The Unites States Academy of Science has published new findings by a group of vulcanologists, including two from the Vesuvius Observatory, which show that a major eruption of Vesuvius near Naples could be more devastating than anything that the Italian authorities are prepared for. The research shows that in an eruption 4,000 years ago, volcanic magma rushed 16 miles over and beyond large areas of modern Naples. The scientists say that in the event of a similar eruption anything within the first eight miles of the volcano would be swept away and destroyed, and ash would completely bury Naples city centre.

The Italian civil protection department, which takes part in the constant monitoring of the volcano, has a plan for the evacuation of the areas around the volcano in the case of an eruption. It believes it would know that Vesuvius was preparing to erupt and, with 27 days of pre-alarm, would hope to move almost 600,000 people from the area closest to the volcano in 7 days.

The new, American-published, survey shows that the worst possible eruption could put as many as three million lives at risk and leave the area an ash and pumice stone desert for hundreds of years. The researches say that the disasters of today, such as the flooding of New Orleans, are caused because the authorities are not prepared for the most extreme possibilities. They say that a massive eruption of Vesuvius would be an extreme event but is not impossible.