Superheated gases and rock fragments can reach speeds of up to 400mph by travelling on cushion of air, say scientists

Crouched figures, a child with its mother, a dog writhing on its back – the harrowing plaster casts of the dead of Pompeii reveal that when the end came in AD79, it was as swift as it was final.

Caught in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, many died when buildings collapsed under heavy ash and pumice. But for those still alive, another catastrophe was about to hit as deadly currents of superheated gases, ash and rock fragments raced through the streets.

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