At noon on August 24th, 79 A.D. after several small explosions Vesuvius erupts, sending a tall mushroom cloud of super heated rock and gas over twenty kilometers into the sky. The cloud blows southwards, plunging everything into total darkness. The mountain emits noxious gases and unearthly noises. Violent tremors cause buildings to collapse. People flee to the beach, hoping for rescue from the sea but floating banks of pumice prevent ships from reaching or leaving the shore.
As the eruption engulfed the cities, many of the people fleeing for their lives paused to grab objects of value such as jewelry and coins. Perhaps they hoped to provide a safeguard against difficult times ahead. Others took objects that held sentimental value.
In the evening, ash and pumice stones rain down on Pompeii. People are trapped by blocked doors while ceilings and roofs collapse under the weight of the debris. The residents of the cities met death in different ways and at different times but many of them shared the basic instinct, as they fled, to take things with them that they believed were useful. These led to these artifacts, like lanterns and precious mementos, to be found today. Pompeii, being downwind from the volcano, was showered with small volcanic stones. No such stones were found in Herculaneum, even though it was closer to Vesuvius.The eruption reaches its peak and unleashes a hurricane of heavier, denser pumice. This causes the widespread collapse of buildings and destabilizes the volcanic cloud, triggering the first deadly pyroclastic surge.
Approximately Midnight, the cloud reaches its maximum height of over thirty kilometers then collapses spectacularly. A massive pyroclastic surge cascades down Vesuvius’s north-west slopes. It heads for Herculaneum, instantly killing everyone it touches. The bodies found so far in the cities account for only 10% of their estimated populations. One third of Pompeii and two thirds of Herculaneum are still unexcavated and it is possible that many bodies have yet to be uncovered in and around the cities.
In Early Morning, as dawn breaks, the cloud collapses for the last time. At about 6:30 am a large pyroclastic flow surged towards Pompeii, stopping just short of the city. An hour later another surge overwhelmed Pompeii, the huge pyroclastic surge pours onto Pompeii, smashing remaining buildings and killing all people still present in the town. Archaeologists have found that there were about two-thousand people walking around on top of the pumice deposit in despair when death struck them. The final event occurred at about 8:00 am on the 25th August when a sixth surge spread to a much greater distance than previous ones. Thirty kilometers away in Misenum, Pliny the Younger only narrowly escaped death from the sixth surge. The cloud collapses for that last time and darkness spreads across the Bay of Naples.
By the time the Vesuvius eruption sputtered to an end the next day, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash. Some people drifted back to town in search of lost relatives or belongings, but there was not much left to find. Pompeii, along with the smaller neighboring towns of Stabiae and Herculaneum, was abandoned for centuries.