Scenes In Frightened Naples
( Originally Published 1906 )
Blistering Showers of Hot Ashes—The People Frantic—Cry Every-where "When Will It End?" — Atmosphere Charged with Electricity and Poisonous Fumes.
FROM the first outburst and glare of the eruption all Naples became aroused and trembled with anticipations of horror, and when the hot ashes from the crater of Vesuvius began to fall in blistering showers upon it the entire populace was seized with a fear, which for days was constant, that at any moment they might be crushed into eternity by the awful outpourings from the cauldron of the mountain which was in truth as veritable an inferno as that pictured by Dante. The streets for days, even up to the subsidence of the eruption, were packed with surging crowds, all of whom were fatigued from fear and loss of rest, yet there was hardly one in all the thousands who had not strength enough to pray to the Almighty for deliverance.
At times the fall of sand and ashes. appeared to be diminishing, but in the next instant it came again, apparently in greater force than before. The city became frantic from fear and every-where was heard: "When will it all end?"
The people deserted their shops, the manufactories were nearly all shut down, while the theaters, cafes and places of amusements throughout the city were all closed. The crowds were in a temper for any excess and it would only require a spark to start a conflagration that would have almost equalled that of Vesuvius itself.
When the coating of ashes and cinders covered the ground and roofs of buildings the people believed that their loved and beautiful Naples was doomed, and would be known thereafter only to archaeologists like other cities which Vesuvius in its wrath had overwhelmed.
All railroad service out of the city was interrupted, the engineers refusing to take out their trains because of the darkness caused by the heavy fall of ashes.
Troops were kept constantly clearing the roofs of buildings of the accumulation of sand and ashes which endangered the structures. The large glass-covered galleries throughout the city, were ordered closed lest the weight upon the roofs should cause them to collapse.
Warships and soldiers which had been ordered to the city did effective service in succoring the most distressed and in the removal of refugees. Their presence was also potent in keeping up public confidence and maintaining order. No danger was too great for the troops to encounter and no fatigue too severe for them. They earned the gratitude and admiration of the people by their devotion to duty and bravery. Not only were they credited with many acts of heroism but they displayed untiring per-severance in searching for the living and the dead among tottering walls, assisting fugitives to reach places of safety, giving aid to the wounded and in burying the dead, and all this while partly suffocated by the ash and cinder laden wind blowing from the volcano.
The employes of a tobacco factory at Naples, thinking the roof was about to fall in fled in panic from the building and communicated their fears to so many people outside that the police were compelled to interfere and restore order. Many persons were injured during the panic.
The prisoners in the city jail mutinied owing to fright and succeeded in breaking open some of the doors inside the building, but were finally subdued by the guards.
King Victor Emmanuel and his Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Aosta and others of the royal household were active in rendering aid. The king placed the royal palace of Cappodimonti, situated above this city, at the disposal of the wounded refugees. Firemen and ambulance corps were sent from Rome to aid the sufferers.
The work of succor was hampered owing to delays to the rail-way service, which was interrupted by red-hot stones thrown to a height of 3,000 feet falling on the tracks.
Not for a century had Naples been so threatened nor its people thrown into such a state of panic. Men, women and children tramped about the streets, raving that their deity had forgotten them and that the end of the world was in sight.
Thousands of people flocked from the towns and farms on the slopes of the mountain and the problem of feeding and caring for the horde had grown serious. These people were left home-less by the streams of lava, which lapped up all their property in some cases within a half hour after the owners had fled.
Earthquake shocks which shattered windows and cracked the walls of buildings added to the terror and when a shock occurred the entire population rushed to the streets in terror, many persons crying, "The Madonna has forsaken us; the end of the world has come."
Vessels lying in the harbor rapidly put to sea with hundreds of the wealthy families, who chartered them outright, while many other ships left because of fear of tidal waves similar to those accompanying the terrific eruption of a century ago, which wrecked scores of vessels and drowned thousands of people here.
The atmosphere of the city became heavily charged with electricity, while breathing at times became almost impossible be-cause of the poisonous fumes and smoke. The detonations from the volcano resembled those of terrible explosions and the falling of the hot ashes made life indeed a burden for the Neapolitans.
The churches of the city were open during the days and nights and were crowded with panic-stricken people. Members of the clergy did their utmost to calm their fears, but the effects of their arguments went almost for naught when renewed earth-quake shocks were experienced.
While Mount Vesuvius continued active volumes of cinders and ashes emitted from the volcano fell upon the buildings and streets driving the inhabitants of the city into a condition bordering on frenzy. All night people roamed the streets praying and crying that they might be spared.
The collapse of the Mount Oliveto market, in which 200 or more persons were caught, many being crushed beyond recognition and the continuous rain of sand and ashes throughout the city sent terror to the heart of every Neapolitan.
This market covered a plat of ground 600 feet square. The scenes in the vicinity of the ruins were agonizing, relatives of the victims clamoring to be allowed to go to their dead or dying.
The people seemed demented. They surrounded the market, in many cases tearing their hair, cursing and screaming, "Oh, my husband is there !" or, "Bring out my child !" and endeavoring with their own hands to move heavy beams, from-beneath which the groans of the injured were issuing.
The cries for help were so heartrending that even rescuers were heard to sob aloud as they worked with feverish eagerness to save life or extract the bodies of the dead from the ruins.
Some of the people about the market were heard to exclaim that a curse rested upon the people of Naples for repudiating their saints Monday, when Mount Vesuvius was in its most violent mood.
Even with the sun shining high in the heavens the light was a dim yellow, in the midst of which the few people who remained in the stricken towns, their clothing, hair and beards covered with ashes, moved about in the awful stillness of desolation like gray ghosts.
Railway and tramway travel to and from Naples was much hampered by cinders and ash deposits, and telegraphic communtion with the towns farthest in the danger zone was also for a time interrupted.
The scenic effects varied from hour to hour during the eruptions. At times in the north the sky was chocolate colored, lowering and heavy, under which men and women with their hair and clothing covered with ashes moved above like gray ghosts. Fort San Martino, as it towered above the town, could only just be seen, while Castel Dell'ovo was boldly marked in light, seeming like silver against the brown sky.
To the south beyond the smoke zone lay smiling, sunny Posilipo and its peninsula, while far away glistened the sea a deep blue, on which the islands seemed to float in the glow of the setting sun. Adding to the, strange picture, one of the French men of war, which arrived in the bay of Naples was so placed as to be half in the glow and half obscured by the belt of falling ashes.
From the observatory of Mount Vesuvius, where Director Matteucci continued his work in behalf of science and humanity, the scene was one of great impressiveness. To reach the observatory one had to walk for miles over hardened but hot lava covered with sand until he came to a point whence nothing could be seen but vast, gray reaches, sometimes flat and sometimes gathered into huge mounds which took on semblance of human faces.
Above, the heavens were gray like the earth beneath and seemed just as hard and immovable. In all this lonely waste there was no sign of life or vegetation and no sound was heard except the low mutterings of the volcano. One seemed almost impelled to scream aloud to break the horrible stillness of a land seemingly forgotten both by God and man.
In many of the towns some of the inhabitants went about hungry and with throats parched with smoke and dust, seemingly unable to tear themselves away from the ruins of what so recently were their homes.
The Italian minister of finance suspended the collection of taxes in the disturbed provinces and military authorities distributed rations and placed huts and tents at the disposition of the homeless.
The property loss from the volcanic outbreak has been placed at more than $25,000,000, while some have estimated that the number of persons rendered homeless amounted to nearly 150,000. Probably less than one-half of that number would come near the exact figures.
As an evidence of the wide-spread and far-reaching influences set in motion by the eruptions of Vesuvius it should be noted that Father Odenbach of St. Ignatius' college in Cleveland, O., the noted authority on seismic disturbances, reported that his microseismograph, the most delicate instrument known for detecting the presence of earthquakes in any part of the globe, ha' plainly recorded the disturbances caused by the eruption of Vesuvius. The lines made by the recorder, he said, had shown a wavy motion for several days, indicating a severe agitation in the earth's surface at a remote point.