All this locality was now a field of terror and death. Down on the vineyards and villages poured the smothering ashes in an ever increasing rain; toward them slowly and threateningly crawled the fiery serpents of the lava streams; and from their homes fled thousands of the terror-stricken people, frantic with horror and dismay. A number of populous villages were threatened by the lurid lava streams, the most endangered being Bosco Trecase, with its 10,000 inhabitants. Toward this devoted town poured steadily the irresistible flood of molten rock. The soldiers who had been hurried to the front sought to divert its flow by digging a wide ditch across its course and throwing up a high bank of earth, but they worked in vain. The demon of destruction was not to be robbed of its prey. The liquid stream advanced like a colossal serpent of fire, turning its head like a crawling snake to the right and left, but keeping steadily on toward the fated town. The ditch was filled; the bank gave way; the first house was reached and burst into flames; the creeping stream of fire pushed on to the next houses in its way; only then did the despairing people desert their homes and flee for their lives, carrying with them the little they could snatch of their treasured possessions.
F. Marion Crawford, the novelist, who was present at this scene, thus describes the flight of the terrified people:
“I saw men, women and children and infants, whose mothers carried them at the breast or in their aprons, fleeing in an endless procession. Dogs, too, and cats were on the carts, and sometimes even chickens, tied together by the legs, and piles of mattresses and pillows and shapeless bundles of clothes. All were white with dust. Under the lurid glare I saw one old woman lying on her back across a cart, ghastly white and, if not dead already of fear and heat and suffocation, certainly almost gone. We ourselves could hardly breathe.”
It was on Saturday, the 7th, that Bosco Trecase became the prey of the river of molten rock. During that night and the following day the crisis of the eruption came. The observatory on the mountain side was occupied by Professor Matteucci, his assistant, Professor Perret, of New York, and two domestics, all others having been sent away. Their description of the scene in which they found themselves is vividly picturesque. At midnight the situation in the observatory was terrible. The forces of the earthquake were let loose and the ground rocked so that it was almost impossible to stand. The roaring of the main crater was deafening, while the volcano poured forth its contents like a fountain, and the electric display was terrifying, constant claps of thunder following the lurid flashes of lightning, which gave the sky a blood-red hue.