Update: With the recent (April 2010) eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano in Iceland, this list is more interesting than ever. The volcano has erupted for the second time in less than a month, melting ice, shooting smoke and steam into the air, reducing air quality and forcing hundreds of people to flee rising floodwaters. The volcanic ash has forced the cancellation of many flights and disrupted air traffic across northern Europe, stranding thousands of passengers. While this Iceland volcano eruption isn’t as deadly as those below, you can see how disruptive an eruption can be, even if the volcano is in Iceland.
Nothing ensures a date in history like a volcano eruption. In the olden days, people would think they were punishments from the gods, but these days, we know it’s a simple matter of tectonic plates shuffling and releasing the red-hot magma from the earth’s core. Here’s a look at the some deadly volcano eruptions that have shook the world in years gone by.
10. Mount Lamington
Mount Lamington is a 1,680 meter-high volcano located in Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately, until 1951, residents of the surrounding Oro Province thought it was just a wooded mountain top. Late that night, on 18 January, smoke and lava began to ooze from the peak, and then three days later, there was a huge explosion from the north side, causing fatal pumice dust, sulfurous fumes and magma showers. Over the next few months, further eruptions and tremors, as well as a continued flow of pumice and rocks within a ten mile radius continued, causing around 3,000 deaths in total.
This video is of the November 2002 eruption of Papandayan.
Situated on the Indonesian island of Java, Papandayan is a crater-filled semi-active volcano. In 1772, one side of the volcano exploded and avalanched into the surrounding 40 villages, destroying them completely. Over 3,000 villagers were killed. The volcano is still considered very dangerous and much of the surrounding area is restricted – especially considering there have been smoke, tremors and minor eruptions in 1923, 1942, plus several, all increasing in strength, in 2002.
Kelut is also located in Java – on the east side – and has grumbled as recently as 2008, although the 1919 mud flow or “lahar” was the most devastating to date. The red hot “lakes” of magma, which began on that fateful day on May 19, flowed fast into nearby settlements and killed over 5,000 people. Since then, the Ampera Tunnel, a drainage system to take overflow from the Crater Lake, has been built. The nearest miss since then was in October 2007, when 30,000 local residents had to be evacuated after the volcano was set on Red Alert. Kelud finally blew two weeks later, dusting villages up to eight miles away with ash.
Mount Unzen actually consists of several overlapping stratovolcanoes in the Kyushu region of Japan. The 1,500 meter volcano, which is still active, had its most noteworthy destruction in 1792. When several lava domes collapsed, a tsunami was triggered, killing over 15,000 people. One very recent eruption in 1991 killed over 40 people, including three volcanologists, and caused huge destruction to the buildings nearby.
Nevado Del Ruiz, located in Colombia, is also known for its deadly lahars, a type of mudflow or landslide composed of pyroclastic material and water that flows down from a volcano. In 1595, 635 people were killed after the boiling mud poured into the rivers Guali and Lagunillas, and in 1845 a further 1,000 people were killed in a repeat incident. Despite this, the village of Armero was built on top of the dried magma, so it was no surprise that when the third lahar occurred in 1985, a staggering 23,000 people died, which was almost the entire population of the village. The town was completely buried under the 40 mile-an-hour deadly flow, which cost Colombia an estimated $1,000,000,000.
5. Mount Pelee
This volcano in Martinique is now a popular French tourist destination for those wanting to marvel at the views surrounding something that was once so deadly. In 1902, the eruption, which was the largest in the 20th Century, killed over 30,000 people after gradual increased activity. Although small warnings of smoke, tremors, sulphur and ash began in April of that year, the volcano didn’t fully blow until May 8th. Lava fountains, lighting, and toxic clouds travelling at speeds of 600 miles per hour spewed from the volcano, and temperatures of 1075 degrees boiled the city of Saint Pierre below – which continued burning for days. There were only two survivors.
Krakatoa, also known as Krakatow, is another still-dangerous volcanic island, also located in Indonesia in the Sunda Strait. In August 1883, there were a series of extremely violent gigantic explosions with a force 13,000 times larger than the Hiroshima bombing. The catastrophic explosion – which could be heard as far away as Perth in Australia, spewed over 21 cubic kilometers of rock, ash and pumice up to 70 miles high. Officially, over 37,000 people were killed, mainly due to resulting tsunamis, although the actual death toll is thought to be much larger.
Tambora is another addition to Indonesia’s 130 active volcanoes. Standing at a gigantic 4,300 meters, the series of explosions from April-June in 1815 rocked the whole world with after-effects, completely changing the stratosphere and ultimately causing the worst famines in the US and Europe in the 19th Century. Red-hot pumice stones rained down after the grumbling volcano finally blew, and nearby settlements were completely engulfed in lava. All vegetation on the island was destroyed by the noxious ash and poisoned rain-clouds that resulted. In total, over 71,000 people died as a result of burning, starvation or poison.
2. Mount Vesuvius
This volcano gets to number two for its infamy, rather than its actual death toll – which was still impressively high at up to 25,000. When Vesuvius had its almighty eruption in AD79, it completely buried the town of Pompeii below, as well as devastating other nearby villages. The eruption column, which was a 20 mile tall spout of magma and rock, surged intermittently over twenty hours. Since then, the volcano has erupted over a dozen times, most recently in 1944, when several nearby villages were destroyed.
Laki is a legendary Icelandic volcano, which has lain dormant since its huge eruption in 1783. The 1725 meter, canyon-covered volcano caused nationwide damage when it spectacularly exploded, killing over 50% of the livestock population in Iceland at the time due to the clouds of poisonous fluorine and sulphur dioxide. The resulting famine killed 25% of the population. There was around 3.4 cubic meters of basalt lava emitted, with lava fountains of up to 1400 meters. The after-effects were felt all over the world, with Great Britain dubbing that summer “sand-summer” due to carried-over ash. The poisonous clouds spread over Europe, and the aerosols built up caused a cooling effect on the whole Northern Hemisphere, killing over 8,000 people in nearby Britain in the winter. In North America, the winter of 1784 was the longest and one of the coldest on record. There was a record amount of snow in New Jersey, the Mississippi froze at New Orleans, and there was ice in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Katherine Watt