This Day in History

On this day in 1883, the most powerful volcanic explosion in modern history took place

. The volcano exploded on a deserted island called Krakatau in Indonesia, west of Sumatra. According to accounts, people could hear the eruption 3,000 miles away. Five cubic miles of volcanic earth were ejected as high as 50 miles up into the atmosphere. The shockwaves from the explosion created tsunamis. An estimated 36,000 people died from the blast.

Until 1883, Krakatau volcano laid dormant for over 200 years, but on May 20, 1883 it began to stir. A passing German warship was the first to witness the 7-mile high plume of ash that collected above the island leading up to the explosion. Minor explosions happened for another two months, which were seen by commercial boat lines and the natives who lived on Sumatra and Java. The locals did not know how dangerous the volcano was, and they actually celebrated its huffing and puffing with excitement.

Thrill Quickly Transitions into Horror

However, reality struck on Aug. 26 through Aug. 27 when the entire volcanic island of Krakatau blew up. The cascade of natural disasters that it triggered throughout the world would be felt for many years to come. The first enormous blast happened in the afternoon hours of Aug. 26, and it destroyed about two-thirds of the island, which collapsed into the sea. The mountain began to eject fast-moving volcanic flows of molten rock, ash and caustic gases. This caused monster tsunamis to hit the coastlines of neighboring islands. The worst came on Aug. 27, when four more explosions happened. Fine dust from the blast was distributed throughout the planet. The resulting veil of dust in the atmosphere caused temperatures to lower by several degrees around the world, and caused bizarre and unusual sunsets.

Natural Disasters Lead to Profound Tragedy

Approximately 31,000 of the 36,000 deaths caused by the eruption were the result of tsunamis. The biggest of the tsunamis was 120 feet high and covered neighboring islands. Vegetation and people from those islands were swept away to sea. The scorching volcanic flows that spread out from the island and hit neighboring areas caused the other approximately 4,500 deaths.

Krakatau volcano is still considered to be active today. Indonesia also has other volcanoes, 130 in total, making it the most actively volcanic nation in the world.