Volcanoes aren’t as dangerous as they seem compared to other natural disasters. In fact, they are rather fascinating. Just think about a giant champagne bottle about to be popped. They can indeed cause massive damage but these bombs have a gigantic clock attached. Unlike landslides which can hardly be predicted, science has evolved systems and instruments to monitor and predict eruptions.
However, science has not yet developed to prevent volcanoes from erupting or becoming active. There are over 1500 active volcanoes worldwide, and only about 500 of them have erupted. Some have even exploded several times in modern history.
In this article, we discuss the most destructive volcano eruptions ever. We have also provided the Volcanic Explosivity Index number for each of them. This is the standard used to measure the intensity of volcanoes, just like the Richter scale is used for earthquakes. The number goes from 1-8, 8 being the highest.
Now, let’s talk about these natural bombs.
The Most Destructive Volcano Eruptions Ever: Krakatoa Volcano (VEI 6)
The Krakatoa Volcano (also called Krakatau)is the second deadliest volcano known in modern history. It was located on an island in the Sunda Strait in Indonesia. Although it had erupted several times, its most disastrous explosion happened between the 26th and 27th of August 1883.
The explosion spewed out over 25 cubic kilometers (6 cubic miles) of ash, rocks, and pumice. It destroyed two-thirds of the village, including 165 nearby towns. The official death toll for this explosion was 36,417. Several thousand people were injured, and several others died following tsunamis. The volcano created airwaves that traveled around the globe seven times.
Another volcano, known as the Anak Krakatau, followed the eruption of the 1883 volcano. There have been other recent eruptions since 1927, even till February 2022.
The Most Destructive Volcano Eruptions Ever: Mt. Pelee (VEI 4)
Mt. Pelée was not thought to be active until an explosion happened to kill all but two people in the city of St. Pierre Caribbean. Before the massive explosion of 1902, there had been others in 1792 and 1851. However, the volcano erupted on the 8th of May 1902, killing over 28000 people. The crater of lava exploded and drove hot gas and rocks through 22 square miles (58 square kilometers) across the capital.
The volcano buried the entire city, leaving debt running into several millions of dollars. About 15 percent of the Island population was estimated to have died in this stratovolcano.
The Most Destructive Volcano Eruptions Ever: Mt. Unzen (VEI 2)
This volcano is Japan’s worst eruption to date. It killed over 15,000 people and destroyed infrastructure to the tune of fifty million dollars. Mount Unzen comprises a group of volcanoes, one of which is Mount Fugen, reaching 4,459 feet. It is the highest of the volcanoes.
In 1792, the mountain erupted and triggered an earthquake alongside the collapse of the lava dome. This then caused a mountainside to crash into the ocean, creating a tsunami of over 180 feet (55m) that swept through the city of Shimabara and killed over 15,000 people.
Since the 1792 eruption, there have been a couple of others from 1990 to 1995. Notably, in 1991, a pyroclastic flow followed the eruption and killed 43 people.
The Most Destructive Volcano Eruptions Ever: Mt. Vesuvius (VEI 5)
Mount Vesuvius is the most famous volcano. It was responsible for the crippling of the city of Pompeii. In August 79 AD, it erupted, throwing mud, ash, and gas over nearby towns. The town’s destruction was almost immediate. Pompeii was buried in ash, pumice, and Herculaneum in mud and volcanic debris.
Vesuvius is currently active, with a layer of magma that covers 154 square miles. Both geologists and volcanologists believe that the next eruption may happen soon.
The Most Destructive Volcano Eruptions Ever: Ilopango, El Salvador (VEI 6)
The Ilopango volcanic eruption is estimated as one of the most enormous volcanoes in Central America in 7000 years. In fact, it is several times larger than Mount St Helens and Mount Pinatubo.
Over 100,000 people were estimated dead, and several hundred thousands were without homes as it laid waste to the Mayan civilization. Recent discoveries show that this volcano triggered the global cooling experienced in AD 535- 536. It spread and killed everything within a 40 km (25 mile) range with pyroclastic flows that outsized that of Mount Vesuvius.
The Most Destructive Volcano Eruptions Ever: Laki, Iceland (VEI 6)
The Laki volcano took place for 8 months, between 1783 and 1784. During that time, it ejected 14.7 km3 of basaltic lava. Several disasters followed, including earthquakes, thunderstorms, blood-red sunsets, and sunrises. There was also a thick fog of sulfur visible to Europe, Canada, Lebanon, and some parts of China.
The fog resulted from a sulfur dioxide gas released during the eruption. It reached the upper levels of the atmosphere (stratosphere) and created dire consequences for plants and animals across Europe and Egypt.
What is the Most Destructive Volcanic Eruption Ever?
Mount Tambora holds the record for the world’s deadliest and most destructive volcanic eruption in human history. Although it isn’t the highest in magnitude, it caused the most damage to human life.
It erupted on the 10th of April, 1815 in Tambora, Indonesia. This volcano set off 13,000 feet of ash into the air and toxic gas as far as 12 cubic miles upon eruption. The death toll following it ran to almost 100,000 people, some of whom were killed directly by the explosion. Others suffered asphyxiation from the sulfuric gas expunged into the atmosphere. The particles of ash and debris spread far into the stratosphere.
They soon began to affect the rest of the world, including Europe and North America. The volcanic material was so heavily spread that the sun was blocked out of view, and climate change was triggered.