousand feet below them.
There is no region more frequently visited by earthquakes than the beautiful lands in the Indian ocean, and nowhere has greater damage been done than on the beautiful island of Java. In former ages Sumatra and Java formed one single island, but in the year 1115, after a terrific earthquake, the isthmus which connected them, disappeared in the waves with all its forests and fertile fields.
These two islands have more than 200 volcanoes, half of which have never been explored, but it is known that whenever there has been an eruption of any one of them, one or the other of the two islands has been visited by an earthquake. Moreover, earthquakes are so frequent in the whole archipelago that the principal ones serve as dates to mark time or to refer to, just as in our own country is the case with any great historic event. A month rarely passes without the soil being shaken, and the disappearance of a village is of frequent occurrence.
In 1822 the earthquake which accompanied the eruption of the Javanese volcano of Yalung-Yung, utterly destroyed 144 towns and villages. In 1772, when the Papand-Yung was in a state of furious eruption, the island of Java was violently agitated, and a tract of nearly twenty-five square leagues, which but the day before had been covered with flourishing villages and farms, was reduced to a heap of ruins. In 1815 an earthquake, accompanied by an eruption of the volcano of Timboro, in the island of Sumatra, destroyed more than 20,000 lives.
It is rare even in this archipelago that there occurs a cataclysm so terrible as that of 1883. When the first eruption of Krakatoa occurred on August 25, it seemed that it was a signal to the other volcanoes of Java and Sumatra. By midday Maha-Meru, the greatest, if not the most active of the Javanese volcanoes, was belching forth flame continuously. The eruption soon extended to the Gunung-Guntus and other volcanoes, until a third of the forty-five craters in Java were either in full blast, or beginning to show signs of eruption. While these eruptions were going on, the sea was in a state of tremendous agitation. The clouds floating above the water were charged with electricity, and at one moment there were fifteen large water-spouts to be seen at the same time.
Men, women and children fled in terror from their crumbling habitations, and filled the air with their cries of distress. Hundreds of them who had not time to escape were buried beneath the ruins. On Sunday evening the violence of the shocks and of the volcanic eruptions increased, and the island of Java seemed likely to be entirely submerged. Enormous waves dashed against the shore, and in some cases forced their way inland, while enormous crevices opened in the ground, threatening to engulf at one fell swoop all the inhabitants and their houses.
Toward midnight there was a scene of horror passing the powers of imagination. A luminous cloud gathered above the chain of the Kandangs, which run along the southeastern coast of Java. This cloud increased in size each minute, until at last it came to form a sort of dome of a gray and blood-red color, which hung over the earth for a considerable distance. In proportion as this cloud grew, the eruptions gained fresh force, and the floods of lava poured down the mountain sides without ceasing, and spread into the valleys, where they swept all before them. On Monday morning, about two o'clock, the heavy cloud suddenly broke up, and finally disappeared, but when the sun rose it was found that a tract of country extending from Point Capucine to the south as far as Negery Passoerang, to the north and west, and covering an area of about fifty square miles, had entirely disappeared.
There stood the previous day the villages of Negery, and Negery Babawang. Not one of the inhabitants had escaped. They and their villages had been swallowed up by the sea.
OUR GREAT HAWAIIAN AND ALASKAN VOLCANOES.
BY TRUMBULL WHITE.
Greatest Volcanoes in the World Are Under the American Flag—Huge Craters in Our Pacific Islands—Native Worship of the Gods of the Flaming Mountains—Eruptions of the Past—Heroic Defiance of Pele, the Goddess of Volcanoes, by a Brave Hawaiian Queen—The Spell of Superstition Broken—Volcanic Peaks in Alaska, Our Northern Territory—Aleutian Islands Report Eruptions.
Under the American flag we are ourselves the possessors of some of the greatest active volcanoes in the world, and the greatest of all craters, the latter extinct indeed, for many years, but with a latent power that no one could conceive should it once more begin activity.
Hawaii, Paradise of the Pacific, raised by the fires of the very Inferno out of the depths of the ocean centuries ago, to become in recent years a smiling land of tropic beauty and an American island possession! Hawaii is the land of great volcanoes, sometimes slumbering and again pouring forth floods of molten fire to overwhelm the peaceful villages and arouse the superstitious fears of the natives.
Alaska, too, is a region of great volcanic ranges and eruptive activity, the Aleutian islands being raised from the bed of the Pacific by the same natural forces.
The Hawaiian islands occupy a central position in the North Pacific ocean, about 2,000 miles west of the California coast. The group includes eight inhabited islands, all of volcanic origin, and they are, substantially, naught but solid aggregations of fused, basaltic rock shot up from the earth's center, during outbursts of bye-gone ages, and cooled into mountains of stone here in the midst of the greatest body of water on the globe. In many localities, however, the accretions of centuries have so covered them with vegetable growths that their general appearance is not greatly different from that of other sections of the earth's surface.
The largest of the group is Hawaii, and it includes nearly two-thirds of the total area. Here stand the highest mountains found on any island in the known world. Only a few peaks of the Alps are as high as Mauna Loa (Long mountain), which towers 13,675 feet above the level of the sea, and Mauna Kea (White mountain), the height of which is 13,805 feet. In east Maui stands Haleakala, with an elevation about equal to that of Mount AEtna. This extinct volcano enjoys the distinction of having the largest crater in the world, a monstrous pit, thirty miles in circumference and 2,000 feet deep. The vast, irregular floor contains more than a dozen subsidiary craters or great cones, some of them 750 feet high. At the Kaupo and Koolau gaps the lava is supposed to have burst through and made its way down the mountain sides. The cones are distinctly marked as one looks down upon them; and it is remarkable that from the summit the eye takes in the whole crater, and notes all its contents, diminished, of course, by their great distance. Not a tree, shrub, nor even a tuft of grass obstructs the view. The natives have no traditions of Haleakala in activity. There are signs of several lava flows, and one in particular is clearly much more recent than the others.
The greatest point of interest in the islands is the great crater of Kilauea. It is nine miles in circumference and perhaps a thousand feet deep. Nowhere else within the knowledge of mankind is there a living crater to be compared with it. Moreover, there is no crater which can be entered and explored with ease and comparative safety save Kilauea alone. There have been a few narrow escapes, but no accidents, and it is needless to add that no description can give anyone an adequate idea of the incomparable splendor of the scene. It is, indeed, a "bottomless pit," bounded on all sides by precipitous rocks. The entrance is effected by a series of steps, and below these by a scramble over lava and rock debris. The greater part of the crater is a mass of dead, though not cold, lava; and over this the journey is made to the farthest extremity of the pit, where it is necessary to ascend a tolerably steep hill of lava, which is the bank of the fiery lake. A step or two brings one close to the awful margin, and he looks down over smoking, frightful walls, three hundred feet or more, into a great boiling, bubbling, sizzling sea of fire.
The tendency of the current, if it may be so called, is centripetal, though at times it varies, flowing to one side; while along the borders of the pit, waves of slumbering lava, apparently as unmovable as those over which the traveler has just crossed, lie in wrinkled folds and masses, heaped against the shore. If one watches those waves closely, however, he will presently observe what appears like a fiery, red serpent coming up out of the lake and creeping through and under them, like a chain of brilliant flame, its form lengthening as it goes, until it has circumscribed a large share of the entire basin. Then it begins to spread and flatten, as though the body had burst asunder and was dissolving back again, along its whole trail, into the fierce flood of turbulent fury whence it came.
Soon the broad, thick mass of lava, thus surrounded, which seemed fixed and immovable, slowly drifts off from the shore to the center of the lake; reminding one of detached cakes of broken ice, such as are often seen in winter when the thaws come, or during spring freshets when the streams burst their encrusted chains. The force of this comparison is strengthened when those cakes reach the center, for there they go to pieces exactly after the manner of large pieces of ice, and turning upon their edges, disappear in the ravenous vortex below, which is forever swallowing up all that approaches it, giving nothing back in return.
Two kinds of lava form on the face of the lake. One is stony, hard, and brittle; the other flexible and tough, similar to India-rubber. The flexible kind forms exclusively on one side of the basin and spreads over it like an immense, sombre blanket; and, as it floats down in slow procession to the central abyss, occasionally rises and falls with a flapping motion, by force of the generated gases underneath, like a sheet shaken in the wind.
Occasionally, the fire forces its way through this covering and launches huge, sputtering fountains of red-hot liquid lava high into the air, with a noise that resembles distant bombs exploding; and again, multitudes of smaller founts burst into blossom all over the lake, presenting a spectacle of wild beauty across its entire surface.
In Hawaiian mythology, Pele was the goddess of volcanoes, and she and her numerous family formed a class of deities by themselves. She with her six sisters, Hiiaka, her brother Kamohoalii, and others, were said to have emigrated from Kahiki (Samoa) in ancient times. They were said to have first lived at Moanalua in Oahu, then to have moved their residence to Kalaupapa, Molokai, then to Haleakala, and finally to have settled on Hawaii. Their headquarters were in the Halemaumau, in the crater of Kilauea, but they also caused the eruptions of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. In southern Hawaii Pele was feared more than any other deity, and no one dared to approach her abode without making her an offering of the ohelo-berries that grow in the neighborhood. Whenever an eruption took place, great quantities of hogs and other articles of property were thrown into the lava stream in order to appease her anger.
In 1824, Kapiolani, the daughter of a great chief of Hilo, having been converted to Christianity by the missionaries, determined to break the spell of the native belief in Pele. In spite of the strenuous opposition of her friends and even of her husband, she made a journey of about 150 miles, mostly on foot, from Kealakekua to Hilo, visiting the great crater of Kilauea on her way, in order to defy the wrath of Pele, and to prove that no such being existed.
On approaching the volcano, she met the priestess of Pele, who warned her not to go near the crater and predicted her death if she violated the tabus of the goddess.
"Who are you?" demanded Kapiolani.
"One in whom the goddess dwells," she replied.
In answer to a pretended letter of Pele, Kapiolani quoted passages from the Bible until the priestess was silenced. Kapiolani then went forward to the crater, where Mr. Goodrich, one of the missionaries, met her. A hut was built for her on the eastern brink of the crater, and here she passed the night.
The next morning she and her company of about eighty persons descended over 500 feet to the "Black Ledge." There, in full view of the grand and terrific action of the inner crater, she ate the berries consecrated to Pele, and threw stones into the burning lake, saying: "Jehovah is my God. He kindled these fires. I fear not Pele. If I perish by her anger, then you may fear Pele; but if I trust in Jehovah, and he preserve me when breaking her tabus, then you must fear and serve him alone...."
It is needless to say that she was not harmed, and this act did much to destroy the superstitious dread in which the heathen goddess was held by the ignorant and credulous natives.
The history of Hawaiian volcanic eruptions tells no such tales of horror as regards the loss of life and property as may be read in the accounts of other great volcanoes of the globe. This, however, is simply because the region is less populated, and their tremendous manifestations of power have lacked material to destroy. There have been fatal catastrophes, and ruin has been wrought which seems slight only in comparison with the greater disasters of a similar nature.
In 1855 an eruption of Mauna Loa occurred. The lava flowed toward Hilo, and for several months, spreading through the dense forests which belt the mountain, crept slowly shorewards, threatening this beautiful portion of Hawaii with the fate of the Cities of the Plain. For five months the inhabitants watched the inundation, which came a little nearer every day. Should they flee or not? Would their beautiful homes become a waste of jagged lava and black sand, like the neighboring district of Puna, once as fair as Hilo? Such questions suggested themselves as they nightly watched the nearing glare, till the fiery waves met with obstacles which piled them up in hillocks eight miles from Hilo, and the suspense was over.
Only gigantic causes can account for the gigantic phenomena of this lava-flow. The eruption traveled forty miles in a straight line, or sixty including sinuosities. It was from one to three miles broad, and from five to 200 feet deep, according to the contours of the mountain slopes over which it flowed. It lasted for thirteen months, pouring out a torrent of lava which covered nearly 300 square miles of land, and its volume was estimated at 38,000,000,000 cubic feet! In 1859 lava fountains 400 feet in height, and with a nearly equal diameter, played on the summit of Mauna Loa. This eruption ran fifty miles to the sea in eight days, but the flow lasted much longer, and added a new promontory to Hawaii.
On March 27, 1868, a series of earthquakes began and became more startling from day to day, until their succession became so rapid that the island quivered like the lid of a boiling pot nearly all the time between the heavier shocks. The trembling was like that of a ship struck by a heavy wave. Late in the afternoon of April 2, the climax came. The crust of the earth rose and sank like the sea in a storm. Rocks were rent, mountains fell, buildings and their contents were shattered, trees swayed like reeds, animals ran about demented; men thought the judgment had come. The earth opened in thousands of places, the roads in Hilo cracked open; horses and their riders, and people afoot, were thrown violently to the ground. At Kilauea the shocks were as frequent as the ticking of a watch. In Kau, south of Hilo, 300 shocks were counted during the day. An avalanche of red earth, supposed to be lava, burst from the mountain side, throwing rocks high into the air, swallowing up houses, trees, men and animals, and traveling three miles in as many minutes, burying a hamlet with thirty-one inhabitants, and 500 head of cattle.
The people of the valleys fled to the mountains, which themselves were splitting in all directions, and collecting on an elevated spot, with the earth reeling under them, they spent a night of terror. Looking toward the shore, they saw it sink, and at the same moment a wave, whose height was estimated at from forty to sixty feet, hurled itself upon the coast and receded five times, destroying whole villages and engulfing forever forty-six people who had lingered too near the shore.
Still the earthquakes continued, and still the volcanoes gave no sign. People put their ears to the quivering ground and heard, or thought they heard, the surgings of the imprisoned lava sea rending its way among the ribs of the earth. Five days after the destructive earthquake of April 2, the ground south of Hilo burst open with a crash and a roar, which at once answered all questions concerning the volcano. The molten river, after traveling underground for twenty miles, emerged through a fissure two miles in length with a tremendous force and volume. Four huge fountains boiled up with terrific fury, throwing crimson lava and rocks weighing many tons from 500 to 1,000 feet.
Mr. Whitney, of Honolulu, who was near the spot, says: "From these great fountains to the sea flowed a rapid stream of red lava, rolling, rushing, and tumbling like a swollen river, bearing along in its current large rocks that made the lava foam as it dashed down the precipice and through the valley into the sea, surging and roaring throughout its length like a cataract, with a power and fury perfectly indescribable. It was nothing else than a river of fire from 200 to 800 feet wide and twenty deep, with a speed varying from ten to twenty-five miles an hour. From the scene of these fire fountains, whose united length was about one mile, the river in its rush to the sea divided itself into four streams, between which it shut up men and beasts. Where it entered the sea it extended the coast-line half a mile, but this worthless accession to Hawaiian acreage was dearly purchased by the loss, for ages at least, of 4,000 acres of valuable agricultural land, and a much larger quantity of magnificent forest."
The entire southeast shore of Hawaii sank from four to six feet, which involved the destruction of several hamlets and the beautiful fringe of cocoanut trees. Though the region was very thinly peopled, 100 lives were sacrificed in this week of horrors; and from the reeling mountains, the uplifted ocean, and the fiery inundation, the terrified survivors fled into Hilo, each with a tale of woe and loss. The number of shocks of earthquake counted was 2,000 in two weeks, an average of 140 a day; but on the other side of the island the number was incalculable.
Since that time there have been several eruptions of these great Hawaiian volcanoes, but none so destructive to life and property. Only two years ago the crater of Mauna Loa was in eruption for some weeks, and travelers journeyed to the vicinity from all over the world to see the grand display of Nature's power in the fountains of lava and the blazing rivers flowing down the mountain side. The spectacle could be viewed perfectly at night from ships at sea, and from places of safety on shore.
Across the North Pacific, from Kamschatka to Alaska, is a continuous chain of craters in the Aleutian islands, forming almost a bridge over the ocean, and from Alaska down the western coasts of the two Americas is a string of the mightiest volcanoes in existence. Iceland is a seething caldron under its eternal snows, and in a hundred places where some great, jagged cone of a volcano rises, seemingly dead and lifeless, only a fire-brand in the hand of nature may be needed to awaken it to a fury like that of which its vast lava beds, pinnacles, and craters are so eloquent.
The world's record for the extent of an eruption probably belongs to the great volcano Skaptan Jokul, in Iceland. This eruption began on June 11, 1783, having been preceded by violent earthquakes. A torrent of lava welled up into the crater, overflowed it, and ran down the sides of the cone into the channel of the Skapta river, completely drying it up. The river had occupied a rocky gorge, from 400 to 600 feet deep, and averaging 200 feet wide. This gorge was filled, a deep lake was filled, and the rock, still at white heat, flowed on into subterranean caverns. Tremendous explosions followed, throwing boulders to enormous heights. A week after the first eruption another stream of lava followed the first, debouched over a precipice into the channel of another river, and finally, at the end of two years, the lava had spread over the plains below in great lakes twelve to fifteen miles wide and a hundred feet deep. Twenty villages were destroyed by fire, and out of 50,000 inhabitants nearly 9,000 perished, either from fire or from noxious vapors.
The Skapta river branch of this lava stream was fifty miles long and in places twelve to fifteen miles wide; the other stream was forty miles long, seven miles broad, and the range of depth in each stream was from 100 to 600 feet. Professor Bischoff has called this, in quantity, the greatest eruption of the world, the lava, piled, having been estimated as of greater volume than is Mont Blanc.
Regarding the volcanoes of the United States, Mount Shasta is one of the most interesting of them. It has an altitude of 14,350 feet, towering more than a mile above its nearest neighbor. Four thousand feet of its peak are above timber line, covered with glaciers, while the mountain's base is seventeen miles in diameter. Shasta is almost continually showing slight evidences of its internal fires. Another of the famous cones is that of Mount Hood, standing 11,225 feet, snow-capped, and regarded as an extinct volcano.
As to the volcanic records of the great West, they may be read in the chains of mountains that stretch from Alaska 10,000 miles to Tierra del Fuego. In the giant geysers and hot springs of the Yellowstone Park are evidences of existing fires in the United States; while as to the extent of seismic disturbances of the past, the famous lava beds of Dakota, in which Captain Jack, the Modoc chief, held out against government troops till starved into submission, are volcanic areas full of mute testimony regarding nature's convulsions.
How soon, if ever, some of these volcanic areas of the United States may burst forth into fresh activity, no one can predict. If the slumbering giants should arouse themselves and shake off the rock fetters which bind their strength, the results might be terrible to contemplate. Those who dwell in the shadow of such peaks as are believed to be extinct, become indifferent to such a possible threat after many years of immunity, but such a disaster as that of St. Pierre arouses thought and directs scrutiny once more upon the ancient volcanic peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas.
SOUTH AMERICAN CITIES DESTROYED.
BY TRUMBULL WHITE.
Earthquakes Ravage the Coast Cities of Peru and the Neighboring Countries—Spanish Capitals in the New World Frequent Sufferers—Lima, Callao and Caracas Devastated—Tidal Waves Accompany the Earthquakes—Juan Fernandez Island Shaken—Fissures Engulf Men and Animals—Peculiar Effects Observed.
The discovery of America, in 1492, brought a great accession to the number of recorded earthquakes, as South and Central America and the islands near them have furnished almost innumerable instances of the phenomena.
The first of the known earthquakes in the western hemisphere occurred in 1530, and the Gulf of Paria, with the adjacent coast of Cumana, in Venezuela, was the scene of the catastrophe. It was accompanied by a great sea-wave, the tide suddenly rising twenty-four feet, and then retiring. There were also opened in the earth several large fissures, which discharged black, fetid salt water and petroleum. A mountain near the neighboring Gulf of Caracas was split in twain, and has since remained in its cloven condition.
The coast of Peru was visited by an earthquake in the year 1586, and again in 1687. On the first occasion the shock was accompanied by a great sea-wave eighty-four feet high, which inundated the country for two leagues inland. There was still another dreadful convulsion on this coast in 1746, when the sea twice retreated and dashed in again with a tremendous wave about eighty feet high, overwhelming Lima and four other seaports. A portion of the coast sank down, producing a new bay at Callao; and in several mountains in the neighborhood there were formed large fissures whence water and mud gushed forth. On May 24, 1751, the city of Concepcion, in Chili, was entirely swallowed up during an earthquake, and the sea rolled over its site. The ancient port was destroyed, and a new town was afterwards erected ten miles inland. The great sea-wave, which accompanied this earthquake, rolled in upon the shores of the island of Juan Fernandez, and overwhelmed a colony which had been recently established there. The coast near the ancient port of Concepcion was considerably raised on this occasion, and the high water mark now stands twenty-four feet below its former level.
The coast of Caracas and the adjacent island of Trinidad were violently convulsed in 1776, and the whole city of Cumana was reduced to ruins. The shocks were continued for upwards of a year, and were at first repeated almost hourly. There were frequent eruptions of sulphurous water from fissures in the ground, and an island in the Orinoco disappeared.
Rihamba must have stood, it would appear, almost immediately over the focus of the dreadful earthquake of February 4, 1797. This unfortunate city was situated in the district of Quito, not far from the base of the great volcano of Tunguragua. That mountain was probably the center of disturbance, and the shock was experienced with disastrous effects over a district of country extending about 120 miles from north to south and about sixty miles from east to west. Every town and village comprehended within this district was reduced to ruins. The shocks, however, were felt, though in a milder form, over a much larger area, extending upwards of 500 miles from north to south and more than 400 miles from east to west.
At Riobamba the shocks, which began at about eight o'clock in the morning, are said to have been vertical. Some faint idea may be formed of the extreme violence of this motion from the fact mentioned by Humboldt that the dead bodies of some of the inhabitants who perished were tossed over a small river to the height of several hundred feet, and landed on an adjacent hill.
Vertical movements, so powerful and so long continued, could not fail to produce an enormous displacement of the ground, and to be very destructive to all buildings which it sustained. The soil was rent, and, as it were, torn asunder and twisted in an extraordinary manner. Several of the fissures opened and closed again; many persons were engulfed in them; but a few saved themselves by simply stretching out their arms, so that, when the fissure closed, the upper parts of their bodies were left above the ground, thus admitting of their being easily extricated. In some instances whole cavalcades of horsemen and troops of laden mules disappeared in those chasms; while some few escaped by throwing themselves back from the edge of the cleft.
The amount of simultaneous elevation and depression of the ground was in some cases as much as twelve feet; and several persons who were in the choir of one of the churches escaped by simply stepping on the pavement of the street, which was brought up to a level with the spot where they stood. Instances occurred of whole houses sinking bodily into the earth, till their roofs were fairly underground; but so little were the buildings thus engulfed injured, that their inhabitants were able still to live in them, and by the light of flambeaux to pass from room to room, the doors opening and shutting as easily as before. The people remained in them, subsisting on the provisions they had in store, for the space of two days, until they were extricated safe and sound. With the majority of the inhabitants, however, it fared otherwise. The loss of life in the city, and throughout the district most convulsed, was enormous, 40,000 persons altogether having perished.
Of Riobamba itself the ruin was complete. When Humboldt took a plan of the place after the catastrophe, he could find nothing but heaps of stones eight or ten feet high; although the city had contained churches and convents, with many private houses several stories in height. The town of Quero was likewise entirely overthrown.
At Tacunga the ruin was nearly as thorough, not a building having been left standing save an arch in the great square, and part of a neighboring house. The churches of St. Augustin, St. Domingo, and La Merced were at the moment thronged with people hearing mass. Not one escaped alive. All were buried, along with the objects of their worship, under the ruins of their consecrated buildings. In several parts of the town and its neighborhood there were opened larger fissures in the ground, whence quantities of water poured forth. The village of St. Philip, near Tacunga, containing a school in which upwards of forty children were assembled at the time, disappeared bodily in a chasm. A great many other villages with their inhabitants were destroyed, by being either overthrown or engulfed.
Even at Quito, although so distant from the centre of the disturbance, a great deal of damage was done to the churches and other public buildings by the shock, several being wholly ruined. The private houses and other buildings of moderate height, however, were spared. The superstitious inhabitants of this fair city, having been greatly alarmed by an unwonted display of luminous meteors, had devoted the previous day to carrying in procession through their streets the graven images and relics of their saints, in the vain hope of appeasing divine wrath. They were doomed to learn by experience that these idols were powerless to protect even the consecrated edifices dedicated to their honor, and in which they were enshrined.
The Bay of Caracas was the scene of a dreadful earthquake in 1812. The city of Caracas was totally destroyed, and ten thousand of its inhabitants were buried beneath its ruins.
The shock was most severe in the northern part of the town, nearest to the mountain of La Silla, which rises like a vast dome, with steep cliffs in the direction of the sea. The churches of the Trinity and Alta Gracia, the latter of which was more than one hundred and fifty feet high, and the nave of which was supported by pillars twelve or fifteen feet thick, were reduced to a mass of ruins not more than five or six feet high. The subsidence of the ruins was such that scarcely a vestige of pillar or column could be found. The barracks of San Carlos disappeared altogether, and a regiment of infantry, under arms to take part in a procession, was swallowed up with the exception of a few men.
Nine-tenths of the town was annihilated. The houses which had not collapsed were cracked to such an extent that their occupants did not dare to re-enter them. To the estimate of 10,000 victims caused by the earthquake, must be added the many who succumbed, weeks and months afterward, for want of food and relief. The night of Holy Thursday to Good Friday presented the most lamentable spectacle of desolation and woe which can well be conceived. The thick layer of dust, which, ascending from the ruins, obscured the air like mist, had again settled on the ground; the earthquake shocks had ceased, and the night was calm and clear. A nearly full moon lighted up the scene, and the aspect of the sky was in striking contrast with that of a land strewn with corpses and ruins.
Mothers might be seen running about with their children whom they were vainly trying to recall to life. Distracted families were searching for a brother, a husband, or some other relative, whose fate was unknown to them, but who, they hoped, might be discovered in the crowd. The injured lying half buried beneath the ruins were making piteous appeals for help, and over 2,000 were extricated. Never did human kindness reveal itself in a more touching and ingenious fashion than in the efforts made to relieve the sufferers whose cries were so heart-breaking to hear. There were no tools to clear away the rubbish, and the work of relief had to be performed with the bare hands.
The injured and the sick who had escaped from the hospitals were carried to the banks of the river Guayra, where their only shelter was the foliage of the trees. The beds, the lint for binding up wounds, the surgical instruments, the medicines and all the objects of immediate necessity were buried beneath the ruins, and for the first few days there was a scarcity of everything, even of food. Water was also very scarce inside the town, as the shock had broken up the conduits of the fountains and the upheaval had blocked the springs that fed them. In order to get water it was necessary to descend to the river Guayra, which had risen to a great height, and there were very few vessels left to get it in.
It was necessary, also, to dispose of the dead with all dispatch, and in the impossibility of giving decent burial to so many thousand corpses, detachments of men were told off to burn them. Funeral pyres were erected between the heaps of ruins, and the ceremony lasted several days.
The fierce shocks which had in less than a minute occasioned such great disasters could not be expected to have confined their destructive effects to one narrow zone of the continent, and these extended to a great part of Venezuela, all along the coast and specially among the mountains inland. The towns of La Guayra, Mayquetia, Antimano, Baruta, La Vega, San Felipe, and Merida were entirely destroyed, the number of deaths exceeding 5,000 at La Guayra and San Felipe.
In November, 1822, the coast of Chile began to be violently convulsed by a succession of shocks, the first of which was of great severity. The heavings of the earth were quite perceptible to the eye. The sea rose and fell to a great extent in the harbor of Valparaiso, and the ships appeared as if they were first rapidly forced through the water, and then struck on the ground. The town of Valparaiso and several others were completely overthrown. Sounds like those produced by the escape of steam accompanied this earthquake, and it was felt throughout a distance of 1,200 miles along the coast, a portion of which—extending to about 100 miles—was permanently raised to a height varying from two to four feet. At Quintero the elevation was four feet, and at Valparaiso three feet; but about a mile inland from the latter place the elevation was as much as six or seven feet; while the whole surface raised is estimated at nearly 100,000 square miles.
The year 1868 proved very disastrous in South America. On the 13th of August of that year a series of shocks commenced which were felt over a large extent of country, stretching from Ibarra on the northwestern border of Ecuador to Cabija on the coast of Bolivia, a distance of about 1,400 miles. The effects were most severe about the southern portion of the Peruvian coast, where the towns of Iquique, Arica, Tacna, Port Ilay, Arequipa, Pisco, and several others were destroyed, and in the northern parts of Ecuador, where the town of Ibarra was overthrown, burying nearly the whole of the inhabitants under its ruins. A small town in the same quarter, named Cotocachi, was engulfed, and its site is now occupied by a lake. The total loss of lives is estimated at upward of 20,000.
On May 15, 1875, earthquake shocks of a serious character were experienced over large areas of Chile. At Valparaiso the shock lasted for forty-two seconds, with a vertical motion, so that the ground danced under foot. Two churches and many buildings were damaged. Another earthquake occurred at Valparaiso, July 8, when there were six shocks in succession. The inhabitants took refuge in the streets, several people were killed, and much damage was done to property.
About the middle of May, 1875, a most disastrous earthquake visited New Granada, the region of its influence extending over an area 500 miles in width. It was first felt perceptibly at Bogota; thence it traveled north, gaining intensity as it went, until it reached the southeast boundary line of Magdalena, where its work of destruction began. It traveled along the line of the Andes, destroying, in whole or in part, the cities of Cucuta, San Antonio, and Santiago, and causing the death of about 16,000 persons. On the evening of May 17, a strange rumbling sound was heard beneath the ground, but no shock was felt. This premonitory symptom was followed on the morning of the 18th by a terrific shock. "It suddenly shook down the walls of houses, tumbled down churches, and the principal buildings, burying the citizens in the ruins." Another shock completed the work of destruction, and shocks at intervals occurred for two days. "To add to the horrors of the calamity, the Lobotera volcano, in front of Santiago, suddenly began to shoot out lava in immense quantities in the form of incandescent balls of fire, which poured into the city and set fire to many buildings."
On the evening of April 12, 1878, a severe earthquake occurred in Venezuela which destroyed a considerable portion of the town of Cua. Immediately preceding the shock the sky was clear and the moon in perfect brightness. It lasted only two seconds, but in that time the center of the town, which was built on a slight elevation, was laid in ruins. The soil burst at several places, giving issue to water strongly impregnated with poisonous substances.
The Isthmus of Panama was the scene of a succession of earthquakes in September, 1882, which, although the loss of life was small, were exceedingly destructive to property. On the morning of September 7, the inhabitants of Panama were roused from their beds by the occurrence of one of the longest and most severe shocks ever experienced in that earthquake-vexed region. Preceded by a hollow rumbling noise, the first shock lasted nearly thirty seconds, during which it did great damage to buildings. It was severely felt on board ship, passengers declaring that the vessel seemed as if it were lifted bodily from the sea and then allowed to fall back.
Its effects on the Panama railway were very marked. The stone abutments of several of the bridges were cracked, and the earthworks sank in half a dozen places. In other places the rails were curved as if they had been intentionally bent. Other shocks less severe followed the first, until at 11:30, another sharp shock alarmed the whole city, and drove the inhabitants at once from their houses into the squares. This earthquake was also severely felt at Colon, where it lasted for fully a minute, moving many buildings from their foundations, and creating intense alarm. A deep fissure, 400 yards in length, was opened in the earth.
To what extent this tendency to earthquake shocks threatens the proposed Panama Canal, it is difficult to say. Beyond question a great earthquake would do immense damage to such a channel and its lock gates, but the advocates of the Panama route argue with apparent truth that even so it has a great advantage over the Nicaragua route. In the latter, volcanoes are numerous, and eruptions not infrequent. Lake Nicaragua itself, through which the canal route passes, has in it several islands which are but volcanic peaks raised above the water, and the whole region is subject to disturbances from the interior of the earth.
EARTHQUAKES AND VOLCANOES IN CENTRAL AMERICA AND MEXICO.
BY TRUMBULL WHITE.
A Region Frequently Disturbed by Subterranean Forces—Guatemala a Fated City—A Lake Eruption in Honduras Described by a Great Painter—City of San Jose Destroyed—Inhabitants Leave the Vicinity to Wander as Beggars—Disturbances on the Route of the Proposed Nicaraguan Canal—San Salvador is Shaken—Mexican Cities Suffer.
Central America is continually being disturbed by subterranean forces. Around the deep bays of this vast and splendid region, upon the shores laved by the waters of the Pacific, and also about the large inland lakes, rise, like an army of giants, a number of lofty volcanoes. Whilst most of them are wrapped in slumber which has lasted for centuries, others occasionally roar and groan as if in order to keep themselves awake, and to watch well over their sleeping companions. The fire which consumes their entrails extends far beneath the soil, and often causes it to tremble. Three times within thirty years the town of Guatemala has been destroyed by earthquakes, and there is not in all Guatemala, Honduras, or any other state of Central America a single coast which has not been visited by one or more violent subterranean shocks. When the earthquakes occur in remote regions, far from the habitations of men, in the midst of virgin forests, or in the vicinity of large lakes, they give rise to very singular phenomena.
In 1856, a painter, entrusted with an official mission in Honduras, witnessed an event of this kind, and though he sought to conceal his identity, he was generally believed to be Herr Heine, the well-known painter and explorer of Central America. Upon the day in question he was sailing across a large lagoon named Criba, some twenty miles broad, the weather being calm, and the sun shining brilliantly. After having secured his boat to the shore, he had landed at the entrance to a beautiful little village commanding a view of the plain dotted with houses and with stately trees. Upon the opposite shore extended the forest, with the sea in the far distance. The chief inhabitant of the village having invited Herr Heine and his companions to come in and rest, the whole party were seated beneath the veranda of the house, engaged in pleasant conversation. Suddenly, a loud noise was heard in the forest. The birds flew off in terror; the cocoanut palms bent and writhed as if in panic, and large branches of them snapped off; shrubs were torn up from the ground and carried across the lake. All this was the effect of a whirlwind traveling through space from south to north.
The whole affair lasted only a few seconds, and calm was re-established in Nature as suddenly as it had been disturbed. Conversation, of course, then turned upon the phenomenon just witnessed, and the natives maintained that atmospheric disturbances of this kind are the forerunners of severe earthquakes or violent volcanic eruptions; some of them declaring that a disaster of this character had doubtless just occurred somewhere. The host, an elderly man much esteemed in the district for his knowledge, went on to describe many such catastrophes which he himself had witnessed. He spoke more particularly of the eruption of the volcano of Coseguina, in Nicaragua, which had been preceded by a fierce whirlwind, which had been so strong that it carried pieces of rock and ashes to a distance of nearly a mile. The captain of a large sailing vessel had told him that upon the following day, when more than 100 miles from the coast, he had found the sea covered with pumice-stone, and had experienced great difficulty in threading a way for his vessel through these blocks of volcanic stone which were floating upon the surface like icebergs.
Everyone, including the European, had his story to tell, and while the party were still in conversation, a terrible noise like thunder was heard, and the earth began to quake. At first the shocks were felt to be rising upward, but after a few seconds they became transformed into undulations traveling northward, just as the sudden whirlwind had done. The soil undulated like the surface of a stormy sea, and the trees were rocked to and fro so violently that the topmost branches of the palms came in contact with the ground and snapped off. The traveler and his friends, believing themselves to be out of danger, were able to follow with ever-increasing interest the rapid phases of the disturbance, when a strange and alarming phenomenon attracted their notice.
"Our attention was called," relates Herr Heine, "to a terrible commotion in the direction of the lagoon, but I cannot express what I then saw, I did not know if I was awake or a prey to a nightmare; whether I was in the world of reality or in the world of spirits."
The water of the lagoon disappeared as if it were engulfed in a sort of a subterranean cavern, or rather, it turned over upon itself, so that from the shore to the center of the lake the bed was quite empty. But in a few moments the water reappeared, and mounting toward the center of the enormous basin, it formed an immense column, which, roaring and flecked with foam, reached so high that it intercepted the sunlight. Suddenly, the column of water collapsed with a noise as of thunder, and the foaming waves dashed toward the shore. Herr Heine and his companions would have perished if they had not been standing upon elevated ground, and, as it was, they could not restrain an exclamation of horror as they saw this mass of water, like solid rock, rolling along the plain, carrying trees, large stones, and whole fields before it.
"I saw all that without at first thinking of our own fate," recites Herr Heine, "and I think that the greatness of the peril which threatened the whole country made me indifferent as to the fate of myself and my companions. In any case, when I saw my familiar companion, Carib, nearly carried off, I remained indifferent, and it was only after two others of my followers, Manuel and Michel, had had very narrow escapes, that I succeeded in shaking off my apathy, and going to their assistance."
When the travelers, whose boat had disappeared, started for the town of San Jose, whence they had come in the morning, they were able to judge for themselves as to the extent of the disaster. All the country which they had passed through had been laid waste. Large masses of rock had been detached from the mountains, and obstructed the course of streams which had overflown their banks or changed their course. Whole villages had been destroyed, and in all directions arose the lamentations of the unfortunate inhabitants. The region over which the waters of the lagoon had been carried was no longer to be identified as the same, covered as it was with debris of every kind, and with a thick layer of sand and rock.
When they started in the morning, the travelers had left San Jose prosperous and full of cheerful stir, but when they returned at night they found it in ruins and almost deserted. The earthquake had overthrown all the houses with the exception of about twenty, and these were very badly damaged.
All the buildings in solid masonry, including the massive church, were heaps of ruins; and most of the inhabitants had perished. The Indians who were prowling in the outskirts of the town took advantage of the catastrophe to carry off all they could from the houses which were still standing and from the ruins of the others. The agility with which these Indians move about among the ruins and escape the falling walls is something wonderful, and they never hesitate to risk their lives for a very trifle.
In Central America disasters of this kind invariably cause many of the inhabitants to emigrate. Men, women, and children form themselves into groups, and travel through the country. They set the drama in which they have taken part to music, and they journey from one village to another, singing the rude verses they have composed, and then sending the hat around. After they have visited the whole of their own country, they cross into the neighboring state, where they are also assured of a profitable tour. Thus for more than a year Honduras and Nicaragua were visited by bands of homeless victims, chanting in monotone the eruption of Lake Criba and the terrible catastrophe of San Jose.
The western half of Nicaragua, including the basin in which lie Lakes Managua and Nicaragua, is a volcanic center, including some of the largest of the twenty-five active cones and craters of Central America. Stretching from northwest to southeast, the string of craters beginning with Coseguina and Viejo reaches well into the lake basin. At the northern end of Lake Managua stands Momotombo, while from the lake itself rises Momotombito. On the northwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua lies the volcano Mombocho, while between the two lakes is the volcano Masaya. Near the center of Lake Nicaragua are the two volcanoes of Madera and Omotepe.
Since 1835 there have been six eruptions in Nicaragua, one of them, in 1883, being an outbreak in the crater of Omotepe in Lake Nicaragua, the route of the proposed Nicaraguan canal. The Coseguina eruption, the uproar of which was heard more than 1,000 miles away, threw the headland upon which it stands 787 feet out into the sea, and rained ashes and pumice-stone over an area estimated at 1,200,000 square miles.
Like all Spanish towns in America, San Salvador, capital of the republic of that name, covers a large area in proportion to its population. The houses are low, none of them having more than one story, while the walls are very thick in order to be capable of resisting earthquakes. Inside each house of the better class is a courtyard, planted with trees, generally having a fountain in the center. It was to these spacious courtyards that, in 1854, many of the inhabitants of San Salvador owed their lives, as they found in them a refuge from their falling houses. On the night of April 16, the city was reduced to a heap of ruins, only a single public building and very few private ones having been left standing. Nearly 5,000 of the inhabitants were buried in the ruins. There was a premonitory shock before the great one, and many took heed of its warning and escaped to places of safety, otherwise the loss of life would have been even more terrible.
Guatemala was visited with a series of almost daily tremors from the middle of April to the middle of June, 1870. The most severe shock was on the 12th of June and was sufficiently powerful to overthrow many buildings.
The republic of San Salvador was again visited by a great earthquake in October, 1878. Many towns, such as Incuapa, Guadeloupe, and Santiago de Marie, were almost totally destroyed, and many lives were lost. The shock causing the most damage had at first a kind of oscillatory movement lasting over forty seconds and ending in a general upheaval of the earth; the result being that solid walls, arches, and strongly braced roofs, were broken and severed like pipe-stems. In the vicinity of Incuapa a number of villages disappeared entirely.
The mountainous region of Mexico is highly volcanic, and earthquakes are of frequent occurrence. Very few of them, however, in the historic period, have occasioned great loss of either life or property. One of the most disastrous occurred in January, 1835, when the town of Acapulco was totally destroyed. In April, ten years later, the City of Mexico was much shaken. Considerable damage was done to buildings, especially to churches and other edifices of large size, several of which were reduced to ruins. The loss of life was limited to less than twenty. Probably the most serious convulsion the country has experienced was in 1858, when shocks were felt over almost all the republic, causing many deaths, and destroying much property. Over 100 people lost their lives on May 11 and 12, 1870, when the city of Oaxaca was visited by a succession of severe shocks, which tore down many buildings. Since this time Mexico has been free from convulsions of any great magnitude, although slight earth tremors are of frequent occurrence in different parts of the country.
Mexican volcanoes, likewise, are famous for their size, though of late years no great eruptions have occurred. There are many isolated peaks, all of volcanic origin, of which Orizaba, with a height of 18,314 feet, and Popocatepetl, 17,300 feet, the most renowned, are both active. The latter has one crater 5,000 feet in diameter. From the summit the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are both visible.
This crater has not erupted for many years, but in former times it threw its ashes a distance of sixty miles. One can descend into its depths fully 1,000 feet, and view its sulphur walls, hung with stalactites of ice, or see its columns of vapor spouting here and there through crevices that extend down into the interior of the earth. In the ancient Aztec and Toltec mythology of Mexico, this was the Hell of Masaya.
Nowadays great sulphur mines on the peak bring profit to the owners, and ice is quarried from the same vicinity to supply the neighboring city of Puebla.
CHARLESTON, GALVESTON, JOHNSTOWN—OUR AMERICAN DISASTERS.
BY TRUMBULL WHITE.
Earthquake Shock in South Carolina—Many Lives Lost in the Riven City—Flames Follow the Convulsion—Galveston Smitten by Tidal Wave and Hurricane—Thousands Die in Flood and Shattered Buildings—The Gulf Coast Desolated—Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Swept by Water from a Bursting Reservoir—Scenes of Horror—Earthquakes on the California Coast.
Our own land has experienced very few great convulsions of nature. True, there have been frequent earthshocks in California, and all along the Western coast, and occasionally slight tremors have been felt in other sections, but the damage done to life and property has been in almost every instance comparatively light. The only really great disaster of this class that has been recorded in the United States since the white man first set his foot upon the soil, occurred in 1886, when the partial destruction of Charleston, South Carolina, was accomplished by earthquake and fire.
On the morning of August 28, a slight shock was felt throughout North and South Carolina, and in portions of Georgia. It was evidently a warning of the calamity to follow, but naturally was not so recognized, and no particular attention was paid to it. But on the night of August 31, at about ten o'clock, the city was rent asunder by a great shock which swept over it, carrying death and destruction in its path.
During the night there were ten distinct shocks, but they were only the subsiding of the earth-waves. The disaster was wrought by the first. Its force may be inferred from the fact that the whole area of the country between the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi river, and as far to the north as Milwaukee, felt its power to a greater or lesser degree.
Charleston, however, was the special victim of this elemental destruction. The city was in ruins, two-thirds of its houses were uninhabitable. Railroads and telegraph lines were torn up and destroyed. Fires burst forth in different sections of the city, adding to the horror of the panic-stricken people. Forty lives were lost, over 100 seriously wounded were reported, and property valued at nearly $5,000,000 was destroyed.
A writer in the Charleston News and Courier gave a vivid account of the catastrophe. Extracts from his story follow:
"It is not given to many men to look in the face of the destroyer and yet live; but it is little to say that the group of strong men who shared the experiences of that awful night will carry with them the recollection of it to their dying day. None expected to escape. A sudden rush was simultaneously made for the open air, but before the door was reached all reeled together to the tottering wall and stopped, feeling that hope was vain; that it was only a question of death within the building or without, to be buried by the sinking roof or crushed by the toppling walls. Then the uproar slowly died away in seeming distance.
"The earth was still, and O, the blessed relief of that stillness! But how rudely the silence was broken! As we dashed down the stairway and out into the street, already on every side arose the shrieks, the cries of pain and fear, the prayers and wailings of terrified women and children, commingling with the hoarse shouts of excited men. Out in the street the air was filled with a whitish cloud of dry, stifling dust, through which the gaslights flickered dimly. On every side were hurrying forms of men and women, bareheaded, partly dressed, many of whom were crazed with fear and excitement. Here a woman is supported, half fainting, in the arms of her husband, who vainly tries to soothe her while he carries her to the open space at the street corner, where present safety seems assured; there a woman lies on the pavement with upturned face and outstretched limbs, and the crowd passes her by, not pausing to see whether she be alive or dead.
"A sudden light flares through a window overlooking the street, it becomes momentarily brighter, and the cry of fire resounds from the multitude. A rush is made toward the spot. A man is seen through the flames trying to escape. But at this moment, somewhere—out at sea, overhead, deep in the ground—is heard again the low, ominous roll which is already too well known to be mistaken. It grows louder and nearer, like the growl of a wild beast swiftly approaching his prey. All is forgotten in the frenzied rush for the open space, where alone there is hope of security, faint though it be.
"The tall buildings on either hand blot out the skies and stars and seem to overhang every foot of ground between them; their shattered cornices and coping, the tops of their frowning walls, appear piled from both sides to the center of the street. It seems that a touch would now send the shattered masses left standing, down upon the people below, who look up to them and shrink together as the tremor of the earthquake again passes under them, and the mysterious reverberations swell and roll along, like some infernal drumbeat summoning them to die. It passes away, and again is experienced the blessed feeling of deliverance from impending calamity, which it may well be believed evokes a mute but earnest offering of mingled prayer and thanksgiving from every heart in the throng."
One of the most awful tragedies of modern times visited Galveston, Texas, on Saturday, September 8, 1900. A tempest, so terrible that no words can adequately describe its intensity, and a flood which swept over the city like a raging sea, left death and ruin behind it. Sixty-seven blocks in a thickly populated section of the city were devastated, and not a house withstood the storm. The few that might have held together if dependent upon their own construction and foundations, were buried beneath the stream of buildings and wreckage that rushed west from the Gulf of Mexico, demolishing hundreds of homes and carrying the unfortunate inmates to their death.
A terrific wind, which attained a velocity of from 100 to 120 miles an hour, blew the debris inland and piled it in a hill ranging from ten to twenty feet high. Beneath this long ridge many hundred men, women, and children were buried, and cattle, horses and dogs, and other animals, were piled together in one confused mass.
The principal work of destruction was completed in six short hours, beginning at three o'clock in the afternoon and ending at nine o'clock the same night. In that brief time the accumulations of many a life time were swept away, thousands of lives went out, and the dismal Sunday morning following the catastrophe found a stricken population paralyzed and helpless.
Every hour the situation changed for the worse, and the mind became dazed midst the gruesome scenes. The bodies of human beings, the carcasses of animals, were strewn on every hand. The bay was filled with them. Like jelly-fish, the corpses were swept with the changing tide. Here a face protruded above the water; there the foot of a child; here the long, silken tresses of a young girl; there a tiny hand, and just beneath the glassy surface of the water full outlines of bodies might be seen. Such scenes drove men and women to desperation and insanity. A number sought freedom in the death which they fought so stoutly. A young girl, who survived to find mother, father and sisters dead, crept far out on the wreckage and threw herself into the bay.
During the storm and afterward a great deal of looting was done. Many stores had been closed, their owners leaving to look after their families. The wind forced in the windows, and left the goods prey for the marauders. Ghouls stripped the dead bodies of jewelry and articles of value. Captain Rafferty, commanding the United States troops in the city, was asked for aid, and he sent seventy men, the remnant of a battery of artillery, to do police duty. Three regiments were sent from Houston and the city was placed under martial law. Hundreds of desperate men roamed the streets, crazed with liquor, which many had drunk because nothing else could be obtained with which to quench their thirst. Numberless bottles and boxes of intoxicating beverages were scattered about and easy to obtain.
Robbery and rioting continued during the night, and as the town was in darkness, the effort of the authorities to control the lawless element was not entirely successful. Big bonfires were built at various places from heaps of rubbish to enable troops the better to see where watchfulness was needed. Reports said that more than 100 looters and vandals were slain in the city and along the island beach.
The most rigid enforcement of martial law was not able to suppress robbery entirely. Thirty-three negroes, with effects taken from dead bodies, were tried by court-martial. They were convicted and ordered to be shot. One negro had twenty-three human fingers with rings on them in his pocket.
An eye-witness of the awful horror said: "I was going to take the train at midnight, and was at the station when the worst of the storm came up. There were 150 people in the depot, and we all remained there for nine hours. The back part of the building blew in Sunday morning and I returned to the Tremont house. The streets were literally filled with dead and dying people. The Sisters' Orphan Hospital was a terrible scene. I saw there over ninety dead children and eleven dead Sisters. We took the steamer Allen Charlotte across the bay, up Buffalo bay, over to Houston in the morning, and I saw fully fifty dead bodies floating in the water. I saw one dray with sixty-four dead bodies being drawn by four horses to the wharves, where the bodies were unloaded on a tug and taken out in the gulf for burial."
Mr. Wortham, ex-secretary of state, after an inspection of the scene, made this statement: "The situation at Galveston beggars description. Fully seventy-five per cent. of the business portion of the town is wrecked, and the same percentage of damage is to be found in the residence district. Along the wharf front great ocean steamers have bodily dumped themselves on the big piers, and lie there, great masses of iron and wood that even fire cannot totally destroy. The great warehouses along the water front are smashed in on one side, unroofed and gutted throughout their length; their contents either piled in heaps or along the streets. Small tugs and sailboats have jammed themselves into buildings, where they were landed by the incoming waves and left by the receding waters.
"Houses are packed and jammed in great confusing masses in all the streets. Great piles of human bodies, dead animals, rotting vegetation, household furniture, and fragments of the houses themselves, are piled in confused heaps right in the main streets of the city. Along the Gulf front human bodies are floating around like cordwood."
As time passed on the terrible truth was pressed home on the minds of the people that the mortality by the storm had possibly reached 8,000, or nearly one-fourth of the entire population. The exact number will never be known, and no list of the dead could be accurately made out, for the terrible waters carried to sea and washed on distant and lonely shores many of the bodies. The unknown dead of the Galveston horror will forever far surpass the number of those who are known to have perished in that awful night, when the tempest raged and the storm was on the sea, piling the waters to unprecedented heights on Galveston island.
One of the great catastrophes of the century in the United States was the flood that devastated the Conemaugh valley in Pennsylvania, on May 31, 1889. Though the amount of property destroyed was over $10,000,000 worth, this was the slightest element of loss. That which makes the Johnstown flood so exceptional is the terrible fact that it swept away half as many lives as did the battle of Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest of the Civil War, and transformed a rich and prosperous valley for more than twenty miles into a vast charnel-house.
Johnstown is located on the Pennsylvania Railroad, seventy-eight miles southeast of Pittsburg, and was at the time mentioned a city of about 28,000 inhabitants. It was the most important of the chain of boroughs annihilated; and as such has given the popular title by which the disaster is known. The Conemaugh valley has long been famous for the beauty of its scenery. Lying on the lower western slope of the Alleghany mountains, the valley, enclosed between lofty hills, resembles in a general way an open curved hook, running from South Fork, where the inundation first made itself felt, in a southwesterly direction to Johnstown, and thence sixteen miles northwest to New Florence, where the more terrible effects of the flood ended, though its devastation did not entirely cease at that point.
A lateral valley extends about six miles from South Fork in a southeasterly direction, at the head of which was located the Conemaugh Lake reservoir, owned and used as a summer resort by the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club of Pittsburg. In altitude this lake was about 275 feet above the Johnstown level, and it was about two and one-half miles long and one and one-half miles in its greatest width. In many places it was 100 feet deep, and it held a larger volume of water than any other reservoir in the United States. The dam that restrained the waters was nearly 1,000 feet in length, 110 feet in height, ninety feet thick at the base, and twenty-five feet wide at the top, which was used as a driveway. For ten years or more this dam was believed to be a standing menace to the Conemaugh valley in times of freshet, though fully equal to all ordinary emergencies. With a dam which was admitted to be structurally weak and with insufficient means of discharging a surplus volume, it was feared that it was only a matter of time before such a reservoir, situated in a region notorious for its freshets, would yield to the enormous pressure and send down its resistless waters like an avalanche to devastate the valley.
This is precisely what it did do. A break came at three o'clock in the afternoon of May 31, caused by protracted rains, which raised the level of the lake. Men were at once put to work to open a sluice-way to ease the pressure, but all attempts were in vain. Two hours before the break came, the threatened danger had been reported in Johnstown, but little attention was paid to it, on the ground that similar alarms had previously proved ill-founded. There is no question that ample warning was given and that all the people in the valley could have escaped had they acted promptly.
When the center of the dam yielded at three o'clock, it did so in a break of 300 feet wide. Trees and rocks were hurled high in the air, and the vast, boiling flood rushed down the ravine like an arrow from a bow. It took one hour to empty the reservoir. In less than five minutes the flood reached South Fork, and thence, changing the direction of its rush, swept through the valley of the Conemaugh. With the procession of the deluge, trees, logs, debris of buildings, rocks, railroad iron, and the indescribable mass of drift were more and more compacted for battering power; and what the advance bore of the flood spared, the mass in the rear, made up of countless battering rams, destroyed.
The distance from Conemaugh lake to Johnstown, something over, eighteen miles, was traversed in about seven minutes; and here the loss of life and the damage to property was simply appalling. Survivors who passed through the experience safely declare its horrors to have been far beyond the power of words to narrate. After the most thorough possible
ST. PIERRE, MARTINIQUE, ANNIHILATED BY A VOLCANO.
BY TRUMBULL WHITE.
Fifty Thousand Men, Women and Children Slain in an Instant—The Island Capital Obliterated—Molten Fire and Suffocating Gases Rob Multitudes of Life—Death Reigns in the Streets of the Stricken City—The Governor and Foreign Consuls Die at their Posts of Duty—Burst of Flame from Mount Pelee Completes the Ruin—No Escape for the Hapless Residents in the Fated Town—Scenes of Suffering Described—St. Pierre the Pompeii of Today—Desolation over All—Few Left to Tell the Tale of the Morning of Disaster.
Behold a peaceful city in the Caribbean sea, beautiful with the luxuriant vegetation of a tropic isle, happy as the carefree dwellers in such a spot may well be, at ease with the comforts of climate and the natural products which make severe labor unnecessary in these sea-girt colonies. Rising from the water front to the hillsides that lead back toward the slopes of Mount Pelee, St. Pierre, metropolis of the French island of Martinique, sits in picturesque languor, the blue waves of the Caribbean murmuring on the beaches, the verdure-clad ridges of the mountain range forming a background of greenery for the charming picture. Palms shade the narrow, clean, white, paved streets; trade goes on at the wharves; the people visit in social gaiety, dressed in white or bright-colored garments, as is the fashion in these islands, where somberness seldom rules; all the forms of life are cheerful, light-hearted, even thoughtless.
Suddenly a thrall of black despair is cast over the happy island. The city of pleasure becomes one great tomb. Of its 30,000 men, women and children, all but a few are slain. The Angel of Death has spread his pall over them, a fiery breath has smitten them, and they have fallen as dry stubble before the sweep of flame. A city is dead. An island is desolate. A world is grief-stricken.
And what was the awful power of evil that robbed of life 50,000 in city and neighboring villages almost in a moment? It was this verdure-clad Mount Pelee, their familiar sentinel, in the shade of whose sheltering palms they had built their summer resorts or found their innocent pleasures. It was this shadowing summit, now suddenly become a fiery vent through which earth's artilleries blazed forth their terrible volleys of molten projectiles, lava masses, huge drifts of ashes, and clouds of flaming, noxious, gaseous emanations to suffocate every living thing. Nothing could withstand such a bombardment from the exhaustless magazines within the vast chambers of the planet, no longer kindly Mother Earth, benign in the beauty of May-time, but cruel, relentless, merciless alike to all.
St. Pierre and the island of Martinique are no strangers to destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In August, 1767, an earthquake killed 1,600 persons in St. Pierre. In 1851 Mount Pelee threatened the city with destruction. St. Pierre was practically destroyed once before, in August, 1891, by the great hurricane which swept over the islands. The harbor of St. Pierre has been a famous one for centuries. It was off this harbor on April 12, 1782, that Admiral Rodney's fleet defeated the French squadron under the Comte de Grasse and wrested the West Indies from France.