Explosive volcanic eruptions typically show a huge column of ash and debris ejected into the stratosphere, crackling with lightning. Yet equally hazardous are the fast moving avalanches of hot gas and rock that can rush down the volcano's flanks at speeds approaching 280 kilometers per hour. Called pyroclastic flows, these surges can reach temperatures of 400°C. Fast currents and hot temperatures can quickly overwhelm communities living in the shadow of volcanoes, such as what happened to Pompeii and Herculaneum after the 79 C.E. eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius or to Saint-Pierre after Martinique's Mount Pelée erupted in 1902.
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