Mt. Vesuvius, Italy
Location: 40.8N, 14.4E
Elevation: 4,200 feet (1,281 m)
Vesuvius is famous for the massive eruption in 79 A.D. that buried the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Earthquakes frequently hit this area. The 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius was the first volcanic eruption ever to be described in detail. From 18 miles (30 km) of the volcano you could see the eruption. It is estimated that at times during the eruption the column of ash was 20 miles (32 km) tall. About 1 cubic mile (4 cubic kilometers) of ash was erupted in about 19 hours.
Around 1:00 pm on the 24 of August a tall cloud of steam and ash rose above Mt. Vesuvius and debris began to fall. In the area around Pompeii the thickness of falling debris increased by 6 to 8 inches per hour. The rocks which comprised the debris were up to 3 inches in diameter, and fell with a speed of up to 100 miles/hour. They may have caused injuries and isolated deaths, and should have, after a few hours, caused the collapse of roofs. The city was soon covered in complete darkness. The residents probably did not even know what kind of event was striking them, and waited in their homes, hoping that the shower of rock would sooner or later come to an end.
After 12 hours of continuous explosive activity, a change in the eruptive dynamics occurred. The mouth of the volcano widened such that local gas pressure could no longer push up the tall ash column. The mixture of gas and ash no longer rose up into the sky, but immediately fell back onto the slopes of the volcano, forming glowing avalanches of hot flowing material (about 800 degrees) which rushed rapidly down slope, destroying everything in their paths. This change in the eruption proved fatal to the thousands of people around the volcano. The Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed in a matter of minutes. The city was abandoned and its location forgotten.
(Other eruptions of Vesuvius.) Mudflows and lava flows from the eruption in 1631 killed 3,500 people. About 3,360 people died in the 79 A.D. eruption from ash flows and falls. . In 5960 B.C. and 3580 B.C., Mt. Vesuvius had eruptions that rate among the largest known in Europe. In 1595, excavations discovered artifacts at Pompeii and centuries of pillaging followed. Archeological excavations began in the mid-nineteenth century. There are numerous molds of people in their final moments. Now, much of Pompeii has been excavated and it has revealed much about how people lived during that time (and died during the eruption).