Historic Disasters That Were Way Worse Than People Think
Historic Disasters That Were Way Worse Than People Think

Historic Disasters That Were Way Worse Than People Think

Khalid Elhassan - April 6, 2020

Historic Disasters That Were Way Worse Than People Think
Mount Unzen. Sutori

3. Japan’s Worst Volcanic Eruption

The island of Kyushu, Japan, is home to Mount Unzen – a volcanic group situated on the Shimabara Peninsula, about 25 miles east of Nagasaki. Unzen has several lava domes – mounds atop volcanoes, resulting from the accumulation of slow seeping lava, which cools and solidifies before flowing very far. On May 21st, 1792, a volcanic eruption caused one of those lava domes to fall into the sea, resulting in a tsunami and earthquake that caused considerable devastation and loss of life.

It began months earlier, in late 1791, with tremors and earthquakes on the western side of Mount Unzen, which gradually made their way up to one of its volcanic peaks. In February of 1792, one of those peaks began erupting, causing lava to flow for the following two months.

Historic Disasters That Were Way Worse Than People Think
Mount Unzen in 1991. Flickr

2. A Fatal Landslide and Earth Shattering Tsunami

As the lava kept flowing from Mount Unzen, the earthquakes and tremors continued. On the night of May 21st, 1792, two big quakes hit. They were powerful enough to shake one of the lava domes loose, causing it to collapse down the eastern side of the mountain. That triggered a landslide, which swept through the city of Shimabara down below, and continued on to Ariake Bay.

When the landslide struck the water, it caused a mega tsunami, with waves nearly 70 feet high, rising up to 187 feet high in some places because of the seabed’s topography. The tsunami traveled across Ariake Bay, until it hit the city of Higo on the other side, where it caused widespread devastation. It then bounced back across the bay, and hit the city of Shimabara, where the dust had still not settled from the landslide that had swept through it and triggered the tsunami in the first place. About 15,000 people were killed in the disaster, making it Japan’s worst volcanic eruption.

Also Read: A Volcano In Japan Erupts (1888)

Historic Disasters That Were Way Worse Than People Think
Photo taken from space of Mount Unzen and the Shimabara Peninsula. Wikimedia

1. “Shimabara Erupted, Higo Impacted”

Of the roughly 15,000 killed by the Mount Unzen eruption, about 5000 were estimated to have been killed in the landslide that swept through Shimabara city. Another 5000 were estimated to have been killed by the ensuing tsunami when it reached Higo, across the bay from Shimabara.

The final 5000 were estimated to have been killed when the tsunami bounced back from Higo, recrossed the bay, and struck Shimabara. It did not go unnoticed that the eruption had occurred Mount Unzen, in the Shimabara Peninsula, but many deaths from the ensuing tsunami occurred in Higo, about 15 miles away across the Ariake Bay. That gave rise to a Japanese saying about things that happen in one place, yet impact those elsewhere: Shimabara erupted, Higo impacted.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atlantic, The, September, 1884 – The Volcanic Eruption of Krakatoa

Cracked – 6 Historical Tragedies That Were Way Worse Than You Thought

Devastating Disasters – Yellow River Flood, China, 1887 AD

Disaster History – Central China Flood, 1931

Encyclopedia Britannica – Aleppo Earthquake of 1138

Encyclopedia Britannica – Shaanxi Province Earthquake of 1556

Facts and Details – Yellow River

Flood List – Central China Flood, 1931

Hindawi, Advances in Meteorology Volume 2016 – 1600 AD Huaynaputina Eruption (Peru), Abrubpt Cooling, and Epidemics in China and Korea

Huff Post – Death by Meteorite!

Journal of Structural Geology, Volume 20, Issue 5, May 14th, 1998 – Geomorphological Observations of Active Faults in the Epicentral Region of the Huaxian Large Earthquake in 1556 in Shaanxi Province, China

Journal of Structural Geology, Volume 23, Issues 2-3, February 2001 – The AD 365 Crete Earthquake and Possible Seismic Clustering During the Fourth to Sixth Centuries AD in the Eastern Mediterranean

NASA Earth Observatory – Domes of Destruction

Science Daily, April 25th, 2008 – Volcanic Eruption of 1600 Caused Global Disruption

Smithsonian Magazine, July, 2002 – Blast From the Past

Wikipedia – 1792 Unzen Earthquake and Tsunami

Wikipedia – 1902 Eruption of Mount Pelee

Wikipedia – List of Natural Disasters by Death Toll

Winchester, Simon – Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883 (2005)

Wired – Tambora 1815: Just How Big Was The Eruption?

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