Sitting between the world’s two most active seismic regions, the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Alpide belt, Indonesia is caught between an epic rock and a hard place. Being the world’s largest archipelago, stretching across over 17,000 individual islands, there is an intense beauty about Indonesia that is unmatched anywhere on the planet. Also unmatched is the danger that is present in the power that is Indonesia’s own Ring of Fire.
Did you know that Indonesia is home to one-third of the world’s deadliest volcanic eruptions?
Although other volcanic eruptions that are in the documented history of the planet may be more famous or hold more lore, 5 out of the 15 deadliest eruptions in history have happened here! With those statistics, Indonesia is one of the deadliest locations on the Earth to live at any given moment.
Have you ever explored the volcanoes that call the Indonesian Ring of Fire home? Let’s take a look at these deadly natural disasters that the 130+ active volcanoes in the region have produced over the years:
Mount Tambora: 1815
How powerful was the eruption that happened at Mount Tambora in 1815? It is one of the few modern volcanic events that influenced seasonal changes around the world. Some call that year the “Year Without Summer” because of the cooling effects that it had around the globe. Because Summer was reduced, crops failed, food became scarce in many places around the world, and many people died in Indonesia and beyond because of starvation.
Nearly over 1,200 meters disappeared from the mountain during the eruption, meaning that if you could survive the tsunamis, the ash cloud, and the lack of food, you were still at risk of developing a deadly lung disease because of all the sulfur that Mount Tambora spewed into the atmosphere. Although only estimates can be made of how many people died because of this cataclysmic eruption, most estimates put the death toll from Mount Tambora’s eruption at 92,000 people.
That’s why many have given Mount Tambora the nickname “The World’s Deadliest Volcano.”
Mount Krakatau: 1883
The eruption of Mount Krakatau in 1883 is considered to be the loudest sound that has ever been created on the planet. The sounds of the eruption could be heard nearly 5,000 kilometers away! It is estimated that if anyone were within 10 kilometers of the blast, they would have become instantly deaf. Then there was the shockwave from the eruption that occurred on August 27, which according to the instruments of the time lasted for 5 days and traveled around the world at least seven times.
The combination of multiple tsunamis, ash, and pyroclastic flows not only changed the face of the mountain and its island home forever, but it is confirmed to have killed at least 36,000 people. Some estimates place that number as high as 120,000, but those are unconfirmed numbers. Most chilling about this eruption, however, are the stories. People told of finding human skeletons floating in the water for the next 5 years.
Mount Kelud: 1919
Mount Kelud just erupted, and according to reports from The Weather Channel, it tragically took the lives of at least 4 people. In comparison, however, that is nothing compared to the over 5,000 deaths that Mount Kelud caused in its 1919 eruption. The eruption caused hot mud flows to occur, sweeping people away before they knew anything was happening.
These hot mud flows, which are called lahars, are a volcano’s version of a flash flood. It’s a slurry combination of mud, water, land debris, and other pyroclastic material that can travel hundreds of meters in just seconds and be nearly 150 meters deep. These mud flows actually account for nearly 20% of the globally recorded deaths that have happened because of volcanoes.
Mount Galunggung: 1882
It was mud flows that took over 4,000 lives when Mount Galunggung erupted in 1882 as well. The difference with this mountain, however, is that it continues to erupt and continues to take lives with each eruption. A century later, in 1982, Mount Galunggung erupted for nearly 9 months, taking the lives of over 70 people during the initial eruption.
That number could have been a lot worse had it not been for the heroics of two sets of pilots. Two Boeing 747’s were caught in the downwind flow of the 1982 eruption, causing the planes to lose engine power and have their outer shells damaged by the debris. Despite being out of engine power, the pilots of both aircraft made safe emergency landings that saved all the passengers on board.
Mount Papandayan: 1772
The eruption of Mount Papandayan in 1772 actually collapsed part of the mountain, causing a devastating avalanche that destroyed over 40 villages that were in the sudden path of this disaster. When the dust had settled, over 3,000 people were killed. The eruption caused the formation of two distinct peaks, making this volcano actually look like there are two volcanoes next to each other. The other peak is now called Mount Puntang.
The volcano has not had a major eruption since this devastating event, but with scientists detecting carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide coming from the mountain in 2011, Mount Papandayan is on alert status and is expected to erupt in the near future. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 people are in the direct path of this volcano, at risk for this expected future eruption. When the danger levels are not high, the caldera of the volcano offers visitors a similar experience to what can be found at Yellowstone National Park.
The Indonesian Ring of Fire is incredibly beautiful, but it can also be incredibly deadly. Explore these volcanoes at your own risk! There are amazing photo opportunities everywhere, but be safe and look for the warning signs a volcano often offers so that you know when you can trek safely… and when you should stay safely away.