Indonesia Expat

Indonesia’s Top 10 Deadliest Natural Disasters

  1. Aceh Tsunami

December 26, 2004

Aceh and Nias

Death toll: 170,000 (in Indonesia)

The deadliest tsunami in recorded history, it killed about 230,000 people across 14 countries. Most of the victims were in Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh and nearby Nias Island. It started at 7.59am when a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the northern coast of Sumatra. The quake was the third-largest ever recorded and displaced a massive amount of water in the Indian Ocean. The tsunami began moving at up to 800 km/hour in deep water, then slowed upon reaching coastal areas but increased in height, unleashing massive devastation. One positive side-effect was an end to the protracted civil war between Aceh’s separatist rebels and the Indonesian military. It also led to sharia law for Aceh.

  1. Tambora Eruption

April 10, 1815

Sumbawa, East Nusa Tenggara

Death toll: 82,000 (estimated)

After lying dormant for perhaps a thousand years, Mount Tambora on Sumbawa Island started rumbling in 1812, the result of a build-up of pressure caused by ocean water penetrating cracks in the Earth’s crust and reacting with magma deep inside the mountain’s volcanic chamber. On April 5, 1815, Tambora began erupting huge jets of flames. On April 10, the mountain exploded with a force that blew itself apart. Prior to the eruption, Tambora stood about 4,300 meters high, making it one of the tallest mountains in the Dutch East Indies. After the eruption, its height was down to 2,851 meters. Billions of tons of lava, hot gases and ash destroyed about 11,000 people on the island and killed all vegetation. At least another 71,000 people on the island were killed as a result of post-eruption famine and diseases. The volcano sent up a stratospheric ash cloud that circled the planet. An estimated 90,000 people died as a result of cooling global temperatures in 1816, which was dubbed “the year without a summer”. A popular South Jakarta nightclub named after Tambora appropriately went up in flames in 1997.

  1. Krakatau Eruption

August 27, 1883

Sunda Strait, between western Java and Lampung

Death toll: 36,417

Krakatau is more famous that Tambora, mainly because the world was becoming more connected by the 1880s. As seawater entered its magma chamber, Krakatau began emitting steam and ash in May 1883. Krakatau Island had three main volcanic cones – Perboewatan, Danan and Rakata – and numerous vents. On August 27 at 5:30am, Perboewatan exploded, causing a tsunami that hit Lampung. At 6:44am, Danan exploded, unleashing more deadly tsunamis. At 10:02am, the largest and loudest explosion occurred, which could be heard up to 5,000km away. Volcanic flows of gas and falls of hot ash reached Sebesi Island and the Sumatran coast, killing thousands. The fourth and final main explosion occurred at 10:41am, tearing off the northern half of Rakata. About 70 percent of the island disappeared as it collapsed into the magma chamber. Anak Krakatau emerged from the site in 1930. It is now about 400 meters tall and growing at five meters per year. In 2018, it has been spewing out ash and lava bombs.

  1. Samalas Eruption

Sometime between May-October 1257


Death toll: Unknown thousands

One of the greatest volcanic eruptions of the past thousand years, the secret of Samalas was discovered only in 2013. Samalas was a mountain alongside Mount Rinjani on Lombok Island. In the 1980s, examinations of ice cores drilled in Greenland and Antarctica revealed a massive spike in sulphates in 1257, indicating a cataclysmic volcanic eruption had occurred – but where? Geologists eventually pinned down the location to Samalas, the eruption of which had left behind the vast caldera alongside Rinjani, containing Lake Segara Anak. A rare account of the eruption written on palm leaves noted: “All houses were destroyed and swept away, floating on the sea, and many people died.” The eruption of aerosols cooled the atmosphere for several years, causing crop failures and famines in Europe.

  1. Singaraja Quake, Landslide and Tsunami

November 22, 1815

Singaraja, Bali

Death toll: 11,453

This earthquake took place just six months after the huge Tambora eruption. It hit northern Bali at about 10 pm and lasted for almost an hour. Then a huge landslide came from coastal mountains, burying villages and killing 10,253 people in Singaraja, the capital of Buleleng regency. A subsequent tsunami killed about 1,200 people. The quake also shook East Java and Lombok.

  1. Mount Kelud Eruption

1586 (precise date unknown)

Blitar, East Java

Death toll: 10,000 (estimated)

Inconspicuous but deadly, Kelud has an elevation of 1,731 meters and is located between the densely-populated regencies of Blitar, Kediri and Malang. About 2,000 years ago, Kelud exploded with a force that left a massive crater. This crater is usually a lake that attracts tourists, but at times of increased activity, it is replaced by a massive lava dome. Kelud’s deadliest known eruption was in 1586, when the crater lake overflowed with lava, ash and rocks, causing deadly hot mudslides (known as lahars) that wiped out nearby villages. After an eruption in 1919 killed 5,160 people, drainage tunnels were built to reduce the amount of water in the lake and the risk of lahars. Kediri and Blitar regencies have long been engaged in a bitter legal feud over which of them has jurisdiction over Kelud.

  1. Yogyakarta Earthquake

May 24, 2006

Bantul, Yogyakarta

Death toll: 5,782

Many people were still asleep when the magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck at 5:54am, bringing down tens of thousands of buildings. The quake lasted for 57 seconds. Its epicentre was at a depth of 10km, near Bantul, about 20km southeast of Yogyakarta city. At least 4,143 people were killed in Bantul by falling buildings. About 400,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged. The damages bill amounted to Rp29.1 trillion (US$3.1 billion). Fortunately there was no accompanying eruption from nearby Mount Merapi volcano.

  1. Papua Earthquake

June 25, 1976

Bime, Papua

Death toll: At least 5,350

The magnitude 7.1 quake struck at about 2am local time in the province then known as Irian Jaya. The epicentre was near the remote village of Bime in the eastern highlands. The disaster area covered about 288,000 hectares. The worst devastation was in the three subdistricts of Kurima, Okbibab and Oksibil, where the initial death toll was put at 350. Another 72 people were found to have died in landslides, while 5,000 to 9,000 were reported missing, presumed dead, as a result of landslides that swept away or completely buried 15 villages and damaged 70 more villages. Poor communication and transport networks meant the full death toll was never calculated. Some survivors succumbed to food shortages and disease.

  1. Merapi Eruption

December 18-19, 1930

Yogyakarta and Central Java

Death toll: 1,369

Merapi, which means “fire mountain”, is located 28 km north of the ancient temple city of Yogyakarta. It is often described as the most active of Indonesia’s 127 volcanoes. A massive eruption in 1006 is believed to have contributed to the fall of the Hindu Kingdom of Mataram. In the 1930 eruption, a lava dome had built up before collapsing. At least 13 villages were destroyed by pyroclastic flows (masses of fast-moving hot ash, lava, rocks and gases), and another 23 were damaged. The largest pyroclastic flow reached 13.5 km.

  1. Mount Toba Super-Volcano

About 74,000 years ago

North Sumatra

Death toll: Unknown

Lake Toba in North Sumatra is the world’s largest volcanic lake. It used to be the site of Mount Toba, which exploded some 74,000 years ago in the biggest volcanic eruption of the past two million years. It left thick deposits of ash up to 3,000km away. Some scientists believe the eruption caused a “volcanic winter” lasting six to ten years that reduced the Earth’s population to just 3,000 to 10,000 people and ushered in a 1,000-year-long cooling period.

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