We can learn from the past and pass it on to the future...
Volcanoes can happen all over the world - Hawaii, Alaska, Italy, Iceland, Democratic Republic of the Congo, all over the place. Very recently, Mt. Etna in Italy erupted. Also, Iceland was first shaken by 18,000 earthquakes in over a week, and then, after 6,000 years of dormancy, Fagradalsfjall volcano finally erupted.
Even so, unless you live right next to one, the possibility of a volcanic eruption often seems like a far-fetched idea. The reality is, though, a volcano can significantly affect people thousands of miles away.
That’s why it’s so important that we learn from every eruption - recent ones or even those in the distant past - so that we can keep our cities, homes, and families safe.
Let’s look at one of the world’s most famous eruptions forever ago. On August 24, 79 C.E. Mt. Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompei in ash and rock. Though this headline is well known, the true story has politics, power, and indifference, and is a cautionary tale for 2021.
How big was the explosion?
The eruption was 100,000X (one-hundred-thousand-times) the size of Hiroshima. It’s difficult to even fathom Hiroshima’s blast, let alone 100,000 times that. Ash and rock blasted 21 miles into the sky, destroying cities within a 10 mile radius. Half the square miles of the size of Los Angeles was destroyed within hours.
Was it lava? No!
Many people think that volcanoes erupt with slow-moving lava and they can just... walk away. But the reality is, massive plumes of dust, rock and hot gas quickly envelope surrounding areas. There is often nowhere to run. That’s why having safety goggles and masks for every family member are so important, as these plumes can be detrimental to your lungs, eyes, and overall health.
So what the heck happened in Pompei?
Within minutes, Pompei was covered in 9 feet of ash. Roofs collapsed and families froze in time. For those who weren't killed by the ash and rock, hot poisonous gas came next, which led to suffocation. The people didn't evacuate, even after homes were destroyed.
Those who survived the heavy ash and rock saw the sun disappear. Although they couldn’t see, the people heard shrieking: children shouting for their parents, survivors praying, and those remaining trampled each other causing more loss of life.
Pretty grim, right?
Were there warning signs? Yup!
Just 17 years earlier, massive earthquakes actually shattered and almost destroyed the Bay of Naples. That quake released poisoned air that killed hordes of sheep!
In the days before August 24, earthquakes became more and more frequent. While not a good sign, Pliny the Younger wrote that nobody was concerned, or worried. In fact, the people of Pompei and the areas shrugged it off because they were "used to it." Complacency and short memories were more destructive than the volcano.
What’s more, a few hundred years earlier, another massive eruption dimmed the skies for weeks, and corresponding ice cores imply some moderately destructive eruptions. Despite this history, the pull of commerce was too great, and memories too short, to prevent settlement.
Well, the people rebuilt and eruptions continued. In 1631, yet another massive eruption buried villages yet again, killing over 3,000 people. Again in 1906: People died and Italy had to relocate the 1908 Olympics.
Okay, what about today?
Italy has since built a National Park around Vesuvius to try and protect it. Also, Italy has an emergency plan to evacuate 600,000 people assuming they get fair warning of an eruption. Its last eruption was in 1944, and its last major eruption was in 1631.
Another eruption is expected in the near future.
Moral of the story?
Heed warnings, prepare adequately, never get complacent, and don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of a natural hazard.
Are you ready?
To find out if you’re at risk of volcanic activity, enter your zip code into our Know Your Risks tool, which uses proprietary data from FEMA, USGS, NOAA, and insurance companies to precisely calculate what hazards you need to prepare for the most to keep your family safest.
Plus, make sure you try out the step-by-step Volcano Risk program in our app to prepare for uncertainty, assemble Go Bags, upload important info, and more.