A Volcanic Eruption in Peru Killed a Third of Russia’s Population
Huayanaputina is a volcano located in Andean Mountains, in the uplands of southern Peru, about 50 miles from the city of Arequipa. The cliche of natives making human sacrifices to volcanoes is not so cliche or mythical when it comes to Huayanaputina: such sacrifices actually were made to this volcano. The Spanish put a halt to such practices after they conquered Peru and introduced Catholicism.
However, considering what happened not long after the sacrifices stopped, maybe the natives had been on to something. On February 19th, 1600, Huayanaputina went off in the biggest volcanic eruption ever experienced in South America during recorded history. The consequences were catastrophic locally, and produced negative impacts worldwide. Naturally, the natives drew a link between the end of the sacrifices, which angered Supay, their god of death, and the massive eruption.
Rumbling and booming noises were heard in the days before Huayanuptina exploded, and witnesses reported seeing fog and gasses spewing from the volcano’s crater. A local priest reported frightened natives, recently converted to Christianity, falling back on their old religious beliefs and traditions. Shamans, not seen for years, scrambled to appease the volcano, preparing plants, flowers, pets, and virgin girls for sacrifice. During the sacrifice ceremony, the volcano spewed hot ash. The natives took it as a sign that the gods were too angry by then to be appeased by belated sacrifices, after having being ignored for so long.
The seismic and volcanic activity continued and increased, and by February 15th, 1600, earthquakes started. By the 18th, tremors were being felt every four or five minutes, some of them powerful enough to shake those who’d managed to sleep into wakefulness. Finally, around 5PM on February 19th, Huayanaputina erupted, sending a column of steam and ash high into the skies. Witnesses described the sound as that of giant cannons going off. Streams of lava began flowing down the mountainside, and when they reached the nearby Rio Tambo river, they created lahars – mudflows of volcanic slurry, debris, and water. Volcanic ash began falling down, and within a day, the city of Arequipa, 50 miles away, was covered by ash nearly a foot deep. Falling ash was recorded over 300 miles away, in Chile and Bolivia. Smaller eruptions continued for the next couple of weeks, until the volcano finally went quiet on March 5th.
In the eruption, lava flowed about ten miles from the volcano, while lahars, or mud slides, made it all the way to the Pacific Ocean, 75 miles away. Several villages were destroyed, while the earthquakes stemming from the eruption caused significant damage in Arequipa and nearby towns. About 15,000 people were killed in the immediate region.
The ashes from Huayanaputina spread into the atmosphere, and had a significant impact in the northern hemisphere, where temperatures cooled considerably. In Russia, for example, 1601 was the coldest year in six centuries, resulting in crop failures and producing the Russian Famine of 1601 – 1603, in which two million people, or a third of Russia’s population at the time, died.