Although considerably less powerful than the 1816 explosion of nearby Mount Tambora, the notorious Krakatoa disaster (Krakatau is its authentic Indonesian name but it was called Krakatoa by European colonists of the day) owes its reputation as the most famous volcanic eruption of all to timing. It was, in short, the first such disaster to occur in the modern communications age. The first undersea intercontinental telegraph cables had only recently been laid, which allowed news of the event to spread around the world in a matter of minutes.
Krakatoa is a small volcanic island in the Sunda Strait separating Java from Sumatra. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, its three volcanoes were observed spewing material in May 1883. Activity continued intermittently for the next three months but, because it was at a low level and the island was uninhabited, no significant threat was perceived by the local population.
All that changed on two terrible days at the end of August when a series of shattering explosions ejected a column of ash and gas 30 km (22 mi) high which turned the skies dark over Java and Sumatra, The final titanic blast on the morning of August 27 blew the mountain apart. It was reported as gunfire when heard 5,000 km (3,000 mi) away and it remains the loudest single sound in recorded history.
Although the eruption generated pyroclastic flows, the enormous casualty figures and the massive environmental damage brought about by the disaster were actually caused mainly by the series of tsunamis which followed in the wake of the eruption. Reaching heights of over 30 m (100 ft), these giant sea waves laid waste entire coastal areas for hundreds of kilometers, leaving a gruesome tangle of shattered buildings, felled trees and corpses.
When did the Krakatoa eruption happen: May to August 1333
Where did the Krakatoa eruption happen: Krakatau, Indonesia
What was Krakatoa’s eruption death toll: 36,417
You should know: Although the new cone that has grown up inside the caldera or crater formed by the 1883 eruption (known as Anak Krakatau or ‘son of Krakatoa’) continues to be active, regularly lighting up the night skies over the Sunda Strait, this has not deterred thousands of small farmers from returning to the region, attracted by its rich and fertile volcanic soils.