The lava carried vast masses of burnt stone and sulphur on its surface, like dross on melted lead, and nothing was visible toward Bosco Trecase but endless acres of dark scoriae, broken here and there by the greenish, curling smoke of sulphur. At one point a great cone pine tree, torn up by its roots and turned to black charcoal, stuck out of the mass at a sharp angle. The air was almost unbearable, the heat intense, and few could long bear the dangers and discomfort of the situation.
The greatest depth of ashes encountered was in the vicinity of Ottajano. Here large areas were buried to a depth of several feet. Soldiers had been sent there with military carts, carrying provisions and surgical appliances, with orders to lend their aid in the work of relief. They found it almost impossible to make their way through the deep fine dust, and the tales of horror and heroism they had to tell resembled those that must of old have been borne to Rome by the fleeing inhabitants of Pompeii.
Efforts were made to remove the children and old persons in the carts, but when these had gone a few hundred feet it was found that, although there were four horses harnessed to each vehicle, they could not pull their loads through the ashes. This caused a panic among the children, who expected to be buried in the incessant fall from the volcano, and they fled in all directions in the darkness and blinding rain. Searching parties went after them, but in spite of continuous shouting and calling no trace was found of the little ones, and numbers of the children were undoubtedly smothered by the ashes and sand.
Many of the inhabitants had been buried in the ruins of their houses, and the scenes when the victims were unearthed were often piteous and terrible. The positions of the bodies showed that the victims had died while in a state of great terror, the faces being convulsed with fear. Three bodies were found in a confessional of one of the fallen churches. One body was that of an old woman who was sitting with her right arm raised as though to ward off the advancing danger. The second was that of a child about eight years old. It was found dead in a position, which would indicate that the child had fallen with a little dog close to it and had died with one arm raised across its face, to protect itself and pet from the crumbling ruins. The third body, that of a woman, was reduced to an unrecognizable mass. These three victims were reverently laid side by side while a procession of friends and relatives offered up prayers beside them.