Annihilation of Pompeii and Herculaneum STEM Ancient Places and/or Civilizations Disasters

As the pyroclastic flows pour out of Mt. Vesuvius, during its 79 AD eruption, the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii are annihilated. Depiction by Dr. Steven Dutch, Professor of Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin at Green Bay.


About 12 hours after Vesuvius awoke, Pompeii’s final fear and trembling began. The Pelean phase of the 79 A.D. disaster (named for Martinique’s Mt. Pelee) would cause fast-moving avalanches of gas and debris to bury the city. (Be sure to click on “next” at the bottom of this link to view all six photos of Pelee erupting in 1902.)

People who lived in Pompeii were used to earthquakes. It’s reasonable to believe today that no one then thought the mountain would explode.

Even after most people fled, following the initial eruption, there is evidence people came back. They would have been shocked by what came next: A non-survivable pyroclastic flow similar to the one at Mt. Pelee.

Darkness had descended on Pompeii even as the sun shone brightly above the rain of terror. Pliny describes it as:

...not like a moonless night, but the darkness of a sealed room.

The deadly change from Plinian to Pelean eruptions occurred as the volcano began to lose energy. During its Pelean phase, Vesuvius pushed out vast quantities of rock and magma. Instead of spiraling high into the sky, where debris would have fallen over a wider area, the mountain’s dissipating energy caused the rocks to fall back on the upper slopes of Vesuvius.

The material didn’t stay on the mountain, however. Surging down the sides of Vesuvius as a kind of glowing, roaring avalanche, pyroclastic flows were about to deliver what Pompeii could not survive.

The first flow struck the town of Herculaneum around 1 a.m. on August 25th. Located about 4 miles (7 kilometers) from the mountain, the town had already sustained a fatal blow.

Steaming mud, racing down the side of the volcano, buried the town. Traveling at the speed of about 1 mile per minute, the mud took approximately 4 minutes to reach Herculeaneum.

Thinking they would be safer near the water, hundreds of people fled Herculaneum before the mudslide struck. They planned to spend the night at the beach, in their boat houses.

Now another, equally deadly flow, not of mud but of hot ash and gasses, surged toward the beach. People, trapped in their houses, were killed instantly from intense heat and suffocation.

By 6:30 a.m. another pyroclastic flow had nearly reached Pompeii. It stopped short of town.

An hour later, about 2,000 people (undoubtedly in despair over losing their homes) were walking on top of the pumice deposit. They had no chance to survive the mountain's next onslaught.

This time another pyroclastic flow, traveling at 62 miles (100 km) per hour - or more - reached Pompeii.

It killed all remaining inhabitants and buried the town.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Aug 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jun 11, 2018

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"ANNIHILATION" AwesomeStories.com. Aug 01, 2002. May 30, 2020.
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