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Being engulfed by a deadly volcano in ancient Pompeii9 min read

March 25, 2021 6 min read


Being engulfed by a deadly volcano in ancient Pompeii9 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Warning: This is about to get gory. It is not for the faint-hearted.

The snow-covered peak of Mount Vesuvius is seen from the streets of the archaeological site in Pompeii, Italy, in February.
A view of Mt. Vesuvius through the solidified ruins of Pompeii.

We’re back with yet another story about the tragic immortalised city that “cursed” its modern thieves and was doing its version of Mcdonalds over two thousand years ago. Yup, we’re back with a tale from the morbid city of Pompeii. So, what started all this morbidity and solidified this once beautiful city? Let’s dive right in. 

A heebie-jeebies man depicted in a mural found in Pompeii. Image: Flickr
Click on the image to read all about Pompeii’s alleged curse and museum of regretful letters.
Image: Owliver’s Post, Business Insider
Click on the image above to read about ancient Pompeii’s rich fast-food history.

It was 79CE (2000 years ago), and ancient Rome was flourishing. Bubbling in every corner, Pompeii, the city nestled ten km from a dormant volcano, was probably at the heart of Roman culture. However, on one fateful afternoon, the volcano nearby, Mt. Vesuvius, decided to erupt. The hot ash and lava that fell out destroyed the city and its neighbouring towns in just about fifteen minutes. Now, scientists have recreated the entire event to see what went down and how two thousand people tragically lost their lives and became famously immortalised. 

Detective Investigation Sticker

Let’s investigate

You would think the red hot molten lava that cascaded down from the central crater of Mt. Vesuvius would be to blame for the deaths of all those people, but you’d be wrong. The real victim, it turns out, was what is known as a pyroclastic flow. 

Pyro what?

Sinabung - eruptive plume and pyroclastic flows on 12.01.2018 / at 8:22 and  8:35 WIB - photos Endro Lewa | Pyroclastic flow, Volcano, Landscape
A photographic representation of the lethal cloud unleashed in the pyroclastic flow. Image: Pinterest

The lethal cloud caused by the pyroclastic flow had “a temperature of over 100 degrees and was composed of CO2, chlorides, particles of incandescent ash and volcanic glass”

Roberto Isaia, Researcher

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The prefix pyro- in the word pyroclastic denotes fire or extreme heat. Whenever you find the prefix pyro hidden in a longer-term, remember to scream “fire!” For instance, the word pyromaniac refers to someone that can’t resist the urge to constantly start fires. 

Final Space Burn GIF by Adult Swim
Image: GIPHY

If you think you may be a pyromaniac, immediately inform a trusted adult. They can get you help and prevent you from causing any unwanted harm. Pyromania is a medical condition and can be treated with professional help.

A pyroclastic flow is a fast-flowing mass of hot ash, toxic gas and tiny glassy rocks of lava. It is so hot that it can be up to a hundred and eighty degrees centigrade. (Delhi hits about 50 on the hottest days that make you feel like your melting into a sludge of human slime.) The giant hot cloud of gas and lava flowed so fast that in just fifteen minutes, it managed to choke to death Pompeii and all the other little towns on the way. 

Oh so fast!

How To Escape From A Pyroclastic Flow | Science 2.0
An image of the lethal hot avalanche of ash caused by a pyroclastic flow. Image: Washington Post

Pompeii wasn’t even as close to the mountain as you would think. It was about ten kilometres or six miles away from Mt. Vesuvius. A mile can fit the length of around eighteen football fields, so six miles would be the distance of a hundred and eight football fields!!! That would mean that this pyroclastic flow was fast; Extremely fast. Four hundred and fifty miles per hour, to be precise. Scientists who remodelled the explosions predict that the flow reached Pompeii in just two minutes, and, within 15 minutes, its lethal cloud had engulfed the whole city!

Eruption Of Mt Vesuvius 1944 on Make a GIF

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: Scientists say that the dark, hot, and deadly cloud of the pyroclastic flow was the most lethal effect of the volcano’s eruption. It gets its power from the collapsing volcanic mountain and is quite similar to an avalanche.
>>Mt. Vesuvius has erupted a few times after the tragic eruption that engulfed Pompeii. This is an image of the pyroclastic flow’s lethal cloud after an eruption in 1944. Image: Makeagif

The gory details

Video Game Explosion Sticker
Image: Giphy

So, to get the real gore, here’s what happened. As people rested in the middle of the afternoon, the volcano erupted. Night-like darkness fell over Pompeii and all of its neighbouring towns. Everybody panicked as the hot pyroclastic flow got to work. It came in hot at four hundred and fifty miles per hour and blindsided everyone. No one had seen or heard of anything like that before.

“Those 15 minutes inside that infernal cloud must have been interminable. The inhabitants could not have imagined what was happening. The Pompeiians lived with earthquakes, but not with eruptions, so they were taken by surprise and swept away by that incandescent cloud of ash.”

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD - Wikipedia
An artistic depiction of refugees fleeing from a burning Pompeii Image: Wikipedia

Over two days, the volcano spewed more than a hundred thousand times the amount of hot gas and ash than was released from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined. People were suffocated before they could even leave their beds. Others reached the street, but soon the hot toxic gas and volcanic ash filled their lungs and asphyxiated them. Few simply trampled each other in a panic. In just 15 minutes, about 2000 of Pompeii’s 20,000 residents had tragically died. However, the rest managed to escape safely.

The Lapilli effect

kit harington ancient history Pompeii History meme pompeii movie •
The movie Pompeii depicts the lapilli showers over the city of Pompeii that continued for two days. Image: GIPHY

15 minutes later, the volcanic lava or lapilli arrived to solidify everything. The molten lava came in showers and blanketed the town and all those that lay asphyxiated. When this volcanic rock or lapilli cooled, it created the marvel of Pompeii as we know it today. It immortalised the town and its people by forming rock casing around their bodies and the burnt buildings. 1700 years later, Archaeologists found the site and continue to discover new hidden clues that piece together the story of Pompeii.

An image of a victim of the eruption at Mt.Vesuvius who was solidified under falling lapilli. Image: Livescience
A photograph of the beautiful ruins of Pompeii. Image: Romecitytour.it

The good news: Mt. Vesuvius’ volcano is still not extinct. Well, that sounds like terrible news, but the good news is coming. Studying it could, in fact, help researchers predict what the next volcano would look like. In fact, they can make sure no people live in the path of its pyroclastic flow or get impacted by the lethal ash and gas the spews out of the volcano. So, all this gore wasn’t for nothing. Now, its time for you to go and do some exploring and find the worlds’ active volcano’s in our game below.

Amazing Drone Footage Traces Lava Flow Around Iceland's Suddenly Active  Volcano – Scout Magazine

Before you go: Iceland’s volcano lay dormant for 6000 years, now Iceland has seen its first eruption in 800 years. Follow this story and look at the stunning visuals of the volcano by clicking on the gif to the left.

With Excerpts From: Dailymail, Smithsonian Magazine, Livescience and The Guardian

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