Why don't people live in Pompeii

How some Pompeii residents survived the volcanic eruption

When exactly the devastating eruption of Vesuvius occurred in AD 79, it is still unclear almost 2000 years later. It was not until 2018 that a graffito was found during excavations in Pompeii, which probably dates from October 17, 79. Therefore, it is assumed today that the volcanic eruption, which buried Pompeii, Herculaneum and two other cities under a layer of volcanic ash and pumice stone up to 25 meters high, took place on October 24th.

But science now knows a lot about the strength of the eruption and the sequence of the dramatic events: Overall, Vesuvius released a hundred thousand times more thermal energy than the Hiroshima bomb, and at the height of the eruption, the volcano, which is only ten kilometers away from Pompeii, released lies, 1.5 million tons of molten rock per second.

Chronology of the eruption

Nevertheless, several residents survived the volcanic eruption. But how was that possible? This is mainly due to the fact that in a volcanic eruption like that of Vesuvius, which began in the morning, very hot gases and lava are initially blown into the atmosphere with enormous force and the first ash and pumice rains are still relatively harmless. It is only when the enormous pressure subsides that the lava masses no longer fly so high - and become more and more dangerous. Around 38 percent of Pompeii's 20,000 victims died during this phase.

In the first hours of the morning of the next day there were five pyroclastic currents: Solid gas mixtures at temperatures of up to 800 degrees rolled at an avalanche speed to Pompeii, killing all those residents who had previously found shelter in the houses of the city . In other words: on the afternoon of the 24th, people had researched a few hours to move as far away from Pompeii as possible in order to escape the inferno, as the magazine "Wired".

It all came down to the direction

But it also came down to the right direction. There were essentially three options: an escape to the sea in a westerly direction, along the coast via Herculaneum to Naples, or south to Stabiae and beyond.

Escape by boat was not a good idea, as the dead in the Herculaneum boathouse show. The wind was probably blowing inland. Anyone who went south had to do so quickly and far enough, because the wind blew the deadly ash rain in that direction. Pliny the Elder (the younger’s uncle who reported on the eruption) died on the 25th in Stabiae, around seven kilometers south of Pompeii. Certainly you were only a few kilometers further south (west).

Most of the few survivors escaped in the direction of Naples, which is a good 20 kilometers away. But quick action was required. First you had to pass Herculaneum - and you had to hurry to get there: the city at the foot of the volcano, where 5,000 people died, was hit by the first pyroclastic current at around 5 p.m. And after that it was too late. (tasch, 12.9.2020)