The Worst Natural Disaster in Modern History
Haiti, of course, is very much in the news today due to its recent devastating earthquake. Many news accounts claim that this is the worst earthquake in modern history. Well, they are wrong. News reports claim it was a 7.0 earthquake on Richter scale. Other earthquakes higher on the Richter scale are as follows: China, 1920, 8.6, China, 1927 8.3, Japan, 1923 8.0. In terms of deaths, these same earthquakes, death tolls reached 200,000 for each in China, and 143,000 for the one in Japan. Death tolls for the earthquake in Haiti are not final yet but estimated between 100,000 and 200,000. While these earthquakes were quite devastating, there is another natural disaster in modern history that ranks much higher. It only had a death toll of 36,000 people, so how can it be the worst natural disaster in modern history?
In 1883 a volcano on the small, 23 square mile, uninhabited island of Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted. The first eruption spewed volcanic ash 22 miles high and resulted in tsunamis. The next day, at 5:30 AM, the first of four eruptions produced even higher tsunamis, Within the next four hours, there were three additional eruptions. Three-fourths of the island collapsed into the sea and dropped 250 miles down in the ocean. The fourth eruption was the largest. The ground shook in the wake of the blast which was heard and felt over 3,000 miles away and was estimated to be equal to the detonation of over 21,000 atomic bombs. Tsunamis reached a height of 25 miles with speeds over 60 miles-per-hour, and washed away several more small islands. Ships at sea were also blown-away. Due to the lava flow, temperatures of the ocean reached as high as 700 degrees Celsius and could be felt over one-thousand miles away. Who knows how much ocean life, fish, plants, etc. were destroyed.
In the weeks following the eruption, fine fragments of volcanic ash and dust that were propelled miles into the stratosphere began to make a ring around the equator. They remained suspended there for years causing remarkable solar effects and atmospheric hazing as they bent the incoming light. Also, the enormous volumes of sulfur dioxide gas molecules that were ejected into the atmosphere combined with water to make sulfuric acid. These acidic aerosols sufficiently blocked enough sunlight to drop the Earth's temperature by several degrees for several years. Their presence in the atmosphere also created spectacular effects over 70% of the Earth's surface. Effects such as halos around the sun and moon, and amazing sunsets and sunrises were seen. For years these particles would remain suspended in the atmosphere being the final reminder of the massive and fatal blast that occurred in Sundra Straits of Indonesia.
The eruption of Krakatoa can arguably be the worst natural disaster in modern history. While the death toll of 36,000 was very low compared to other natural disasters, the number of square miles that were affected totaled about one-fifth of the earths surface and remained for years. In addition, millions of people felt the quake and were affected by the weather for years to come.