Since the disaster, lots of stories have been spread accusing the Governor of Martinique of being responsible for the disaster. He's charged of not ordering an evacuation of St. Pierre because of upcoming elections.
Recent academic works from historian Leo Ursulet (see bibliography for references) clearly demonstrate how inaccurate and politically motivated those statements are.
People in St. Pierre and the local authorities didn't react properly to the impending catastrophe because the danger for the city was at that time unknown in Martinique. There were no volcanologists on the island, and for the residents the only point of reference was the previous eruption of 1851-1852. It was a phreatic eruption which blasted steam and ash, but did not cause any damages.
Facing the course of the events, with growing concerns for the safety of St. Pierre, the governor appointed a "Volcano Commission" with the most qualified specialists on the island : doctors, pharmacists, science teachers... The first meeting was scheduled in St. Pierre on the evening of May 7th, and the conclusions of the "Volcano Commission" published early on the morning of May 8th, can be seen today as a tragic mistake :
The commission, responsible for the study of the Mount Pelée's volcanic phenomena met yesterday evening, May 7th, under the chair of the Governor. After a careful analysis of the facts, the commission declares that:
1°All the phenomena which have occurred so far are normal, and are commonly observed on all volcanoes around the world;
2°Since the craters of the volcano are wide open, the expansion of the vapors will continue with no earthquake or rock projection;
3°According to the location of the craters and the position of the valleys leading to the sea, the City of St. Pierre is perfectly safe.
Of course, some people were afraid of the powerful phenomena which took place between April and May 7th 1902. Infact some families moved away from the volcano, but those voluntary evacuations were quite limited. The travel records in the early morning of May 8th - a religious holiday-- shows that there were more people traveling to St. Pierre than people leaving the city !... The story of Captain Leboffe of the Italian bark Orsolina (reported by Kennan for instance) tends to prove that the population of St. Pierre would have been saved if they had some knowledge about explosive volcanoes. The Italian captain was a native of Naples, and was quite familiar with the Vesuvius volcano. He hastily left the harbor of St. Pierre on May 7th, without his custom clearance, warning that "if Vesuvius looked like Mt. Pelee did, Naples would have been evacuated"..
.All the members of the "Volcano Commission" who participated in the meeting on May 7th, died in the eruption the next day, including the Governor and his wife.