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Pompeii: a Danger of Living Near a Volcano

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Let us imagine a day in Pompeii. A typical day roaming the streets with your family undenounced to the danger that lurks around the corner. You and your family are walking around eating what Pompeiians called fast food, or as they called it “thermpolia” (Pompeii Factoids 2008 p 8). Living near a volcano can have its advantages as noted in the article “Pompeii Factoids” the author states, “Living near a volcano was not all bad; the soil of the geothermally active region provided detectably fruitful grapes and rich potting clay. Moreover, hot spring throughout the area attracted the spa-set from Rome” ” (Pompeii Factoids 2008 p 8). Therefore, life is good; you have a great family a great town with many amenities that most other cities for this time could not even dream. When all of a sudden a black cloud starts to form over the huge mountain known as Mt. Vesuvius. Panic starts to set into all the citizens, everyone running in different directions. Some run to their homes where they think they will be safe. Other run towards the sea, to try to escape via a ship. What do you do? Do you run to your home and protect your loved ones their or do you make a run for the sea? It may seem like an obvious choice to one after the fact, but put yourself in their shoes and travel back in time almost 1700 years ago. Would it be such an obvious choice in those days, when you have no idea what is going on and have no idea what kind of damage this is going to cause. I know most of us know what volcanoes are now days and know the damage they can cause, however, we can never stop researching volcanoes. We need to have a better understanding of what makes them erupt and if it is possible to predict when and how they will erupt. That way we can avoid a tragedy like that August 23 in 79 A.D in the city of Pompeii.

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The gory details of the deaths of the citizens of Pompeii are frightening to say the least. One minute you are enjoying yourself on the streets of one of the most advanced cities in the world at the time. One was able to enjoy amenities that no other civilized city could even dream of having. Pompeii had what we would call a farmers market with vendors offering a variety of things. Tarshis (2013) describes what it was like in those days in the city of Pompeii “Vendors shout for your attention, offering you slices of juicy melons or sizzling hunks of roasted meats. From the shoulder of a shopkeeper, a parrot squawks ‘salve!’-Hello on Latin, the Language of the Roman Empire (p 11). Pompeii also had may other things that no other cities had, Tarshis goes on to describe the many things Pompeii had to offer its citizens, “You’re surprised by how modern this city seems. It has a library, theaters, and grand temples. There are shops, and restaurants and a market where you can taste dozens of delicacies, from sweet dates and figs to fattened roasted mice stuffed with nuts and rose petals. Beautiful marble and bronze statues stand all over the city, monuments to the famous citizens, mighty emperors and fierce generals who built Rome into the most powerful empire in the world (2013 p11). To have all of this one minute and in a matter of minutes have it all vanished. Covered up with huge flows of lava that covered the entire city is devastating. To think that this could have all been avoided if they would have had some kind of warning that this was coming. Evacuation of the entire city, perhaps, could have been possible.

The eruption came quickly and without notice to the citizens of Pompeii. The warning signs that the mountain was about to erupt were unknown to everyone who lived there. Without no warning the entire city of Pompeii was doomed, the worst part is that no one could even imagine that such a thing was about to happen. As people are going about their day, Tarshis describes the eruption,

“At this point, it’s too late for the people of Pompeii… and it may be too late for you. Boom! Boom! Two powerful explosions, seconds apart, shatter the sky. The ground shakes so violently that people fall. Horses and donkeys scream. Birds scatter by the thousands. You see a terrifying sight: a gigantic column of what looks like gray smoke spewing from the top of Mount Vesuvius. It’s not smoke though. The intense heat produced by the eruption has turned millions of tons of solid rock into superheated foam. The boiling plume shoots miles into the sky at rocket speeds” (2013 pp. 12-13).

Place yourself in the city of Pompeii 1700 years ago when Vesuvius erupted, what would you have done? No warning to help you elude certain death. What is one to do? The only option is to run and try to make it to the sea before the lava reaches one. Just think about how many people could have been saved if they were aware of what was coming, if they knew Mount Vesuvius was about to erupt.

The historic eruption covered the entire city. For many years the city was forgotten, no one remembered that the city of Pompeii had even existed. The huge explosion covered the entire city with lava. Preserving buildings, temples, homes and e everything else in the city. For many years, the city remained undiscovered, until the Spanish discovered what lied underneath. In the article, “Dead Heat” the author describes the discovery of the buried city of Pompeii, “Those remains lay buried until 1748. That’s when a Spanish military engineer uncovered remarkably preserved buildings, frescoes (wall paintings), household objects, and other artifacts” (2011 p 2). The fact that buildings, household artifacts, and even people means that the lava made its way through the city very fast. Not only was it moving fast, but also it was extremely hot. The hot lava combined with its speed caused bodies to almost instantaneously. Originally it was thought that that the citizens of Pompeii had died of suffocation, or because they lacked oxygen. However, later on when Italian archeologists invented a technique in which he was able to inject plaster into the cavities. By doing so, he was able to give form to the victims of Mount Vesuvius. After analyzing the plaster casts and bones that were also found it was concluded that the victims were not killed by the lack of oxygen, but rather the pyroclastic surge. An avalanche of exceedingly hot gas and rock were the cause of death for the many citizens that were unable to flee the city. One of the pieces of evidence they were able to find were the plaster casts. In those cast they were able to determine that many of the victims were frozen in mid action. They found that many of the casts they studied had contorted hands and feet, this a sudden stiffening of the muscles called cadaveric spasm, which is evidence of an instant death (Dead Heat, 2011 p 2). One cannot even begin to imagine how those poor souls felt as their certain death came barreling in, in the form of hot molten lava. This is an eerie description of how those citizens of Pompeii met their fate that awful date in 79 A.D. Mt. Vesuvius is a composite volcano, these type of volcanoes can generate very violent explosive eruptions. There are many other composite volcanoes around the world today, like Mt. St. Helens, which can erupt as Mt Vesuvius did. In order to be ready for an eruption like that of Mt. Vesuvius we must study these and all types of volcanoes for that matter, in order to understand how and when they can erupt. If we can achieve this many lives can and will be saved.

Volcanic eruptions are beautiful and natural; however, they can be very dangerous. These gigantic mountains can be very deceitful; they look like any other mountain tall and beautiful, sometimes with white caps of snow on top of them. Deep down inside the earth’s crust however, they are boiling up. Melting solidified rock deep down inside the earth’s crust, building up pressure. At any given moment, they can explode and spew huge amounts of lava, which can pour out or explode out of the volcano. These events are called volcanic eruptions, and there was a time when we did not know much about these volcanic eruptions. Much like the people of Pompeii in Italy’s coast. The citizens of Pompeii were rocked by a surprise eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, in a time when the word volcano did not even exist in the Latin dictionary, per say. This eruption and many others afterwards have taught us that volcanoes can be very unpredictable, however if we can study volcanoes more closely, we can learn how and when they might erupt again. In hope that we can save lives when they do decide to erupt.

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