2 – The Heat Was the Killer
It was previously believed that the citizens of the doomed towns died due to suffocation. Studies published in 2010 suggest it was the heat of the volcano that got to the residents first. According to Italian scientists, the unfortunate victims were exposed to temperatures of over 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit which would have killed them in less than 10 seconds. It was originally said that the Pompeii and Herculaneum victims suffered a lengthy and agonizing death from suffocation. In reality, they died almost immediately due to exposure to incredibly high temperatures.
The eruption caused pyroclastic density currents (hot clouds of gas and act) to speed down the slopes of the volcano. The currents engulfed Pompeii and killed everyone that remained in the town. The scientists concluded that exposure to hot surges of around 482 degrees Fahrenheit up to 10 kilometers from the vent was enough to kill the victims; even those who took shelter within buildings.
Pliny the Younger witnessed the devastation from a safe distance and left a grim account of what happened. He said that the eruption “rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches” Pliny was describing the phreatomagmatic phase which lasted hours. It is, however, untrue to say that everyone died from the heat. The volcano hurled giant blocks of lava and limestone at Pompeii and hit some unfortunate residents; fracturing their skulls.
There was a Roman fleet at nearby Misenum, and it helped evacuate a large number of people from the towns. Pliny the Elder (the Younger’s uncle) commanded the fleet but died during the rescue attempt; sources suggest he succumbed to a heart attack. Ultimately, people and animals were coated in hot ash which molded itself to their bodies. These bodies deteriorated and left a cavity inside the ash.