Catastrophe – Joyce Janes

I live in the most beautiful place in the world.

My parent’s villa stands on a low plateau overlooking the sea.  The sky is  bright and blue, the sea sparkles and glints from morning to night.

I am Cornelius and I am 9 years old.

My father, Tiberius, is commander of the fleet and stationed nearby so returns home to see us most days.  He is a very important man.

He is here now trying to relax but I can hear my mothers voice and I can tell she is worried.

No matter how much Tiberius tries to reassure her she constantly frets about the earthquakes.

For the past 2 months tremors have shaken our area as the earth shifts and heaves beneath our feet.  The villa is under constant repair because as fast as cracks are filled new ones appear.

Tiberius doesn’t worry but mother hears gossip in the town, her friend’s talk.

‘It is the giants,’ she tells him, ‘they have been seen roaming the land.  They are rebelling against the gods.’

We Romans believe in the gods and tales of old.  They tell us that long ago peace was brought to the universe when the gods defeated the giants and buried them beneath the great mountains.  It is the stirring of these giants that causes our land to grumble and groan.

My father laughs and tells her they are just stories and that our land always moves.

‘Look at the old buildings in town those cracks, they were left from the great earthquake of 63AD.  Those buildings are still standing don’t worry.’

Mother listens but I can tell she doesn’t believe him.  She doesn’t want me to stray far and I haven’t been allowed to go out to see my friends for weeks.

We are a rich family and have more wealth than anyone we know.   In our villa floors and walls are decorated with mosaics and precious gold and glass treasures fill our rooms.

Two huge vases of a blue, purple and yellow-banded stone take pride of place.  They are carved from a piece of mineral that, it is said, was brought from Britain.  When Tiberius saw the rock he was amazed by it’s natural beauty and commissioned skilled craftsmen to fashion it into two priceless vases.   When the sun shines through them the bands of colour sing out and light their smooth polished surface.  My parents always like to surround themselves with the very best of everything.

I am on the terrace and can see for miles, clear blue sky reflects in the sparkling, green sea of the bay.

The ground moves with a terrific shudder.  My parents run out to join me.  We hear the great mountain, Vesuvius, rumble then explode.

We watch as the top seems to lift and dense grey smoke rises into the sky like a thick column.  Higher and higher it is like the trunk of a massive tree.

We watch as it splits at the top spreading dark branches then changes to form a huge threatening cloud.

Fiery tongues leap up and father tries to convince us it is just bonfires.

Neither of us believes that.  It must be the end of the world.

The cloud is coming toward us, greedy it gobbles the sun and day turns into night.  Grey dust begins to fall on us so we move inside.

Tiberius wants to go into town and says he will take me but mother wont allow it I must stay safe with her.

He tells her not to worry he will be back soon but I can see she isn’t reassured by his words.

Our terrace is disappearing under ash, stone and soil so we move to the centre of the villa as debris spills into our home through doors and windows.

Everything is grey, there is no light anywhere, the sun and sky replaced by a thick blanket of ash.

Mother decides we must leave the villa before we are buried alive.  We have to abandon our precious belongings, our gold, glass and worst of all our priceless vases.

We strap pillows to our heads for protection against the falling rocks and pull cloth over our mouth and nose.  It is difficult to breathe because of the dust and the strange choking smell of sulphur.

Holding on to each other we leave the villa scrambling over rock and ash to escape.  It is impossible to see where we are going and we clutch each other.

I am scared now.  I am hot and despite the cloth my mouth is full of ash.

‘Mother,’ I shout I can hear a rushing crackling noise.  A red glow is coming toward us.  Mother screams.  I am frightened.  I can’t breathe.  The heat.  I am burning. I……


On 24th August 79AD Mount Vesuvius erupted.

No one in the little town of Pompeii realised what was happening, they didn’t even know Vesuvius was a volcano, it had not erupted for 1,800 years.

Blankets of volcanic gases and ash, which fell up to 10 metres deep, suffocated the inhabitants.

Around midnight the first pyroclastic surges occurred.

A pyroclastic surge is a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, rock and volcanic gases.  The flow glows red in the dark and can rush down the side of a volcano at speeds of 100 mph.

The destruction of Pompeii was complete.

After the eruption Roman explorers tunnelled through room after room looting any treasures they could.

Blue John, a rare mineral, was discovered 2000 years ago in caves on a hill in the village of Castleton in the Peak District.  This form of fluorspar is highly prized for use in decorative objects and jewelry.

Many vases were discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, reputedly, two of those excavated were made of the beautiful Blue John.

Joyce Janes writer for children


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