Top 10 Deadliest VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS In History
Mother Nature has proven time and time again that she’s a force to be respected. Beneath the Earth’s crust, molten rock threatens to burst through thin layers of the planet and flow across the surface, leveling everything in its path. While some volcanic activity leaves a wake of minimal damage, others impact a region so bad that they earned a spot on this Top 10 Deadliest Volcanic Eruptions.
Mount Tambora, Indonesia
Rounding out this list of devastation is, of course, another Indonesian volcano, Mount Tambora. The April 10th, 1815 eruption of this Sumbawa volcano is believed to be the largest in the past 10,000 years. Its destructive force was so great and extensive, extending beyond the immediate physical dangers, that the number of deaths associated with Mount Tambora’s blast is believed to range around 100,000 people. Ten thousand of those deaths were believed to be caused directly by the lava flows while the remainder were related to the famine, diseases, change in atmospheric conditions, and other indirect causes from the notable eruption. Other estimates claimed that over 60,000 fell victim to pyroclastic flows and tsunamis as entire villages were leveled and removed from existence. The summer of 1816 in Europe was dubbed the “year without a summer” due to the indirect causes of Mount Tambora’s gas emission into the stratosphere.
Over 2,800 miles or roughly 4,500 kilometers across the Indian Ocean, on Rodriguez Island, the eruption in Indonesia was audible. 521-miles or about 840-kilometers away, Singapore experienced ash fall. Waves reaching as high as 130-feet or about 40-meters crashed throughout the ocean. All of this – and much more – has been attributed to the jaw-dropping 1883 eruption of the island volcano, Krakatau, which measured a six on the Volcanic Explosivity Index – a scale that tops out at seven and measures the explosiveness of eruptions. Of all the notable numbers and effects of the explosive event, the more than 36,000 people that were killed is easily the most difficult to forget. Many of the deaths were linked to the massive sea waves, which also decimated around 165 coastal villages.
Mount Pelee, Martinique
Very early in the 20th century, St. Pierre, or the “Paris of the Caribbean,” saw activity from its resident volcano that completely changed the course of the small French Caribbean town. Though a beautiful and culturally important city of Martinique, St. Pierre was completely wiped off the map when Mount Pelee erupted in 1902. It all started with the volcanic eruption and a thick black cloud of heated gas and rock that barreled towards the town using a natural guide that aimed right for the town. The streets were soon chaotic with fire, explosions, and the bodies of its residents as the cloud descended over St. Pierre, destroying everything in its path. In total, the eruption killed approximately 28,000 people and completely leveled the entire city.
Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia
In November of 1985, Nevado del Ruiz volcano in central Colombia, just northwest of Bogota, experienced an eruption that devastated the nearby town of Armero. Almost completely decimated by mudflows, the town suffered around 25,000 deaths, all of which some claim could have been avoided. The considerably small eruption produced deadly lahar that volcanologists had previously predicted and warned the local government about. A series of seismic activity reported throughout 1985 led geologists to grow leery of the nearby volcano. Unheeded warnings, however, led to one of South American’s worst tragedies.
Mount Unzen, Japan
In 1792, Japan’s western region of Kyushu experienced the country’s most destructive and deadliest volcanic eruption to date. Like others in the past, the eruption was a catalyst to a series of other incredibly dangerous events like landslides and tsunamis. In the case of Mount Unzen’s eruption, an initial eruption caused landslides at Mayuyama peak lava dome which swept towards the city of Shimabara below. Shortly after, the region was also hit with a tsunami from the Ariake Sea - and it was this combination of natural forces that resulted in approximately 15,000 deaths.
Officially, the 1783 eruption of Laki in Iceland killed approximately 10,000 people. Linked to the 122 million tons of sulfur dioxide spewed forth from Laki, the deaths were reportedly caused by the environmental changes brought on by the eruption. Acid rain destroyed crops and fluorine gas poisoned livestock, creating unlivable conditions. The aftereffects didn’t just linger around Iceland, either, as the volcano’s atmospheric remnants made their way to Europe. It’s believed – though not verified – that the French and English saw an increase in deaths during the summer, possibly due to Laki. According to estimates, the British government claimed over 23,000 more deaths in 1783 than expected. For France, estimates claimed that 5% of the population succumbed to a variety of issues likely associated with the pollution from Laki.
Many years prior to the 1919 eruption that left over 5,000 dead, the stratovolcano of Kelud experienced a far more destructive event that affected many on the island of Java. Much like the early 20th-century activity, Kelud’s eruption proved devastating from the lahar flows that stemmed from the event. In the wake of the mudflows, an estimated 10,000 people were killed during what is still Kelud’s deadliest eruption. Little is known about the actual eruption, except that its force was high enough to result in the deaths of such a staggering number of people.
When it comes to volcanic eruptions, Indonesia leads the pack in multiple occurrences, so expect to see the region pop up a bit on this list. Case in point, the volcanic formation of Kelud, which is one of the country’s more active craters. During the 1919 eruption, just one of a long history of events, Kelud was responsible for the deaths of around 5,160 people. The eruption itself was a powerful and dangerous force, but it was the draining of the crater’s lava lake and the creation of lahars that devastated the surrounding villages and their inhabitants. After the lake proved more damaging than the force of the eruption itself, a project was undertaken to drain the crater. By 1951, more than 164 feet or roughly 50-meters of the lake was drained, but the effort was futile as a 1951 eruption added another 229 feet or about 70-meters to the crater’s depth.
Mount Galunggung, Indonesia
This stratovolcano near Java’s western coast saw its first known and deadliest eruption in 1822. The eruption of Mount Galunggung spewed ash and nuée ardentes, which proved to be catastrophic to the nearby villages. An estimated 4,011 succumbed to the pyroclastic flows, gas clouds, and mudflows that stemmed from the powerful subterranean pressure build-up. Around 114 villages were leveled by the volcano’s force and the noxious cloud traveled up to six miles or roughly 10 kilometers away from the eruption site, causing hazardous conditions to nearby populaces.
Mount Vesuvius, Italy
From December 16th to December 17th, 1631, Mount Vesuvius threatened everyone in the Gulf of Naples region in Campania when it erupted. Though the eruption of 79 AD was considered far greater in magnitude, the region’s denser population in 1631 likely led to a greater number of fatalities. Between ash clouds, falling rock, lava flow, and mudflows, the eruption was extremely dangerous. The number of fatalities varies dependent on the source, but the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius is believed to have killed anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 people, making it the worst volcanic disaster in the Mediterranean at the time.