The recent eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, an Icelandic volcano whose name only a few dare to pronounce, made people realize once again how powerful the nature is and how destructive it might be. During six days of the volcano’s activity the air travel plunged into chaos, airlines lost almost $2bn and tens of thousands of travellers got stuck at the airports. Still, it’s nothing compared to the calamities eruptions may cause, wiping out cities and claiming thousands of lives.
Check out the world’s ten most destructive volcanoes:
1. Sakura-jima. Japan.
Since 1955 Sakurajima the stratovolcano in Kyūshū, Japan, often called the Vesuvius of the east, has been erupting almost constantly. Due to its location in a densely populated area, the volcano is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous. The city of Kagoshima is inhabited by almost 700,000 residents and lies just a few kilometres from the mount. The city has even built special shelters where people can take refuge from falling debris. The volcano’s last eruption took place in March 2009, sending debris up to 2 km away.
2. Etna. Italy.
Mount Etna is Europe’s most active and tallest (3,300 m /10,900 ft) volcano and its potential for destruction is huge. Etna’s constant state of activity is a serious threat to people living in the villages and towns of Sicily. Its most dangerous eruption occurred in 1669, when lava destroyed many villages around the volcano’s base and “swallowed” part of Catania, an ancient town on the east cost of Sicily. In 1992 two streams of lava threatened Zafferana, a municipality inhabited by around 8,000 people.
3. Kilauea. Hawaii. The USA.
Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano located on the Big Island of Hawaii, for many years has been considered fairly gentle, as relatively few people have been killed following its explosions. Recently, however, the scientists revealed Kilauea’s deadly face. Apparently, the volcano has an extensive layer of ash and rock called tephra that can be blasted high enough to be a hazard to passenger airplanes. The golf ball-size rocks can be thrown 17 kilometres (11 miles) out. The last time tephra erupted was between 500 and 200 years ago.
4. Cotopaxi. Ecuador.
Cotopaxi, one of the tallest active volcanoes in the world, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft), is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate. Since 1783 the mount has erupted more than 50 times, posing a serious threat to the nearby cities and villages. Quito, the capital of Ecuador with around 1 million inhabitants, is located 60 km south and Latacunga, a historical town that has already been destroyed four times by earthquakes is 25 km northeast.
5. Vesuvius. Italy.
The legendary Mount Vesuvius sitting on the beautiful coast of the Bay of Naples in Italy has already proven that its destructive capabilities are enormous. In AD 79 a huge explosion wiped out the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, killing up to 25,000 people. Vesuvius is ultra dangerous not only because there are 3 million people living nearby, but also due to the fact that its quiescence period has already been very long. Apparently, the longer the quiescence period, the stronger and more explosive the renewal of Vesuvius’ activity will probably be. In the past the mount’s eruptions were so violent that the whole of southern Europe was blanketed by ash.
6. Merapi. Indonesia.
Called the Mountain of Fire in Indonesian, Merapi is the most dangerous volcano in the country, erupting roughly once a decade. Since the 16th century it has been erupting regularly and causing serious threat to people inhabiting the surrounding areas. The violent mountain is located very close to the city of Yogyakarta, and some villages are situated as high as 1,700 m on the flanks of the volcano. In 2006, around 5,000 people were killed and 200,000 left homeless due to the earthquakes that followed Merapi’s eruption.
7. Nyiragongo. Congo.
Nyiragongo and nearby Nyamuragira in Congo, Africa, are jointly responsible for 40% of the historical volcanic eruptions on the continent. Apparently, nowhere else on the globe does such a steep-sided stratovolcano contain a lake of such fluid lava like Nyiragongo. In 1977, the lava flowed down the flanks of the mount killing up to 100 people, though some reports point to about several thousand people. In 2002, the volcano erupted again, reaching the city of Goma, where at least 15% buildings were destroyed, leaving 120,000 people homeless and killing around 45 citizens.
Another natural-born killer is Popocatepetl, a glacier-covered volcano situated only 70 km from Mexico City. Rising to around 5,400 (17,800 ft) above sea level, the eruption of “the Smoking Mountain” could be a serious threat not only to the capital city (inhabited by fairly 9 million people) but also to other towns and villages located very close to it. Popocatepetl is one of the most violent volcanoes in the country, having had around 20 huge eruptions since the 16th century. In 2000, tens of thousands of people were evacuated just before the volcano exploded and caused enormous glacial melting.
9. Mount Teide. Spain
The world’s third largest volcano (from its base), Mount Teide, is located on Tenerife, the Canary Islands. Although Teide is currently dormant, further eruptions are possible in the near future, including the risk of pyroclastic flows and surges similar to those that occurred at Merapi or Mount Vesuvius in Italy. Due to Teide’s proximity to several large towns and resorts, the mount was designated one of the Decade Volcanoes by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry, with the implication that it’s currently one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes.
10. Mount Rainier. The USA.
The peacefully-looking Mount Rainer is in fact an active volcano that has the potential to devastate virtually all areas surrounding its base. It is located around 87 km southeast of Seattle, a major city on the West Coast of the USA. Despite the fact that the most recent recorded eruption took place at the end of the 19th century, lahars (a type of mudflow or landslide) pose serious risk to many communities that lie atop older lahar deposits. Such mudflows can even reach parts of downtown Seattle and cause tsunami in Puget Sound and Lake Washington.
The biggest problem with volcanoes is that nobody can say with 100% certainty if and when they are going to blow. Beware then! Each of the smoking cones above could potentially be the next killer, or at least a bad trouble-maker.