1. Vesuvius (79)
It was just around noon on 24 August 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted with a massive 10 mile mushroom cloud sent into the stratosphere. Ash and pumice would rain down on the area for over twelve hours. People who did not flee would face something much worse when a pyroclastic flow would sweep down killing everyone in its path. The choking cloud suffocated everyone even rescuers.
The Bay of Naples where Mt. Vesuvius is located was known for trade and luxury. The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were near the mountain and had a fairly high standard of living. There was even a small resort town named Stabiae. The mountain was not seen as a problem as no major eruption had occurred in Roman history. Tremors had already been felt before that terrible day as excavations indicate they were repairing streets and underground plumbing. However they had no idea the tremors were connected with the nearby mountain.
Pliny The Younger, staying west across the Bay of Naples, recorded what he saw in two letters he sent to Tacitus. Sadly his uncle, Pliny the Elder, would perish when he went over in his boats to Stabiae. Pliny wrote the eruption lasted eighteen hours with Pompeii buried under 14-17 feet of ash and pumice. Herculaneum was buried under 60 feet of mud and volcanic material. Except for some who returned to reclaim what they had lost, the entire area was left buried and abandoned.
Significant excavations beginning in 1927 on have revealed much of what life must have been like before the destruction. More somber were the finding of some 2,000 bodies. Volcanic ash hardened and preserved the outlines of their bodies. Once the flesh had gone, the outline remained but filled in with plaster revealed those final moments of their lives. And it was not pleasant at all.
Vesuvius is still an active volcano. Its last major eruption was in March 1944 and destroyed several small villages with lava. The eruption was seen from Naples and damaged (thanks to hot ash and other things)or destroyed up to 88 B-25 medium bombers based in Terzigno, Italy. The volcano is kept under constant watch to prevent anything on the scale of the eruption of 79 AD to the people who live under its shadow.
2. Krakatau (Krakatoa) 1883
On 20 May 1883, Krakatau–a small volcanic island west of Sumatra in Indonesia–came alive with an eruption noticed by a passing German warship. Other eruptions would be noticed by commercial liners and those living on nearby islands for the next two months. Then on 26 Aug an enormous blast took place that destroyed nearly two-thirds of the island. Pyroclastic flows and huge tsunamis would sweep over nearby islands and coastlines. But the worst came the following morning, 27 Aug, at 05:30. Four eruptions would took place with the resulting sound heard over 3,000 miles away. Ash was propelled fifty miles into the air and would circulate around the globe creating colorful sunsets but also lowering temperatures worldwide by several degrees.
36,000 deaths resulted from the eruption and 31,000 were from the tsunamis created when much of the island fell into the water. The highest waves were 120 feet high when they washed over neighboring islands stripping them of people and vegetation. Pyroclastic flows that stretched as far as 40 miles claimed about 4,500.
The Krakatau eruption of 1883 is considered one of the most violent volcanic activities in modern times and even recorded history. However volcanic activity continues in that area. In 1927, a submarine lava dome was detected in the area that had been destroyed by the eruption in 1883. A new island volcano began to emerge spewing ash. Other islands also started appearing as well but eroded away by the sea. Ultimately a fourth one appeared in August 1930 and was able to last. It was named Anak Krakatau and continues to grow taller each year. It is an active volcano and seemed similar to Stromboli in its eruptions. However more recent eruptions have resulted in volcanologists to warning people to keep a safe distance away. And more ominous is that a large lava dome is growing in its crater. Signs point to one day a very explosive event occurring at this volcano.