Italian Volcanologists: Vesuvius Evacuation Plans Should Include 3 Million People
May 26, 2011 • 8:54AM

Dr. Lucia Pappalardo, a volcanologist at the Osservatorio Vesuviano in Naples, is one of the two scientists who recently authored an article in Nature magazine calling for expanding the current "red zone" around Mount Vesuvius to include the evacuation of three million people in the Bay of Naples, based on the worst-case scenario of a plinian eruption.

Dr. Pappalardo and her colleague Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo have detected a large magma reservoir at a depth of 8-10 km under Vesuvius, and insist that the next eruption could be more dramatic than the famous 79 A.D. eruption that destroyed Pompei and Herculanium and was described by Pliny the Younger (hence the name "plinian" eruption, which could be sudden and devastating). Dr. Pappalardo told EIR yesterday that the scientists know that Mt. Vesuvius is on for such an eruption, "Therefore, it is our task to tell authorities that they should base their evacuation plan on this scenario and be ready to evacuate three million people," she said.

Current evacuation plans by Italy's Civil Protection Authority involve only (!) 600,000 people, the population living almost on the volcano, and who would be directly threatened by the first phase of an eruption, or by a smaller eruption, like the one in 1944, which was not a plinian eruption.

However, a plinian eruption would be deadly in the second phase, characterized by "pyroclastic flows" of hot gases and debris that travel at extremely high speeds. That is what Pliny described as "pine-like clouds," which go up and collapse under their own weight, forming fireballs coming down to the ground at speeds over 100 kmh. That is what killed most of the people in Pompeii.

Larger than the Pompeii eruption was the 3780 B.C. Avellino eruption, whose pyroclastic flows devastated an area as far as 25 km from the volcano. The next eruption could be as strong as this one, Dr. Pappalardo said.

The May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption was a plinian eruption, and current evacuation plans for Mt. St. Helens are based on that worst-case scenario still, although the probability of a repetition in the short term is low, she said, but that is correctly so.

As LPAC-TV has described, similar dangers exist for the Seattle, Washington, area, from an eruption of Mt. Rainier, in the same Cascade Range of volcanoes as Mount St. Helens. Regarding an evacuation plan for the Mount St. Helens area, "It is not my job to work out such plans," said Pappalardo said, "but my duty is to tell authorities that scientists say this is the worst-case scenario and you have to draft your plans accordingly. It might be that there is no practical solution, but the population should be informed, so that they know exactly what they are facing. Instead, politicians think: 'When the eruption takes place, I am going to be dead, so they will blame my successor'!"

Since temporary relocation is not feasible, the ideal solution would be to build new cities far away from the place, as Turkey is doing. It will not be easy to convince Neapolitans to leave Naples, but if you correctly inform them and offer them a job, this would probably make it, because they are all jobless. Dr. Pappalardo showed interest in the LaRouche program (stop bailouts, and finance infrastructure and science programs).

Volcanic precursors studied by her team include analysis of rocks to determine, from the stratification, the speed of expulsion from the lava chamber. This is going to be very quick, a few hours in case of a plinian eruption. Other precursors include earthquakes, gas emissions, ground deformation. Very little is being done on electromagnetic phenomena.