Shortly after three o’clock in the morning the explosive energy of the mighty mass culminated. The whole cone burst open with a tremendous earthquake shock, from the heart of the recently silent mountain came a deafening roar, and red-hot rocks, like the balls from nature’s mighty artillery, were hurled a half mile into the air, while a dense mass of ashes and sand was flung to three or four times this height. All the next day the terrible detonation kept up, and a hail of bullet-like stones poured downward from the skies. Rarely has a more terrible Sunday been seen. It was as if the demons of earth and air were let loose and were seeking to destroy man and his puny works.
This frightful explosion of the 8th of April was the worst of the dreadful display of volcanic forces, but the work kept up with diminishing intensity much of the following week. The ashes and cinders continued to pour down in suffocating showers, covering the ground to a depth of four or five feet in the vicinity of the volcano and to a considerable depth at Naples, ten miles away. The sun disappeared behind the thick cloud that filled the air, and the scene resembled that described by Pliny more than eighteen hundred years before.
Of Bosco Trecase nothing was left but the large stone church and a few houses. Another river of lava reached the outskirts of Torre del Greco, and a third stopped at the cemetery of Torre Annunziata. Those towns escaped, but thousands of acres of fertile cultivated land, with farm houses and stock, were destroyed. The peninsular railway up the mountain was ruined and the large hotel burned. One writer tells the following tale of what he saw on that fatal Saturday and Sunday:
“On the road I met hundreds of families in flight, carrying their few miserable possessions. The spectacle of collapsing carts and fainting women was frequently seen. When one reached the lava stream a stupefying spectacle presented itself. From a point on the mountain between the towns I saw four rivers of molten fire, one of which, 200 feet wide and over 40 deep, was moving slowly and majestically onward, devouring vineyards and olive groves. I witnessed the destruction of a farm house enveloped on three sides by lava. Immediately overhead the great crater was belching incandescent rock and scoria for an incredible distance. The whole scene was wreathed with flames, and a perpetual roar was heard. Ever and anon the cone of the volcano was encircled with vivid electric phenomena, amid which a downpour of liquid fire on all sides of the crater was revealed in magnificent awfulness. In the evening there was a frightful shock of earthquake, which was repeated at two o’clock on Sunday morning. Simultaneously the lava streams redoubled their onrush, and men, women and children fled precipitately toward the sea. The lava had invaded the road behind them.”