Pompeii’s Mount Vesuvius is very much an active volcano and will erupt again, according to many geologists and volcanologists studying the volcano. The mountain’s last eruption was in 1944 and has erupted over three dozen times since the devastating explosion in 79 A.D. Vesuvius remains to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. In 1780 B.C. the volcano spewed millions of tons of superheated lava, ash and rocks over 20 miles high into the skies, known as an Avellino eruption.
In 63 A.D. the area known as Campania had endured an immense earthquake that today scientists say would have given the inhabitants of Pompeii a thunderous warning of the ruination to come. Yet the population grew in numbers each year, as it was an ideal location right off the shores of the Bay of Naples with beautiful, warm weather.
Volcanic eruptions that cause high-altitude eruption columns and cover vast areas with ash is called a Plinian eruption. Dubbed from Pliny the Younger, who documented the explosion in letters to the historian Tacitus, was the first person to ever describe in written detail the accounts of an eruption in history. The letters account the details of the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, as he tried to rescue the citizens in the very early stages of the eruption.
“As I understand it, ” he writes, “his breathing was obstructed by the dust-laden air, and his innards…simply shut down.” Witnessing the event from across the bay he describes ashes billowing upwards, with rock and pumice bursting upwards in the sky. The blast also shot scorching hot volcanic gases so high that they could have been seen for hundreds of miles.
Once cooled, everything started to fall onto the earth below, starting with the fine-grained ash, followed by pumice and other rocks. At this point the inhabitants still had time to flee amid the destruction and those who remained to stay were sealing their fates. Escaping by sea was still a treacherous ordeal. Pliny writes, “Ash was falling onto the ships now, darker and denser…Now it was bits of pumice, and rocks that were blackened and burned and shattered by fire.”
More ash fell, making it difficult to breathe, buildings to topple and then a then a flow of 100-miles-per-hour crushed rock and extremely hot, poisonous gas (known as a “pyroclastic surge”) slammed down the mountainside and buried everything in its route.
After the eruption, by the next day the whole of Pompeii was buried beneath the volcanic ash weighing millions of tons. Over 2,000 people perished. Even for centuries, the neighboring towns of Herculaneum and Stabiae remained like ghost towns.
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