The Deadliest Volcanic Eruptions in the Last 500 Years

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The recent eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, serves as a reminder that volcanoes can also cause natural disasters. What’s more, the most recent eruption of Kilauea, a nearby volcano, has been ongoing since September 2021. Although hot lava continues to gush from Mauna Loa, the volcanic activity is not expected at this time to reach any communities, according to Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth. 

While Hawaiian residents are safe, other populations near volcanic eruptions in the past suffered horrific destruction and death. 

To identify the seven deadliest volcanoes since 1500, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the United States Geological Survey report “Which volcanic eruptions were the deadliest?” The estimated death tolls are not limited to the immediate fatalities from the explosion and lava flow, but also the environmental impacts these events had, such as starvation caused by changes in weather patterns or massive tsunamis.

Far from being a rare occurrence, the Smithsonian National Museum of History, Global Volcanic Program, recorded 77 eruptions worldwide in 2022 at 74 different volcanoes. The list includes eruptions until October, so Mauna Loa’s eruption is not included.

Scientists now have the tools to predict if a volcano will explode, although it is not an exact science. Not so in the past, when volcanoes ranked as one of the most deadly natural disasters. Mount Tambora’s eruption in 1815 in Indonesia killed 92,000, mostly due to starvation as the ash spewed into the air lowered temperatures so much that crops failed. (Find out if it was among the deadliest natural disasters of all time.)

All told, Indonesia has suffered through three destructive volcanic eruptions, which should not be surprising considering the Indonesian island chain was created by volcanic activity. In fact, the islands sit on the tops of volcanoes rising from the ocean.

Though the U.S. was the site of some devastating eruptions, it is not on the list of the deadliest volcanic eruptions. The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington killed 57, making it the most destructive volcanic disaster in U.S. history. (See the deadliest billion dollar disasters in U.S. history.)

Click here to see the deadliest volcanic eruptions in the last 500 years