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.

Essentially, Italy’s plan to bribe people to move doesn’t have nearly as many takers as you’d think. Italy’s been trying to move these people for more than a decade. To give you an idea of how little the Italian populace thinks of the risk, people keep building illegal homes and restaurants in the 25,000 acre park Italy declared on the mountain, not to protect its natural beauty, but to keep people from building homes and restaurants there. The authorities have taken to knocking these buildings over to drive them out.

Ironically, part of the problem is Vesuvius’s previous activity. Pompeii is an enormous tourist attraction, drawing thousands of people a year to the perfect preservation of a Roman city. And tourists need places to stay and want pizza to eat, so the locals are more than happy to set up shop, even if it puts them right in the line of fire.

How Bad Will It Be?

The good news is that the evacuation plan will work and millions of people will not die. The bad news is that more or less, thousands of people are going to die from their own inability to look at long-term consequences, the environment in the surrounding area will be completely destroyed, the economic effects from the disaster will be felt worldwide, and some poor guy will probably die on the toilet looking at his smartphone and then be buried in volcanic ash to be unearthed hundreds of years later, perfectly preserved in mid-dump.

If you want to see what you’d look like frozen in an embarrassing position for all time, there’s an app for that. And, hey, who knows, maybe if you visit Pompeii, you’ll be lucky enough to be that guy. Or, maybe just go see the movie instead: