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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This is an image of a pyroclastic flow going down the slopes of a volcano to the sea.
Click on image for full size
Image from: U.S. Geological Survey, photo by B. Yount

Mt. Pelee

Mt. Pelee is not a very tall volcano, in fact it is an example of what is called a "lava dome". It had a big eruption in 1902 which wiped out most people in a town downslope.

During the eruption, a burning cloud of hot ash and gases swept into the town. A similar eruption is illustrated in this picture of an Alaskan volcano.

Survivors of this eruption included one man who was in an underground jail cell, as well as sailors who were off-shore and witnessed the destruction of the city from a distance. Comments by these eyewitnesses included the following:

  • "The mountain was blown to pieces, there was no warning."
  • "It was like a giant oil refinery."
  • "There was hurled straight toward us a solid wall of flame. It sounded like a thousand cannon."
  • "The wave of fire was on us and over us like a flash of lightning. It was like a hurricane of fire."
  • "The town vanished before our eyes."

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF