One of the many plaster casts of the victims of the eruption of 79 AD.
The text presented here was written by Plinius the younger as a letter intended for publication and I have picked out the passages that describe what the inhabitants of the area went through. The letter was formally addressed to Tacitus.
"He [Pliny the elder] was now so close to the mountain that the cinders, which grew thicker and hotter the nearer he approached, fell into the ships, together with pumice- stones, and black pieces of burning rock: they were in danger too not only of being aground by the sudden retreat of the sea, but also from the vast fragments which rolled down from the mountain, and obstructed all the shore. Here he stopped to consider whether he should turn back again; to which the pilot advising him, "Fortune," said he, "favours the brave; steer to where Pomponianus [A friend that Pliny the elder was trying to save] is." [...] They went out then, having pillows tied upon their heads with napkins; and this was their whole defence against the storm of stones that fell round them. It was now day everywhere else, but there a deeper darkness prevai1ed than in the thickest night; which howevcr was in some degree alleviated by torches and other lights of various kinds.[...] There my uncle [Pliny the elder], laying himself down upon a sail cloth, which was spread for him, called twice for some cold water, which he drank, when immediately the flames, preceded by a strong whiff of sulphur, dispersed the rest of the party, and obliged him to rise. He raised himself up with the assistance of two of his servants, and instantly fell down dead; suffocated, as I conjecture, by some gross and noxious vapour"
Pliny the Younger- Letters VI 16
Translated by W. Melmoth