While this stratovolcano has erupted several times, the eruption in May 1980 is the deadliest and most destructive in U.S. history. The eruption resulted in a major debris avalanche, which triggered a 5.1-level earthquake that did destruction on its own. The mountain’s summit even reduced a lot. It was as high as 9,677 feet but the eruption cut it down to 8,363 feet. It even left behind a one-mile crater shaped like a horseshoe. Ecosystems near the volcano were devasted by the eruption, which seems obvious but the ash actually helped nearby aquatic ecosystems tremendously.
The eruption leveled a lot of things before the earthquake and other events took place. Around 200 homes, 47 bridges, 185 miles of highway, and 15 miles of railway were destroyed. This resulted in the loss of 57 human lives as well. Economically, this event resulted in several millions of dollars worth of repairs. Interestingly, the volcano still remains active and has experienced volcanic activity consistently since 2008. Yet Mount St. Helens remained one of the most popular hiking spots in the United States and it is climbed all year long by both residents and visitors. Apparently, possible volcano eruptions do not scare these people away!
The Nevado del Ruiz volcano has had some massive eruptions over the years, but likely the most notable occurred in 1985. In November, it only took a small eruption to do an enormous amount of damage. Essentially, the volcano did not need a major eruption because it was capable of producing a ton of mudflows without much effort. That is likely due to the local glaciers. In fact, this is essentially what led to a massive loss of life in the local area. Now known as the Armero tragedy, the town of Armero in Tolima was hit by the aforementioned mudflow.
The result of this was that the entire town was destroyed. Sadly, an estimated total of 25,000 people died during the event. It is the deadliest eruption in Columbian history and among the deadliest in South American history today. The volcano is actually part of the Los Nevados National Park where visitors drop by throughout the year. It seems that many did not learn their lesson about building near Nevado del Ruiz as there are many villages and towns close by. Now covered by large glaciers, if it were to go off, it could impact or kill up to 500,000 people from the mudflow potential alone.
Mount Tambora has experienced some major eruptions in its long history. However, in 1815 it managed to be so destructive that it ended more human lives than perhaps any other volcano directly in history. Today, we also know it to be the most powerful volcanic eruption since humans have been on the planet. Rated a 7 by the Volcanic Explosivity Index, it sent around 38 to 51 cubic miles of volcanic material into the atmosphere. Going into April 1815, the magma chamber had been drained by previous eruptions. This allowed the volcano to essentially become dormant…but it was refilling that entire time.
Suddenly, an explosive eruption took place that could be heard as far as Sumatra Island 1,200 miles away. Heavy volcanic ash rained down and could be seen by all nearby islands within hundreds of miles. The direct eruption was estimated to have killed around 71,000 people. However, due to its impact on the global climate, 1816 became the “year without a summer.” North American and European temperatures and weather led to the death of livestock and crops. That led to an enormous famine, which was the worst of the century. Thus, you could say hundreds of thousands were impacted and any of their deaths were due to the eruption too.
Perhaps the most famous of all volcanic eruptions in history is the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This is most certainly due to its location and the historians that were either present or close to the event. Everyone knows that the Roman city of Pompeii was leveled by the eruption. Later archeologists would uncover a lot of major Roman artifacts from the location that were all in pristine condition due to the eruption. However, Pompeii was only one of the cities impacted. Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae among other settlements were all leveled too.
The eruption sent out a cloud of stones, ashes, and volcanic gases as far as 21 miles. This includes erupting molten rock and pulverizing pumice hundreds of miles per hour. At least 1,000 people died in the eruption, but it is widely assumed many more lost their lives. The only surviving eyewitness account actually comes from historian Pliny the Elder’s nephew and Roman Magistrate Pliny the Younger, as well as Tacitus. Vesuvius has erupted many more times since 79 CE, but this will forever be the most notable eruption. Volcano eruptions do not get more infamous than Vesuvius.