On the 27th August 1883, at 10 o’clock in the morning local time, situated between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, there was an eruption. A cataclysm so violent that it spread over 5,000 kilometers. It was the loudest sound that the planet has ever known.
To set the scene for you: around 3,200 kilometers from Krakatoa, the inhabitants of New Guinea and Western Australia reported having heard “a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”, said Aatash Bhatia to Nautilus. And over 4,800 kilometers from the island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, the inhabitants reported having heard what seemed to them to be the distant roar of heavy gunfire. This noise was in fact a record volcanic eruption which propelled smoke up to almost 80 kilometers into the air. The burning debris was projected from the mouth of the volcano at speeds of up to 2,575 kilometers an hour, which is more than double the speed of sound!
This event is nowadays known to have been the biggest natural disaster of the 19th century. The shock waves from the eruption had widespread impact, and caused a tsunami of over 45 meters, weighing 600 tons. This tidal wave affected the coasts of Java and Sumatra, completely destroying coastal regions. Far away, in the waters of South Africa, boats were also shaken by another series of tsunamis. The British ship Norham Castle for example was 64 kilometers from Krakatoa when the explosion occurred. The captain of the ship described in his log: “So violent are the explosions that the ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered. My last thoughts are with my dear wife. I am convinced that the Day of Judgement has come.”
According to The Independent, the force of the explosion was 10,000 times more powerful than that of a hydrogen bomb, reaching around 172 decibels over a distance of 160 kilometers. Remember that the human threshold for pain is 130 decibels. The eruption finally swallowed up 165 villages and settlements, causing the deaths of 40,000 people.
To give you an idea of the shock, this video filmed by a couple in Papua New Guinea, shows a volcano erupting – which was fortunately less powerful than Krakatoa. The shock waves however are very impressive.