Case Study: The Eruption of Mt Vesuvius, AD 79

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The eruption of Mt Vesuvius by

August 24, 79 AD—Pompeii, Italy

Early in the morning, small earthquakes began to tremor. No one was alarmed as minor earthquakes were a common occurrence in Pompeii. In bustling seaport, life continued as normal. However, slowly the earthquakes became more and more violent.

A large column of smoke arose out of the nearby Mount Vesuvius. The Romans in Pompeii looked upon the sight curiously. Ash began falling around them. They began to run.

The column of smoke flew higher and higher up into the air. Those that left first without their possessions had a fleeting chance of survival. Pumice crashed into the buildings.

Screeching screams wear heard in every corner of the city. Babies wailed and cried in fear. Panic ensued.

Many were caught in underneath the fine ash powder. Some waited for the powder to block their doors. Then they jumped out of the second story of their house, but the toxicity of the powder still killed them.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius also reached the nearby towns of Herculaneum and Stabiae. Those living in Herculaneum met their end in a quick, fiery heat. The Romans in Stabiae faced a similar fate.

Darkness engulfed the region. More Romans continued flooding out of the city. Those that ran now would not survive. It was too late.

The ash and pumice continued raining down into the night. The Romans that had remained in Pompeii had suffocated. Those that had escaped to the beach had a spectacular view of the eruption, but they didn’t live long enough to enjoy it.

Several days later, the ash settled. Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae disappeared in the gray powder. The people of Pompeii were mummified, their faces still gripped with terror.

2,000 Romans lived in Pompeii in 79 AD. Three-fourths of the population is assumed to have died in Vesuvius’ eruption. More died in the outlying area.

Full-scale archeological investigations began in 1748. The mummified bodies of the Pompeii began to appear. Their horrified faces tell the story of the deathly outcomes of a volcanic eruption.

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