Most Violent Volcanic Eruptions

Indonesia suffered three deadly volcanic events throughout the 20th century: in 1909, 1929, and 1963.
Indonesia suffered three deadly volcanic events throughout the 20th century: in 1909, 1929, and 1963.

Without a doubt, volcanic eruptions can be highly explosive, volatile events with the capacity to wreak havoc over large areas and affect large human populations. Contrarily, they can be so small as to go almost unnoticed altogether, and most of the world’s volcanos are in fact dormant. Throughout history, there have indeed been many volcanoes resulting in catastrophic eruptions from which many humans died. A recent database presented by EM-DAT known as The International Disaster Database serves to documents the worst volcanic eruptions ever and record their respective death tolls. From the database, we have presented statistics denoting the largest death tolls directly resulting from volcanic eruptions recorded between 1900 and 2015.

The Deadliest Eruption of the 20th Century

The most violent volcanic eruption of the 20th century took place on Martinique’s Mount Pele in 1902. Following the event, the entire city of Saint Pierre was wiped off the map, and 30,000 deaths were recorded. Citizens of the city did not pay heed to the mountain’s warnings and failed to evacuate in time as a result. For some reason, nearby residents believed that the only danger from the volcano was lava flow and that they would flee to safety in time. Things got out of hands when ash from the eruption blocked roads. After this, strong tremors released a cloud of gas with temperatures reaching higher than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, an avalanche of boiling ash was sent down the mountain after a tremendous blast, ultimately burying the city of Saint Pierre beneath it.

Notable Runners-Up

The second deadliest volcanic eruption of the century took place in Colombia on November 13th, 1985. This eruption took the lives of 21,800 people. As per statistics presented in the database by EM-DAT, the third deadliest volcanic eruption occurred on the 24th of October 1902 in Guatemala, claiming the lives of around 6,000 people. Other deadly volcanoes include one that occurred in 1909 in Indonesia and killed 5,500 people, one in Indonesia occurring in May 1919 and killing 5,000 individuals, and one in Guatemala that took place in 1929 which also killed 5,000 people.

The finally volcanic eruptions recorded in our list from the database include one that occurred in Cameroon on August 24, 1986 which killed 1,746 people, one that occurred in Indonesia on the 3rd of January, 1963 and claimed the lives of 1,584 people, and, lastly, an eruption leading to 1,565 recorded deaths in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the 7th of May, 1902.

Volcanoes can cause massive destruction and have the potential to kill thousands of people, as is obvious from those volcanic events we have highlighted herein. Hence, whenever there is a volcanic warning, it is wise for nearby residents to evacuate and flee to safety as soon as possible. Also, it is interesting to note that three of our ten largest death totals occurred in the same year, 1902.

Most Violent Volcanic Eruptions

RankVolcanic EruptionDeaths
1Martinique, (May 8, 1902)30,000
2Colombia, (November 13, 1985)21,800
3Guatemala (October 24, 1902)6,000
4Indonesia (1909)5,500
5Indonesia (May 1919)5,000
6Guatemala (1929)5,000
7Papua New Guinea (January 15, 1951)3,000
8Cameroon (August 24, 1986)1,746
9Indonesia (January 3, 1963)1,584
10St. Vincent and the Grenadines (May 7, 1902)1,565

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