James was woken by a shaking of the small house where he lived. Thinking first that the dynamite stores for the canal construction had exploded, he grabbed his trousers and raced into the compound looking away to the west, but could see no obvious fire. The next moment one of the other officials came out of his own house and stared away to the east.
“My God, the mountain, the island…..”
Stanton turned, and gasped, the mountain he and Williamson had climbed a week before had exploded. Not simply erupted, it had clearly exploded. Smoke and steam were gushing skyward and he could see flame as well, apparently lava rushing out of the top. None of the lava was on the western face of the mountain, so he imagined that it had to be flowing down the eastern slopes towards the lake on that side. He could only imagine what must be happening in the fishing villages on the island.
“Here’s what we’re going to do” Straton said “send the marines out to find everyone in the town, all the Americans, the merchants, the consulate staff, the canal staff and section leaders. We need to know that everyone is accounted for, but also in case of civil disturbance. Bring them ALL into the compound at least until sunrise.”
“Yes sir. Anything else?”
“Make certain that the central government in Guatemala City is informed via telegraph, and Washington. Hell inform the Mexicans, the Gran Columbians, even the Brazilians. Work on the canal will be slowed, and transit across the isthmus will grind to a halt. Ships are going to begin backing up at both ports soon enough. I imagine the garrison and the railroad have already both seen to that, but let’s make certain.”
By nine the next morning several things were clear. At first light a police boat had been sent down the river from Rivas to the lake, and when it returned it reported that lava was flowing into the lake and it appeared that the villages directly in the path of the flow had been destroyed. Secondly, the telegraph lines were down. No one was certain where the line was broken, but it was somewhere on the far side of the lake. That meant that news of the eruption may not have reached the wider world. Aside from some minor injuries caused by the initial earthquake no one in Rivas seemed to have been harmed.
The officials from the canal conferred with Straton and decided that work should continue at least here west of the lake. A naval vessel at Playa El Ocaso was dispatched to take news to La Liberad in El Salvador and use their telegraph station.