“He makes the winds His messengers, flaming fire His ministers.” —Psalm 104:4
The Eruption of Krakatoa, August 27, 1883
ut for a walk on a summer Sabbath in 1884, boys from a mission school on the island of Zanzibar, East Africa, spotted a strange looking object stranded on a sandbar in the ocean. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be a black island of pumice on which were dozens of human skeletons, monkeys, and a couple of Bengal tiger’s bones. They had floated on the ocean for nine months, more than 4,600 miles, after the volcanic explosion and disappearance of 70% of the Island of Krakatoa between the the colonial Dutch-controlled Islands of Sumatra and Java. As the first great natural catastrophe in the age of communication, the sound of the explosion was heard 3,000 miles away and the reportage of it zoomed around the world on transoceanic cables. The volcano’s explosion was about 13,000 times the nuclear yield of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
An 1888 lithograph of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa
Indonesia is made up of hundreds of volcanic islands, a number of which sit on a “subduction” zone of tectonic plates under the ocean. Krakatoa was located above where the archipelago bends slightly in the Sunda Strait. Seismic events were carefully recorded in the Dutch capital of Batavia (now Jakarta) eighty-three miles away, and other stations around the East Indies, in the years and months leading up to the Krakatoa explosion. In May and June, thick black columns emanated from fissures on Krakatoa, as well as explosions, observed by mariners of several nations whose ships plied the Sunda Straits. A Dutch engineer was sent to investigate ongoing activity on the island and reported three major ash columns and almost two feet of ash on the island. All flora had died and he counted at least eleven new steam vents. By August 26, the dark plume over Krakatoa had reached about seventeen miles high.