What Would Happen If Mount Vesuvius Blew Today?

Mount Vesuvius is most famous for erupting in 79 AD and burying the surrounding area in ash, something depicted this month on screens in Pompeii. But Mount Vesuvius isn’t quiet today. In fact, many seismologists and volcanologists believe Vesuvius is essentially a giant ticking time bomb. And when it goes off, it’s going to be ugly.

Why? Any number of reasons:

Millions Of People Live Near Vesuvius

Two million people live close enough to Mount Vesuvius to be in the line of fire, with 600,000 of those living essentially on the volcano’s doorstep. If that weren’t enough, less than six miles away is Naples, a metropolis of three to four million people. Keep in mind all these people can go to Pompeii whenever they feel like it. They know exactly what they’re in for. And they’re still sticking around.

When Vesuvius Blows, It’s Going To Be Nasty

When people think “volcanic eruption”, they tend to think some smoke and fire, with the real danger being the lava flows. In Vesuvius’s case, it’s more like a bomb more powerful than the biggest nuclear weapon we have going off. It will throw smoke and ash miles into the air. It will create a blast of heat so intense people will cook to death in less than a second. Oh, and did we mention that this blast will fling flaming hot rocks and ash for miles around? Herculaneum was far further away than Pompeii from Vesuvius when it blew, and it still got completely buried in burning hot volcanic ash.

And that’s not the only problem. You might remember that when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland in 2010, it screwed up air travel and shipping for days and caused scary electrical storms. So, when Vesuvius inevitably goes off, it’s probably going to do the same thing, but it might run for weeks. This isn’t even getting into the environmental effects, or the fact that in addition to lava and flying ash, in some areas the eruption might trigger floods.

In other words, essentially everybody near Vesuvius is living near a nuclear testing site run by Don Knotts, and when the inevitable happens, it’s going to cause some pretty severe damage. So Italy’s got some plans in place to stop this, right?

The Evacuation Plan Is Not Really Working

The Italian authorities have been trying hard for years to limit the damage; they know they’ve got millions of people essentially waiting for a geological bomb to go off. They’ve got an evacuation plan in place and ready to go 72 hours before Vesuvius loses it. Unfortunately, the corresponding long-term plan, to get people the heck away from the dangerous mountain, is not going very well.