Top 10 Deadly Volcano Eruptions

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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-volcano

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.

9. Papandayan

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.

8. Kelut

kelut-volcano

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.

7. Unzen

unzen-volcano

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.

6. Ruiz

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

mount-pelee-volcano

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.

4. Krakatoa

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.

3. Tambora

mount-tambora-volcano

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.

1. Laki

laki-volcano

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

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40 Comments

  1. i love learning the interesting facts in volcanoes its very interesting i love everything about them and i always will unless I'm actually in one. well thanks add more please

    <3 <3

  2. good list! are these modern eruptions because the theran eruption [before AD lol] completely blew the island away andreached places as far as USA and Ireland. The tsunamis hit Crete and is thought to be the rease that Knosos Palace was abandoned! All the ppl on Akotiri [the city or town on thera at the time] was abandoned abrubtly. lol haha sorry, just thought id say

  3. i used all this information for my homework assingment, and got an amazing grade, thanks to all of this! thank you, who ever posted it. I am very gratefull!!!

  4. You forgot Mount Pinatubo. Though it did not kill that much, it very much affected the climate of the whole world. And Mount Pinatubo was the most intense eruption of the 20th century, second only to the grat Tambora Eruption.

    But it is still a great list, though 🙂

  5. you should have included mount pinatubo eruption in the Philippines…it was reported that you can see the ashes from outerspace. The volume of ash covered the entire region where it occured making the place so dark. BTW, it occured at 12 am!

  6. Richard Welch on

    Though hard data is not available, the eruption of the Atlantis supervolcano off Portugal in the 17th century BC. probably belongs on the list. The death toll must have been in the scores of thousands as the entire island was obliterated and massive tsunamis hit the Atlantic litoral (See Roots of Cataclysm, Algora Publ.NY 2009).

  7. Good article, but I believe there is a typo in the Laki section.
    It says “3.4 cubic meters” which should be 3.4 cubic miles (or 14 cubic kilometres).

    Further examples of the effects it had abroad is a famine in 1784 Egypt that reportedly killed one sixth of their nation; is suspected of having contributed to a famine in Japan as well as weakened monsoon circulations in Africa and India.

    Also a possibly curious side effect to the eruption was a famine it caused in France, which might have been one of the factors that lead to the French Revolution.

  8. Great list. I love volcanoes, but I'm curious why the Mt. Toba eruption was omitted. That particular eruption very nearly wiped out the human race 69,000 and 77,000 years ago. It was probably the closest we've ever come to complete natural annihilation. Of course, all your examples were in written history so if you were using that as a criteria then, well, good on ya' mate.

  9. Mt. Fuji in Japan is an active volcano! but its been dormant since 1709 There is actually over 100 active volcanoes all over Japan, that is why Japan has over 500 miniature earthquakes or tremors every year. I know New Guinea has them as they are quite close to me So yeah they can happen anywhere I reckon. We get quakes at times here also

  10. Wrong.

    Lake Toba in Sumatera caused a global cataclysmal event.

    Mount Merapi has destroyed larger cities than Pompeii and Herclunaeum- numerous large towns in Central Java and the major city of Trowluan (which is bigger than Angkor Wat) in pyroclastic events.

    Krakatau is actually bigger than Laki- it is still very active- though fairly mild. The child of Krakatau- named Anak Krakatau is a major worry- it is already bigger than the original Krakatao and is near two major cities- Bandung (4million inhabitants) and Jakarta (20 million inhabitants)- which our vulcanologists are seriously considering using military explosives to create a pressure relief so the caldera does not create an explosive Mt St Helens pyroclastic event.

    Also- you forgot Mt St Helens.

    AND worst- you forget the world’s largest caldera- Yellowstone and Yosemite National Park- which makes Lake Toba look like a midget.

  11. This list is called Top 10 *Deadliest* Volcano *Eruptions*, and doesn't cover pre-historical events.

    The Lake Toba supereruption occurred between 69,000 to 77,000 years ago, well before written historical records.

    Death toll numbers surrounding both Mount Merapi and Vesuvius seem to be largely unknown.

    The 1783 Laki eruption and its aftermath (its tephra clouds caused famines as far as Egypt and possibly Japan) is estimated to have killed over 6 million people; 1883 Krakatoa final death toll (accounting for pyroclastic flows, volcanic bombs and tsunamis) is estimated between 36,417 up to 120,000. Any possible future eruptions, however destructive and Top 10 list beating as they might become, obviously haven't occurred yet. About 3 million people live around Mt. Vesuvius today, it could mean future huge death tolls, but it hasn't occurred yet either.

    Mt. St Helens' 1980 eruption killed 57 people.

    The Yellowstone supervolcano hasn't erupted yet in written human history.

  12. Mount Pinatubo should be in top ten, until now whenever it rains, Lahar from its eruption is still flowing… during the eruption, Its ashes completely covered our atmosphere and it was so dark like it was midnight at NOON! 10ft Ashes buried more half of our province and other neighboring provinces. until now, lakes like Macolcol and Bucao are full of LAHAR and and still filling up. They are so full that the water that should flow in those rivers overflowed in town causing Flash Floods. Just last year, an entire village (Carael) was wiped out.

  13. Mount Vesuvius is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes. The eruption of 79 AD destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The subsequent eruptions have been less severe. It poses many threats to the large population in its vicinity. This makes it a volcano to watch out for.

  14. i remember those earthquakes, that actually happened when i tripped on a rock up in heaven. haha. well see ya soon!

  15. yellowstone is the worlds most dangerous volcano because in the first eruption of january 23 2010
    the old faithful geyser started to smoke and then it exploded!!! lava went out of yellowstone then… A HUGE ASH CLOUD WENT AND DESTROYED LOTS OF BUILDING AND KILLED LOTS OF PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it covered the whole city and yellowstone park but its lucky we rebuild yellowstone park and the city

  16. The deadliest active volcano is not Yellowstone! The deadliest active volcano is Lake Toba! What cumbre vieja! It will cause 130 foot waves if it erupts! The most powerful volcano that ever erupted was the siberian traps and the Lagarita Caldera. The volcano from Yemen and Santa Maria was also very powerful. But god help us if Lake Toba blows again! It is more powerful then yellowstone!!!

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