After almost 2, 000 years, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius remains one of the most devastating natural disasters that claimed thousands of lives. As it occurred on August 24, 79 AD, this day is traditionally called Vesuvius Day. What happened to Pompeii and Herculaneum what killed so many people, and can the tragedy happen again?
Precursors of the Catastrophe
The story started 17 years before the eruption, in 62 AD, when a powerful earthquake occurred in the same area, around the Bay of Naples. Two years later, there was another one, less disastrous, and in 79 AD there were some minor earth tremors, too. Why didn't the inhabitants of the region get worried about these signs?
In fact, people who lived in Campania (today a province of Southern Italy) were used to such events and paid little attention to the foreshocks. Moreover, they didn't even know that Vesuvius was an active volcano! This was, of course, a huge mistake - it took the volcano 25 hours only to destroy Pompeii.
After so many years, it's hard for historians to provide us with the details of the disaster. In fact, Pliny the Younger, who was only 17 years old when the volcano erupted, was the only eyewitness who left two letters describing the event. He stayed at Misenum, a port located about 22 miles away from Vesuvius, refusing to join his uncle Pliny the Elder. The latter decided to look closer, and it cost him his life - the notable Roman philosopher was overtaken by dangerous gases released from Vesuvius and died.
The first signs of the eruption appeared at about 8 a.m. on August 24, 79 AD, gradually becoming more and more violent. At 1 p.m., Mount Vesuvius was already erupting intensely and people from the nearby towns and settlements were trying to escape. Almost 2,000 Pompeii inhabitants survived then only to die the next morning after the second eruption of suffocation and incineration. On August 25, rain mixed with ash and the town was buried under a thick layer of concrete that formed in the result. The town of Herculaneum located nearby suffered almost the same fate - it was destroyed and covered by the mudslide caused by the eruption.
Today it's hard to say how many people were killed when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD - the number varies from about 1,000 to 30,000 casualties. The remains of 1,044 bodies have been found in and around Pompeii by 2003, and 332 bodies were found in Herculaneum. Despite the fact that this town was located much closer to Mount Vesuvius than Pompeii, it suffered fewer losses than Pompeii thanks to the wind direction. However, it didn't save the town that was later covered by a 75-foot thick layer of ash and other materials brought by the eruption.
Scientists have found out that the majority of people whose bodies were uncovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum died of roof collapses, as the inhabitants of the towns were trying to find a shelter in buildings that were later ruined. The pyroclastic surge deposits killed thousands of others. However, a study made in 2010 indicates that the temperatures in the area during the eruption reached 572°F, which proves the hypothesis that many people were literally burnt alive.
Can a Similar Catastrophe Happen Today?
The question that is of great importance now is whether Mount Vesuvius can erupt and what consequences can be expected. The answer to the first one is yes, it can. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in Europe: it erupted in 1631 again killing 3,360 people, and its most recent eruption occurred in March 1944. Researchers have been studying the volcano for a long time and the importance of these studies can't be overestimated. A possible eruption threatens the life and health of more than 3 million people who live close to the volcano's slopes or on them.
Tips to Commemorate Vesuvius Day
August 24, 79 AD was an awful day in the history of humanity. Not to let it pass into oblivion, you can invent your own ways of commemorating the date.
- Watch a documentary about Mount Vesuvius and its eruptions.
- Prepare a model volcano so that it could erupt and show it to your friends - they will realize how dangerous and destroying this natural disaster can be.
- Take a trip to Mount Vesuvius - in 1995 it became a national park. Today it's safe to visit the place, as Italian authorities constantly monitor volcanic activity. Besides, it's a very beautiful location to travel to.
Choose any of the activities mentioned above or think of another one if you want to help the tragic event survive in the memory of people. Be careful and never ignore natural disaster warnings!