- Visitors to Naples are told how Mt. Vesuvius
erupted in 79AD, killing thousands in Herculaneum and Pompeii and that
it has slept quietly since 1944.
- What the guides omit to say is that the
spectacular volcano rising to 1230 meters to the city's south has been
quietly filling with molten rock for 50 years and experts believe it is
close to a colossal eruption capable of killing tens of thousands of people
- Vulcanologists probing the area with
electric currents have found a huge rock plug jammed in the 30 metet conduit
of the volcano, like a stopper in a champagne bottle.
- Many believe that when this "cork"
goes pop it will release a searing cloud of superheated ash and poisonous
gas known as a pyroclastic flow, like that described by Pliny the Younger
in his account of the killer flow from Vesuvius 1900 years ago as: "a
dark and horrible cloud ... coming up behind us as we were fleeing, spreading
over the earth like a flood." But it took the explosion of Mt. St
Helens in Washington State of the United States in 1980 to show the accuracy
of Pliny's report.
- Computer simulations of Mr. Vesuvius
present a more terrifying picture. Once the rock plug gives way, a cloud
of molten rock, ash and gas will be blasted about 1.5 kilometers into the
- Once the heat from the initial blast
subsides, the cloud will swoop down and flow along the ground at speeds
upwards of 160 kilometers and reach the 100,000 population of Torre del
Greco in less than four minutes and the outskirts of Naples with its three
million people five minutes later.
- But the Italian Government is anxious
to avoid panic. Its Vesuvius commission produced an emergency plan in 1995
which provides for evacuating 700,000 people living in the high-risk areas
in a week. Many condemn this as hopelessly optimistic.
- Its most vehement critic is Flavio Dobran,
a former professor of vulcanology at the universities of Rome and Pisa,
who claims to have lost his job after refusing to toe the off1cial line
on the size of the risk from Mt. Vesuvius.
- Dr. Dobran says next eruption of Vesuvius
could, in minutes, destroy everything in an 8km radius of the volcano a
region of a million people. Monitoring shows that 16 kilometers west of
Vesuvius subterranean stirrings have pushed up the surface 8m in the past
30 years, suggesting wider instability in the region.