The great loss of life was due to the vast fall of ashes, which crushed in hundreds of roofs and buried the occupants within the ruins of their homes. In all the neighboring towns buildings were destroyed in great numbers, an early estimate being that fully 5,000 houses had been partly crushed or utterly destroyed. On the Ottajano side of the mountain, where the ashes fell in greatest profusion, all the houses of the villages were damaged, and Ottajano itself was left a wreck, several hundred dead bodies being taken from its ruins. In Naples the ash fall was so incessant that those who could afford it wore automobile coats, caps and goggles, while the people generally sought to save their eyes and faces by the aid of paper masks and umbrellas. The drivers of trolley cars were obliged to wear masks of some transparent material under the vizors of their caps.
There were two special disasters attended by serious loss of life. On the 9th, while a congregation of two hundred or more were attending mass in the church at San Giuseppe, the roof crushed in from the weight of ashes upon it and fell upon the worshippers below, few or none of whom escaped unhurt. Fifty-four dead bodies were taken from the ruins and a large number were severely injured. The Mayor of the town was dismissed from his office for leaving his post of duty in the face of danger.
The second disaster, one of the same character, took place at Naples. This was on Tuesday, April 10th. Just previous to it the people had been marching in religious processions through the streets, to render thanks for the apparent cessation of the activity of Vesuvius. Motley but picturesque processions were these, headed by boys carrying candles, which burned simply in the full sunshine and bearing aloft images of the Madonna or saints, clad in gorgeous robes of cheap blue or yellow satin. Their joy was suddenly changed to grief by tidings of a frightful disaster. The roof of the Monte Oliveto market, fronting on the Toledo, the main thoroughfare, had suddenly crushed in, burying more than 200 people beneath its heavy fall.
The market had been crowded with buyers and their children, and it was the busiest hours of the day in the great roofed courtyard, covering a space 600 feet square, when, with scarcely a tremor of warning, there came a frightful crash and a dense cloud of dust covered the scene, from out of which came heartrending screams of agony. The volcanic ash which, unnoticed, had gathered thickly on the roof, had broken it in by its weight.