Vesuvius 'a big safety problem'
Rome - If and when Mount Vesuvius wakes up from its long slumber it will threaten more than a million people, Italy's public safety chief said on Tuesday.
"Vesuvius is the biggest public safety problem there is in Italy, because entire towns lie in the area of the volcano and would be invaded by an eruption," Guido Bertolaso told a news conference.
"For the time being the volcano is quiet, but we know very well that the day Vesuvius wakes up the situation will be absolutely dramatic," he added.
The 18 towns around the volcano, which last erupted in 1944, are "officially" home to half a million people but the actual number is closer to 650 000, Bertolaso said.
Some analyses of the volcano's eruptive pattern suggest that the next explosion could be a major event such as that of 1631, in which 4 000 people died, he said.
The "eruptive column" of smoke, lava and ash could be as much as 20km high and blanket a 25km radius, he said.
This is a worst-case scenario, Bertolaso said, while adding that authorities were reviewing the disaster response plan "to see whether there is a need to widen the 'red zone' and elaborate evacuation plans for at least one million people, including many from Naples" itself.
A repeat of the eruption that destroyed Pompeii in 79 AD would threaten between two and five million people, but the likelihood of such an event is only around 1%.
The 1944 eruption was far more benign, producing lava flows but without spewing hot ash and gases. Nevertheless, 26 people died and 12 000 lost their homes.
Bertolaso spoke two weeks after Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano erupted, spreading an ash cloud across much of northern and western Europe and triggering the biggest disruption to aviation since World War II.