It was just around noon on 24 August 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted with a massive 10 mile mushroom cloud sent into the stratosphere. Ash and pumice would rain down on the area for over twelve hours. People who did not flee would face something much worse when a pyroclastic flow would sweep down killing everyone in its path. The choking cloud suffocated everyone even rescuers.
The Bay of Naples where Mt. Vesuvius is located was known for trade and luxury. The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were near the mountain and had a fairly high standard of living. There was even a small resort town named Stabiae. The mountain was not seen as a problem as no major eruption had occurred in Roman history. Tremors had already been felt before that terrible day as excavations indicate they were repairing streets and underground plumbing. However they had no idea the tremors were connected with the nearby mountain.
Pliny The Younger, staying west across the Bay of Naples, recorded what he saw in two letters he sent to Tacitus. Sadly his uncle, Pliny the Elder, would perish when he went over in his boats to Stabiae. Pliny wrote the eruption lasted eighteen hours with Pompeii buried under 14-17 feet of ash and pumice. Herculaneum was buried under 60 feet of mud and volcanic material. Except for some who returned to reclaim what they had lost, the entire area was left buried and abandoned.
Significant excavations beginning in 1927 on have revealed much of what life must have been like before the destruction. More somber were the finding of some 2,000 bodies. Volcanic ash hardened and preserved the outlines of their bodies. Once the flesh had gone, the outline remained but filled in with plaster revealed those final moments of their lives. And it was not pleasant at all.
Vesuvius is still an active volcano. Its last major eruption was in March 1944 and destroyed several small villages with lava. The eruption was seen from Naples and damaged (thanks to hot ash and other things)or destroyed up to 88 B-25 medium bombers based in Terzigno, Italy. The volcano is kept under constant watch to prevent anything on the scale of the eruption of 79 AD to the people who live under its shadow.