15. Turning Towns Into Ovens
Mount Vesuvius had experienced tremors for days in August of 79 AD, but they were not unusual. Then, around noon on August 24th, a cloud appeared atop Vesuvius. About an hour later, the volcano erupted and ash began to fall on Pompeii, 6 miles away. By 2 PM, pumice, or volcanic debris, began to fall with the ash. At 5 PM, sunlight had been completely blocked and roofs in Pompeii began collapsing under the accumulating weight of ash and pumice. Panicked townspeople rushed to the harbor seeking any ship that would take them away.
By midnight, the volcano was spewing a hot deadly column over 20 miles up into the air. Simultaneously, lava flowed down its side in six major surges, as Vesuvius vomited molten rock in a rapid flow that incinerated all that it encountered. The lava did not reach Pompeii or Herculaneum, but it sent heat waves of more than 550 degrees Fahrenheit into those towns, turning them into ovens and killing any who had not yet escaped or had not already suffocated from the fine ash.