The 5 Deadliest Volcanic Eruptions In History

Some of the deadliest things on the planet hold a certain mystery, be it undiscovered mountains, mysterious rainforests or our topic, volcanoes. There is possibly no better example of the fury of Mother Nature than an erupting volcano – terrifying and catastrophic, when a volcano decides to blow, there’s nothing and no-one standing in its way.

I recently travelled to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, and visited the national park of dormant volcanoes, called Timanfaya National Park. Despite the fact they are dormant, there was an eerie silence about the place, and I was under no illusions that these weren’t just your average mountain! These volcanoes demand your respect.

Here are the five most deadly, catastrophic eruptions in history, with the unfortunate numbers of those who lost their lives due to this most furious of natural disasters. There are older eruptions, of course – most notably that of Mount Vesuvius, with estimated death tolls only – so here we focus on those disasters with known numbers of fatalities.


1    Tambora, Indonesia – 1815


Back in 1815, a massive 92,000 were killed by the eruption of this volcano, which actually forms the Sanggar Peninsula in Indonesia. The main cause of death for this tragedy was actually starvation, caused by failed crops and disease. The eruption caused an eruption column of a staggering 28 miles.


2     Krakatau, Indonesia – 1883


Image via Flickr

A disastrous tsunami was caused by the eruption of this island volcano, with 40m high waves destroying everything they came into contact with. The 36,417 killed stood no chance against the crashing waves and ash spewed by the volcano.


3     Mount Pelee, Martinique – 1902


29,025 people were killed when Mount Pelee erupted and wiped out life in the town of St Pierre in 1902, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Ash flowed down and covered the island in record time, as well as volcanic gas, with those in the way standing no chance.


4     Ruiz, Colombia – 1985

This relatively recent volcanic disaster killed 25,000 people, when a night-time eruption caused huge mud-flows, lava and debris to hit everything in its path. The volcano is still active these days and still poses a threat.


5     Unzen, Japan – 1792


A few weeks’ worth of steam and lava clouds were followed by the massive eruption of this volcano, which killed 14,300 people via further massive lava and ash clouds, and a resulting tsunami, which was noted as the main cause of death for many.


There are many eruptions in history which have caused mass loss of life, and unfortunately this manner of natural disaster will always be a risk, as long as we have active volcanoes on the planet. The rage and fury of a volcano in mid-eruption is nothing but terrifying, and wikipedia documents some of the older eruptions in history, with estimated death tolls.


Indonesia is thought to have the most active volcanoes in the world, with 167 active volcanoes on its shores, and this is also where the number one on our list is situated. Whilst they may be mysterious, volcanoes also pose a huge danger but thankfully these days, scientists are able to read in good time when a predicted eruption is due.



Volcanic Hazards: A Sourcebook on the Effects of Eruptions by Russell J. Blong (Academic Press, 1984)


About Nicky Curtis

Nicky Curtis is a freelance writer of two years duration, although she has written for her own enjoyment for many years. Nicky specialises in all things travel and beauty, and she is currently writing her own book, set in Turkey, which has become her second home over the last few years. A typical "girly girl", Nicky writes about the topics that are dear to her heart, hoping readers connect in the same way.
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