Five Deadliest Volcanoes

Mt. Kirishima in Japan during its January 2011 eruption

There exists a large number of active volcanoes worldwide, with some estimating there being as many as 1500. In fact, it is said that there are probably at least 20 volcanoes that are erupting as you read this article (!)

However, because dormant intervals between major eruptions at a single volcano may last hundreds to thousands of years, dwarfing the relatively short historical record in many regions, it is difficult to put an actual number it.

Volcanoes become destructive when they emit hot magma along with ash and gas. The degree of such destruction depends upon various factors that may include the speed, height and duration of the eruption, as well as obviously the nature of human habitation in the area.

The deadliness of a volcano is always not measured with the direct eruption’s impact, as the post-eruption impact on the nearby environment is always a big factor. It’s not feasible to portrait all the deadly volcanoes here; however, so descriptions for only the 5 deadliest volcanoes are given below.

1. The Tambora volcano

The volcano is located in Sumbawa, Indonesia with a summit elevation of 2850 m.

More than 92,000 people were killed as a direct impact of the historic Tambora eruption that started April 5 in 1815 and reached its peak on April 10. Approximately another 117,000 deaths were reported in the post-eruption period owing to starvation and diseases.

Around 100 cubic km of magma was released during the deadly eruption and a tsunami with a wave height of 10 m was reported. The year 1816 is known as the year without a summer as the Tambora aerosols had affected the global climate severely by blocking out sunlight and thereby reducing the global temperature considerably.

Severe darkness was observed for 2 days around the volcano covering about 600 km.

2. The Krakatau volcano

The volcano is located in Sunda Strait, Indonesia with a summit elevation of 813 m.

It was August 26, 1883, when a series of deadly explosions was heard from the Krakatau volcano. The devastating explosions were so intensive that they were experienced even from a distance of nearly 2,000 km! More than 4,600 people were died immediately facing the extremely hot magma flow. Additionally, about 32,000 people lost their lives after being hit by a tsunami that resulted out of the lethal Krakatau eruptions.

Tthe deadly volcanic eruption had created an ash column of a height of 36 km. The main island, which consisted of about 165 villages was completely destroyed the devastating eruption.

3. The Mount Pelee eruption

Mount Pelée can be seen located in the Lesser Antilles island Martinique in the Caribbean. It has an elevation of 4583 feet and is famous for the massive destruction it caused in the first week of May, 1902.

The Mount Pelee volcanic eruption is marked as the worst volcanic catastrophe of the last century. Lethal magma flows took the lives of more than 30,100 people severely destroying the town of Saint-Pierre, which at the time was known as the “Paris of the Caribbean”.

4. The Nevado del Ruiz volcanic eruption.

The Nevado del Ruiz, also known locally as “El Mesa de Herveo”, is a volcano that has an elevation of 17,388 ft and is located in the Tolima region of Colombia.

On the ill-fated night of November 13, 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted, causing about 23,000 people to lose their lives. During the eruption devastating pyroclastic flows carrying boiling mudflows completely inundated Armero, thereby causing massive destruction to the sleeping Columbian town. Chinchina is the other town nearby that was largely gutted by the eruption.

The Nevado del Ruiz had generated a massive 35 million tonnes of erupted material during the historic 1985 eruption. In the Volcanic Explosivity Index, the eruption is marked a value of 3 ( on a scale of 1 – 8 with 8 being the worst).

5. The Unzen volcanic eruption.

The Unzen volcano is located on Kyushu island, Japan. It erupted in 1792 killing about 9,500 people with its hot pyroclastic flows. The eruption had triggered a devastating tsunami that caused another 5,500 people to die taking the total toll to nearly 15,000, making it Japan’s worst ever volcanic-related disaster.

The volcano was most recently active from 1990 to 1995, and a large eruption in 1991 generated a pyroclastic flow that killed 43 people, including three scientists.


Top Five Deadliest Volcanic Eruptions

Volcano Year Deaths Major cause of deaths
Tambora, Indonesia 1815 92,000 Starvation
Krakatau, Indonesia 1883 36,600 Tsunami
Mount Pelee, Martinique 1902 30,100 Ash flows
Ruiz, Colombia 1985 23,000 Mudflows
Unzen, Japan 1792 15,000 Volcano collapse


For adrenaline junkies with a fascination for volcanoes, check out this listing of active volcanoes by an expedition company that assists travelers in getting close to active volcanoes(!)