Mount Vesuvius erupts! (3-18-44)

The New York Times (March 20, 1944)

Vesuvius erupts in violent action

Emits four great streams of lava – endangers village damaged 38 years ago
By Milton Bracker

Boscotrecase, Italy – (March 19)
Mount Vesuvius put on the greatest “show” since 1906 last night, and today this village on the south slope of the angered giant was the subject of an official visit by Prof. Giuseppe Imbò, expert on volcanoes, and American Military Government authorities, with a view to possible evacuation of some of the families.

Prof. Imbò, who maintains an office in the Royal Vesuvian Observatory halfway to the crater, said unqualifiedly that the display, which reddened the sky and sent four streams of lava down the valleys, was the most impressive since the April eruption of 38 years ago that destroyed a part of Boscotrecase and threatened the important town of Torre Annunziata, 10 miles southeast of Naples.

But pending worse developments, it appeared that no large-scale evacuation of the population here was yet indicated. While the green-trousered and excitable little professor toured the area after having crawled in the darkness to the edge of the lava stream last night, it was possible to stand on the outskirts of this rather broken-down community and watch the hot vapors rising from the slowing but unhalted lava streams barely a mile above.

In the village proper, there was more interest in the funeral of an 84-year-old patriarch than in the threat; an ornate hearse rolled heavily through the main street while beyond the furthest rim of houses, Vesuvius quaked and sputtered. The sound was exactly like artillery fire.

The only damage known to have been done so far was to a 100-foot stretch of the famous cable railway that has carried countless tourists to the verge of the “Valle dell’Inferno” and that recently has become virtually a “G.I.” railway.

Staff Sgt. Frederick Drake of Elmira, New York, accompanied Prof. Imbò on his precarious tour last night, during which they saw lava overflow the trackage. Sgt. Drake said the breakthrough came about 8:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. Saturday ET) and that the fiery, molten stone seemed to be flowing from 25 to 30 miles an hour.

He said:

It was a lot faster than you could ruin. It was flowing just like water.

Meanwhile, in the Naples sky over the brooding volcano was an awesome red – red in an evil, hideous sort of way. Yet the beauty and the fascination were there, too, as they always will be.

One stream put a golden edge on the inner slope of the higher of the two summits. Another forked down in front and made a huge glowing “L” against the darkness.

Tonight’s display indicated the lava streams were splitting up while the garish glow over the cone somewhat lessened.


The Pittsburgh Press (March 20, 1944)

Packard: Towns evacuated in volcano path

By Eleanor Packard, United Press staff writer

On the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, Italy –
Allied Military Government officials today started evacuating a number of towns on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, including San Sebastiano on the western slope, as an eruption which began Saturday, continued and the lava flow increased.

There was so much smoke and steam where I was standing that I could not see the crater.

Four streams of lava poured from the volcano when the eruption began. The main stream, estimated to be a quarter of a mile wide and seven feet deep, sizzled toward Torre del Greco and Torre Annunziata, both near Pompeii.

Forest and crops have already suffered considerable damage, but no serious damage to dwellings has been reported.

Italian experts regarded the eruption as the most serious since 1906 when the upper part of the crater’s ash cone collapsed and lava streams poured almost into Torre Annunziata and partly destroyed Boscotrecase.

Vesuvius is south of Naples in the area occupied for some time by Allied troops.


The New York Times (March 21, 1944)

Vesuvius erupts, swallows town after Allies evacuate its people

San Sebastiano, on volcano’s slope, buried under tons of molten rock, witness says flow behaved capriciously
By Milton Bracker

San Sebastiano, Italy –
At 12:30 this morning (local time), a giant tongue of lava from Vesuvius crashed into the stone house where Giuseppe Battaglio has lived for years with his wife, Maria, and their six children.

By 1:00, the house had been pulverized and buried under countless tons of molten stone. The stream of lava continued inexorably on its way toward the main street of this town, which has 2,500 inhabitants and nestles on the volcano’s northwest slope, eight miles from Naples.

Early yesterday afternoon, on orders of the Allied Military Government, San Sebastiano’s inhabitants and those of nearby Massa di Somma began with pitiful evacuation, which was in full swing late last night when the liquid avalanche, 2,500 degrees hit, cascaded down the valley.

This correspondent stood within 50 feet of the lava stream when it demolished the first house in the town. The lower reaches of the valley, already pitted and lumpy from the lava blankets of long ago, were studded with awed spectators who, thanks to a favorable wind direction, had a marvelous opportunity to witness one of nature’s most remarkable shows at close range.

Poletti is a spectator

One spectator was Lt. Col. Charles Poletti, military governor of the Naples area. With his staff, he directed the civilian evacuation in Army trucks and announced that the Allies were prepared to feed the refugees tomorrow. Some were taken to Naples, others to Santa Anastasia and others possibly to Averra.

The larger town of Cercola, on the Naples-Santa Anastasia road, was next in line should the lava continue to flow after having inundated this doomed community.

Those who watched Vesuvius in action this morning will never forget it. The crater, from which alternately oozed or spurted the fiery volcanic matter, was forgotten in the presence of one prong of lava 100 yards wide and actually 30 feet deep.

It was like the monstrous paw of an even more monstrous lion, slowly inching forward toward his prey.

The lava was not white hot; it was orange-gold, with occasional black patches, undulating like waves. As the stream advanced, great boulders cracked off and tumbled down, setting fire to small fruit trees and causing onlookers to leap back in alarm.

The general sound was like that of an infinite number of clinkers rolling out of a furnace – but sometimes a great chunk of rock bent rather than broke. Its effect was like that of the devil’s own taffy being pulled and twisted to suit his taste.

Lava behaves capriciously

The rate of flow had earlier been officially estimated ats 12 feet a minute. Last night and this morning, the lava acted capriciously: Here and there it leaped ahead with searing tentacles, and at other times it seemed to slow up, as if gathering weight to overwhelm a ridge in the valley.

At one side stood a peasant whose weather face turned tawny in the glow.

“Guerra, fame, distruzione,” – war, hunger, destruction – he repeated, shaking his head. “Guerre, fame, distruzione.”

But there was humor, too. An American corporal from Indiana squatted at a safe distance and muttered, “Gosh, when I tell ‘em about this in Muncie.”

Gradually the stream spread out in the little valley. The last few trees went up in flame – peculiarly outlined in blue – and then the crackling mass crunched down on an eight-foot wall and began to devour it.

Giuseppe Battaglio’s house was on the far side of the fence, and for a while it seemed that the stone fence might channel the flow and save the modest stone structure.

But as the incandescent mass roared over the fence, it was plain the house was fated. A spear of fire shot up to a corner of the building. Then it subsided, and the house seemed to be winning the battle. The odds were too great, however. The lava ground into the base on the other side, and with a roar the wall fell in. a few minutes later, the surging flow literally cracked the house in half. What looked like an iron bedstead twisted into the air.

Thus, the destruction of the town began. A few hundred yards back, but directly in line of the flow, stood the town’s best houses and the three-story, yellow school that the inhabitants cherished. It was estimated that they all were crushed and buried within two hours.


The Pittsburgh Press (March 21, 1944)

Packard: Vesuvius’ crater explodes, burying two villages

Flame-specked smoke whooshes 5,000 feet in air, covers area for 10 miles around
By Eleanor Packard, United Press staff writer

On the slope of Mount Vesuvius, Italy –
The volcanic crater of Mount Vesuvius exploded with a terrifying roar tonight, blanketing the countryside for 10 miles around under a pall of smoke and burying two mountain villages beneath tons of flowing lava.

At 5:30 p.m. (local time), I saw a huge column of flame-specked smoke whoosh up out of the crater and soar 5,000 feet into the air, where it billowed out, showering the mountainside with rocks and ashes.

The smoke spread as far north as Naples, 10 miles away, halting all traffic in the streets there, and blanketed the ruins of ancient Pompeii, buried in the volcano’s greatest eruption almost 1,900 years ago.

The unexpected flareup indicated that the eruption, which began Friday, was worsening, and Allied military authorities announced that more than 14,000 additional men, women and children were being evacuated hurriedly from the northwestern slopes.

The village of San Sebastian was buried under the 70-foot wall of lava flowing down the mountain, and the neighboring hamlet of Massa di Somma was virtually obliterated.

Italians fleeing rivers of lava

By Edward P. Morgan

Naples, Italy –
The village of San Sebastian on the northwestern slope of Mount Vesuvius was buried today under millions of tons of lava writhing slowly down like a gigantic gray and orange glowworm from the volcano which is in the midst of its most violent eruption in more than half a century.

Some 3,700 villagers in San Sebastian and neighboring Massa di Somma were evacuated before dawn by the Allied Military Government, under the direction of Lt. Col. Robert Kincaid of New York City, commissioner for Naples Province.

A later United Press dispatch said the great stream of lava moved down the northwest slope with inexorable force and by midafternoon had traveled 500 yards beyond San Sebastian to cover three-quarters of Massa di Somma. The force of the flow showed no signs of slackening, although it was cooling rapidly as it spread.

AMG is now evacuating 2,000 inhabitants from the town of Cercola, which is directly in the path of the flow farther down the mountainside and scarcely five miles from Naples itself. The city, however, does not appear to be threatened.

Field kitchens are feeding the refugees whose homes, fields and vineyards have been devoured by the monstrous molten river, now nearly five miles long, which started zigzagging on Saturday from fissures high on the side of the cone.

The Mayor of San Sebastian said the eruption surpassed anything in his memory since 1892. The lava is spilling not only in several forking streams down the side of Vesuvius facing the Bay of Naples, but also in the opposite direction toward Trecase in the general vicinity of Pompeii.

Officials of the Italian Royal Observatory told the United Press the flows of lava had reached the proportion of the 1872 eruption, the worst in modern times, and added that they saw no signs of an early slackening.

When it comes to fiendish force and breath-catching brilliance, nothing the great god Mars or any modern warriors could devise would match nature’s spectacle of Vesuvius at work.

Great folds of smoke

In the daytime the mountain is cloaked in great folds of black-gray smoke. At night, the fiery flow stains the sky the color of blood and paints a panorama directly out of the steaming Halls of Hades.

The peaceful people who live on these slopes grow grapes and make good wine called Lacrima Cristi – tears of Christ.

Faced first with the terrors of modern war, the Nazi “occupation” and then with the thunderous advance of Allied armies to drive the enemy out, these folk are entitled to shed especially bitter tears of sorrow for this visitation of misery and desolation beyond their due.

Reporter visits scene

Lt. John H. Senseney of St. Louis, Capt. Carleton Harkrader of Bristol, Virginia, a jeep named Doris and I watched the lava consume San Sebastian between midnight and sunrise this morning.

Man is a pigmy before such force and can only conceal his awe in hollow wisecracks or rich but reverent bursts of profanity.

Our first view of this particular stream was a lateral one, from the stone house of Signora Galla Giorgio which was bypassed a scant 10 feet. As the slag and glowing coals inched forward, the mass gave off an eerie tinkling sound like icicles breaking up in a spring thaw.

Houses wrecked

In the course of two hours, we watched the seething orange tongue of the river lick forward and demolish a three-story stone mansion along with a wheelless Italian limousine and an upright piano which only shortly before seemed so sturdy and durable.

High tension poles of steel melted like solder sticks and the bridge over San Sebastian’s Via Rome simply crumpled up and vanished before our eyes.

Ahead of this inferno ran the refugees in little individual rivulets. The women stretched their arms to heaven in the black night and called on God for help. Children sobbed in the streets and one old lady wailed that she would not leave her hovel of a home, but U.S. and British military police gently loaded her into a truck.

Pitiful people

An Italian couple named Mario and Rosa came trotting down a path carrying two washtubs full of crockery, a clucking hen and a prodigious mattress. They crossed the edge of a small bluff and started down a precarious flight of crumbling stone steps, picking their way into the blackness with a ruddy glow silhouetting their burdened backs.

Suddenly Mario pitched headlong down the steps, strewing broken plates everywhere.

Rosa moaned and said a prayer, but Mario picked himself up and, despite her protestations, marched back to their hut and retrieved another staggering load of hardware.

This time they descended safely and struggled off to a friend’s house.


The New York Times (March 22, 1944)

Lava threatens to cut shore highway and oust other villagers in the area

Crater pours streams; two children killed when a water tank explodes after boiling over ashes
By Milton Bracker

Cercola, Italy –
Smashing through San Sebastiano and Massa di Somma on a broadening, though generally slowing, front, the Vesuvian lava flow tonight had resulted in complete evacuation of this town of 7,000, two miles to the northwest.

At the same time, reports reaching field headquarters established here by Lt. Col. Charles Poletti, AMG chief in Italy, indicated imminent danger at Torre del Greco, on the coast between Naples and Torre Annunziata, with the possibility that a further breakthrough of the southern rim of the crater would cut the vital shoreline highway and force a far greater evacuation than has yet been necessitated.

The volcano put up another spectacular show tonight, although the encroachment of lava between buried San Sebastiano and this truck-cluttered town was less than early this morning. The fiercest displays were on the slopes above coastal towns, with red jets leaping high in the air and spilling down the sides in multiple new streams.

Dust spurts from crater

One of the most awesome spectacles of the entire eruptive period came at 5:30 p.m. CET, when a seething plume of gray lava dust billowed from the crater.

“That’s what killed Pompeii,” mused Lt. Col. James L. Kincaid, AMG executive for Naples Province, as he watched from the balcony of the threatened City Hall here.

He also revealed that two children were killed at San Sebastiano yesterday when lava reached a water tank, which exploded in a great hiss of steam, throwing them high in the air. So far as is known, theirs are the only deaths so far.

Another official observer at Cercola was Prof. Giuseppe Imbò, director of the Royal Vesuvian Observatory, who said the current phenomenon was completely different from that which overwhelmed Pompeii in 79 AD. He conceded the danger of further inundation by molten rock, but he said the exact situation would remain unclear, possibly for several days.

The entire semicircle from Torre Annunziata around to Santa Anastasia is more or less under the shadow of the worst eruption since 1906. This poses a serious problem for the Allied authorities and is diverting hundreds of men and vehicles from normal work.

Roads leading here are choked with trucks and laden with household supplies. On the direct road from San Sebastiano, families huddled over fires lit in doorways waiting for soldiers to assist them in loading.

At San Sebastiano, the end of the road is cut off by a crunching wall of lava, which is following the road’s axis directly toward the south end of the town.

People move before lava

Life in this stricken town revolved around the Town Hall, in front of which the Army has set up a food kitchen. Long lines of women and children waited hours for a share of available soup, cheese and bread. Meanwhile, men helped to move out belongings, and the streets are packed with bent figures carrying pieces of furniture larger than themselves.

AMG officials estimated that there were at least 4,000 refugees already, many of whom have been taken to a Naples refugee camp. Others went to Santa Anastasia and Aversa.

The last moment of San Sebastiano came about 3:15 a.m., when a seething mass 12 feet high burst across, the main street and the bridge in the center. A three-story yellow schoolhouse disappeared as in a fiery meatgrinder. So did a nearby wine shop in which the tall figure of San Gennaro, patron saint of the province, had been stored earlier after a priest had used it to help quiet the populace.

Cercola seemed tonight to have an excellent chance of escaping complete destruction, although it is most likely that both ends will be chewed off by the flanks of the inexorable foe. An outlying school has already been devoured.

Col. Poletti is hopeful that, once past here, the stream will dissipate itself in the flat terrain.

The Pittsburgh Press (March 22, 1944)

Lava flow veers to menace 3 Vesuvius coastal towns

By Eleanor Packard, United Press staff writer

On the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, Italy –
Three Italian coastal towns harboring 86,000 people were menaced today by a shift in the lava flow from erupting Mount Vesuvius, and experts warned that the volcanic cone might burst at any moment and bury the countryside under tons of molten rock.

Five days after the start of its worst outbreak in modern times, the great volcano has stopped acting according to form and has gone completely erratic.

The main lava flow now has shifted from the northwest to the west slopes and is moving down like a fiery snake on the coastal towns of Torre del Greco, Torre Annunziata and Resina, site of the ancient town of Herculaneum, which was buried in the great eruption of 79 AD.

Allied military authorities were understood to be preparing to evacuate the residents of the three towns if the lava flow continues.

Meanwhile, the seething cone of the volcano glowed with such intensity that Italian experts warned it may break suddenly and send a terrific overflow of lava in all directions.

Not a single life has been lost thus far, largely because of the prompt measures taken by the Army to remove reluctant civilians from their homes, but millions of dollars’ worth of property have been ruined and some of the finest vineyards in Italy have been partially wiped out, including the famous Lacryma Christi vineyards.

It was estimated that cultivation on the lava-wasted soil would be impossible for at least a century.

The villages of San Sebastiano and Massa di Somma were all but obliterated yesterday by the lava wall moving down the northwest slopes and a two-mile-high column of fine dust peppered Naples and Salerno.

The road to the Royal Vesuvian Observatory, where experts up on the slopes were watching the activity, was closed to all traffic except officers on duty.

The Pittsburgh Press (March 23, 1944)

Volcanic ash covers towns

Eight streams of lava pour from Vesuvius
By Eleanor Packard, United Press staff writer

On the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, Italy –
Weary villagers in the Pompeii-Salerno aera today were digging out from a “lizard” of volcanic ash that swirled from Vesuvius in the last 12 hours.

Layers of ash three to 18 inches thick blocked highway traffic and threatened to cave in roofs.

Eight streams of lava were pouring down from the volcano. The main stream, 1,000 feet wide and 50 feet high, was on the southern slope and appeared headed halfway between the towns of Torre del Greco and Torre Annunziata.

Sluggish during the early days of the eruption, the main stream has increased in volume and was expected to reach the sea within three days if it maintains its present rate of flow. The town of Boscotrecase was in its path.

Jeeps struck

The road circling Vesuvius was cut by ash so deep that Army jeeps could not get through and had to be hauled out by trucks. Army trucks were called out to open the road. Ash was also reported blocking traffic on the main Torre Annunziata-Salerno highway.

Prof. Giuseppe Imbò of the Royal Italian Observatory estimated Vesuvius has been emitting one million cubic yards of lava, smoke and ash hourly since Saturday.

King visits scene

King Victor Emmanuel spent the afternoon visiting the sites of what had once been San Sebastiano and Massa di Somma.

The Pittsburgh Press (March 24, 1944)

Vesuvius’ flow of lava slows

Pompeii, Italy (UP) –
Vesuvius still spouted smoke and ashes 20,000 in the air today but the lava flows subsided sufficiently to permit evacuees to return to some of the previously-threatened areas.

Some residents returned to Cercola. Officials still stood ready to evacuate Torre del Greco and Torre Annunziata, both of which were digging out from a two-foot deposit of gravel-like ash.

Army bulldozers cleared main roads in the vicinity of the volcano as cinders became a serious problem, particularly along the main railroad running south from Naples.

Work to clear line

Veteran U.S. troops, some of whom as railroaders used to battle heavy snowstorms in the Northwest United States, worked 24 hours without a halt to keep the line open.

The villages of Pagani and Nocera east of Torre Annunziata suffered heavily from the ash fall.

The ashes weighed down homes and spread across vineyards and orchards, causing damage expected to run into millions of dollars.

Residents in the vicinity carried umbrellas to keep the ashes from hair and clothing.

Many birds killed

Streets were littered with dead birds. Some villagers who had been forced to stay indoors several days and had been without food went up and down streets picking up the birds.

The ash sleet was reddish in color, giving the impression it was raining wine.

The crater was also shooting out boulders, about two feet in diameter, which rose nearly 2,000 feet and came crashing down like bombs.

The New York Times (March 24, 1944)

Eruption of Vesuvius appears to be ending

But Naples plans prayers as ash falls far from volcano

Torre del Greco, Italy – (March 23)
The worst of the most awesome show provided by Mount Vesuvius in 72 years seemed over tonight. This coastal town between Naples and Torre Annunziata bore the brunt of the last day of the eruption, which began Sunday.

Great clouds of lava dust rolled down the southern slopes of the volcano and virtually blotted out the community. Lights were required on automobiles traveling to Naples in the daylight hours and the faces of military policemen on traffic duty were lined with grime.

At the Allied Military Government office here, Maj. Jesse Cantor of Syracuse, New York, regional executive, said that today’s display probably was the volcano’s “last gasp” for the present, though he hastened to add that it would be foolish to make a flat prediction.

The possibility remained that huge chunks of the periphery of the crater might fall in the caldron, with disastrous results, but this was believed to be unlikely.

While ash and red mud were reported to have fallen as far away as Bari, Cardinal Alessio Ascalesi of Naples ordered three days of special prayers in the Naples Cathedral to invoke protection of the city’s patron saint against further eruption.

The New York Times (March 25, 1944)

Vesuvius quits erupting

Dust and ash problem, however, continues to plague traffic

Naples, Italy – (March 24)
Mount Vesuvius continued to pose a serious dust and ash problem for all communities and transit facilities along its south and southeastern slopes today, but the lava flow appeared definitely to be over.

The volcano was still spectacular with its enormous, thick cloud of lava dust fixed in the sky over the crater just as if it had been painted there.

The Allied Control Commission is still closely overseeing the situation, and Lt. Col. James Kincaid, provincial executive, maintained his emergency headquarters at Cercola.

The Pittsburgh Press (March 25, 1944)

Vesuvius eruption kills 30 persons

Allied HQ, Naples, Italy (UP) –
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius killed more than 30 persons and injured several scores, the Allied Military Government announced.

Many of the casualties were caused by falling stones or by roofs collapsing under the weight of volcanic ash while the occupants were asleep in their dwellings, AMG reported.

The volcano was still spouting cinders and ashes today, but the lava flow appeared to have subsided.

AMG reported 12 persons were killed in Nocera, province of Salerno, and nine in Pagani when roofs collapsed. Flying stones killed three in Terzigno, province of Naples.

Two children were believed killed in San Sebastiano when the molten lava flow caused a cistern to explode.

The Pittsburgh Press (March 26, 1944)

30 persons die in eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Dreaded flow of lava subsiding
By Eleanor Packard, United Press staff writer

Naples, Italy – (March 25)
More than 30 persons were killed and several score injured this week as tons of flaming boulders, brimstone cinders and huge walls of scorching lava poured from the crater of Mount Vesuvius, crunching and searing everything for miles around.

Most of the deaths were the result of crashing roofs, which, buried under tons of heavy volcanic ash, toppled in during the night on sleeping citizens, the Allied Military Government said.

The volcano still belched smoke and ashes thousands of feet into the air, but the dreaded flow of lava had subsided considerably.

Prof. Giuseppe Imbò, director of the Royal Italian Observatory on Vesuvius, said the volcano still continues in an “abnormal condition,” but he declined to comment on whether it had passed the critical stage.

The bodies of 26 dead have already been dug from the wreckage of homes and buildings, the AMG said.

In the province of Salerno, 12 people were killed at Nocera and nine others at Pagani, due to collapsing roofs, AMG officials said. In Naples Province, three persons were killed at Terzigno by stones flying from the crater of the volcano.

The New York Times (March 26, 1944)

Vesuvius eruption killed 26 Italians

Many deaths caused by collapse of ash-laden roofs

Naples, Italy – (March 25)
The toll in the worst eruption of Mount Vesuvius since 1872 rose to 26 today with the recapitulation of reports from outlying districts by Lt. Col. James Kincaid, AMG Commissioner for Naples Province.

Roof cave-ins caused by piled-up volcanic ash caused 12 deaths at Nocera and nine at Pagani, both in the Salerno region. Falling fragments killed three persons at Terzigno on Tuesday.

The eruption was apparently over today. From this city the volcano appeared sullen and ugly, with a vast trail of lava dust spreading heavily to the southeast and the Salerno region. Persons who rode through the area came in looking prematurely gray.

Col. Kincaid retained his field headquarters and kept a close watch on the resettlement of the evacuated towns. He also prepared to received further reports of a still greater toll.

The Pittsburgh Press (March 27, 1944)

Vesuvius eruption believed dying

Naples, Italy (UP) –
The eruption of Vesuvius appeared to be dying down today.

No lava of any volume has flowed from the volcano in the last 60 hours and the spray of cinders and boulders ceased Saturday night.

A fine dust still showered out and the crater was emitting a gas smoke which in the past generally has been a sign of abatement.

The dust was up so thick in some places that traffic was blocked.

The Pittsburgh Press (March 28, 1944)

Smoke still rising from Mount Vesuvius

Naples, Italy (UP) –
Smoke and cinders still rose from Mount Vesuvius today, although the volcanic eruption continued to subside.

Ashes showered the Salerno-Torre del Greco coastal highway, but observers believed the danger period had passed.