The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii and the volcano continues to threaten the inhabitants of modern-day Naples and neighboring communities in southern Italy. The 1st-century eruption buried the inhabitants and buildings of Pompeii and nearby Roman towns in hot ash and pyroclastic flows in only a matter of a few seconds. The speed of the destruction left behind casts of the victims' bodies which have provided archaeologists with a rare glimpse of how people lived during Roman times.
Mt. Vesuvius experienced several other major volcanic eruptions between 1631 and 1944. Two occurred during the 20th century. The first was in 1906 and caused mass destruction in the city of Naples and the deaths of more than 100 people. This resulted in the shifting of the 1908 Olympic Games from Italy to London, England so that the Italian government could reallocate financial resources to the rebuilding of Naples. The 1944 eruption destroyed nearby villages and an estimated 78 to 88 American aircraft at a World War II airfield.
In anticipation of a new eruption, the Italian government has formulated evacuation plans for about 600,000 people living in the areas around Mt. Vesuvius. A worst-case scenario is being assumed in light of the fact that more than 65 years have passed without any notable activity. Volcanic gases building up in subsurface magma chambers without any significant release of pressure over several decades carry the potential for a volcanic eruption of particularly explosive force.