See photos of the biggest volcanic catastrophe of the 20th century

In early 1902, residents of the Caribbean island of Martinique began to feel several small earthquakes. From St. Pierre, the largest city there, smoke could be glimpsed from Mount Pelée. Only this volcano used to do this quite often, so no one really cared.

Until on the morning of May 8, a Thursday, commemorating the Christian date of the ascension of Jesus Christ to the heavens, the catastrophe struck: Pelée volcano exploded and decimated the city of St. Pierre. First, a pyroclastic flow of cloud and gas, with a temperature of 300 degrees Celsius, and then a lava avalanche over a thousand degrees just destroyed the site.

The destruction was extremely fast! Almost everyone is believed to have died from the pyroclastic flow, practically cooked by heat and with no time to feel pain. This must have happened less than 60 seconds after the Pelée explosion.

Monte Pelée these days

Miraculously, three people survived this catastrophe, which decimated the city's approximately 30, 000 inhabitants. A girl named Havivra Da Ifrile managed to slip into a boat and hide in a cave until she was rescued. A man named Leon Compère-Léandre managed to jump into the ocean, which was almost boiling, and survived, even if full of burns all over his body!

The last survivor was criminal Louis-Auguste Cyparis, who was locked in a solitary cell and was almost immune to the intense heat and fire that devastated St. Pierre. He suffered some burns but was rescued after four days.

Check out an image gallery of what was the biggest volcanic catastrophe of the last century:

Saint-Pierre shortly before the destruction

The Mount Pelée Eruption

Saint-Pierre a few days after the eruption

Image of the Virgin Mary in the city's cathedral

The destroyed coast of Saint-Pierre

Rescue team search for survivors

Ruins in Rum District

Dust covering Saint-Pierre

Bodies of people scattered across the street

Ruined city

Family hit by pyroclastic flow still in bed

Death trees

Analyzing the destruction

Remains of the old cathedral of Saint-Pierre

Rescue work

Destruction on all sides

Eruption killed over 30, 000 people

What's left of the dock

Countless animals also succumbed to the eruption

Image from the top of Saint-Pierre

Refugees from cities near Saint-Pierre

Cross at the foot of Mount Pelée, stage of the biggest volcanic catastrophe of the 20th century