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The Seven Deadliest Volcanoes Since 1500 The Seven Deadliest Volcanoes Since 1500

The Seven Deadliest Volcanoes Since 1500

by Patrick James, Brittany Wong
April 27, 2010

Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano had been from dormant for nearly two centuries until late March 2010, when, as The New York Times puts it, "fire fountains jetted from a dozen vents on the volcano, reaching as high as 100 meters." Weeks later, after it had returned to a brief period of inactivity, the mountain unleashed a massive blast of volcanic ash into the sky. Today, we're fortunate to count the losses associated with the eruption in dollars (and euros) rather than in human lives. Throughout history, however, some volcanoes have been much more deadly. Here's a look at the volcanoes that have claimed the most lives since A.D. 1500.

7. Laki, Iceland, June 8, 1783
Number killed
:
9,000
Volcanic Explosivity Index
:
Four
Eyjafjallajokull has nothing on Iceland’s most devastating eruption, which produced sulfuric gas that wafted over Europe and the Northern Hemisphere, causing extreme winters that would go on to kill a fifth of Iceland’s population.
 
6. Kelut, Indonesia, 1586
Number killed
:
10,000
Volcanic Explosivity Index
:
Four
In spite of its relatively small size (pdf), the volatile Kelud volcano took 10,000 lives in 1586, when the volcano's crater lake released piping streams of lahar, a deadly combination of volcanic material and water.

5. Unzen, Japan, 1792
Number killed
:
14,000
Volcanic Explosivity Index
:
Three
Unzen's real damage didn't occur until a month later, when landslides from neighboring Mount Mayuyama flooded Shimabara City and flowed into the sea, generating a tsunami that killed 14,000 people.
 
4. Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia, November 13, 1985
Number killed
:
25,000
Volcanic Explosivity Index
:
Three
The only recent eruption on the list, the Columbian volcano known as “the sleeping giant” erupted just hours after an evacuation was ordered, and fatally abandoned once the volcano seemed to have settled. 
 
3. Mont Pelée, Martinique, May 8, 1902
Number killed
:
30,000
Volcanic Explosivity Index
:
Four
St. Pierre, the site of last century’s most deadly eruption, was known as the "Paris of the West Indies" around the turn of the century. In spite of signs presaging the worst, city officials urged the public to stay put in order to cast ballots in what would be an ill-fated May 11 election.
 
2. Krakatau, Indonesia, August 26, 1883
Number killed
:
36,000
Volcanic Explosivity Index
:
Six
Plumes of black ash were emitted from Krakatau months before it erupted with two days of explosions, which culminated in a final catastrophic blast that was 26 times as powerful as the biggest H-bomb test.

1. Tambora, Indonesia, April 10, 1815
Number killed
:
92,000
Volcanic Explosivity Index
:
Seven
The largest volcanic eruption in recorded history killed 92,000 people, but the damage didn’t end there. The 200 million tons of dust and sulphur dioxide gas the eruption released into the stratosphere limited incident sunlight and cooled the globe’s climate, causing what would be known as "the year without a summer."

Source: United States Geological Survey
 
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