The most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history occurs on Krakatau (also called Krakatoa), a small, uninhabited volcanic island located west of Sumatra in Indonesia, on this day in 1883. Heard 3,000 miles away, the explosions threw five cubic miles of earth 50 miles into the air, created 120-foot tsunamis and killed 36,000 people.
Krakatau exhibited its first stirrings in more than 200 years on May 20, 1883. A German warship passing by reported a seven-mile high cloud of ash and dust over Krakatau. For the next two months, similar explosions would be witnessed by commercial liners and natives on nearby Java and Sumatra. With little to no idea of the impending catastrophe, the local inhabitants greeted the volcanic activity with festive excitement.
On August 26 and August 27, excitement turned to horror as Krakatau literally blew itself apart, setting off a chain of natural disasters that would be felt around the world for years to come. An enormous blast on the afternoon of August 26 destroyed the northern two-thirds of the island; as it plunged into the Sunda Strait, between the Java Sea and Indian Ocean, the gushing mountain generated a series of pyroclastic flows (fast-moving fluid bodies of molten gas, ash and rock) and monstrous tsunamis that swept over nearby coastlines. Four more eruptions beginning at 5:30 a.m. the following day proved cataclysmic. The explosions could be heard as far as 3,000 miles away, and ash was propelled to a height of 50 miles. Fine dust from the explosion drifted around the earth, causing spectacular sunsets and forming an atmospheric veil that lowered temperatures worldwide by several degrees.
Of the estimated 36,000 deaths resulting from the eruption, at least 31,000 were caused by the tsunamis created when much of the island fell into the water. The greatest of these waves measured 120 feet high, and washed over nearby islands, stripping away vegetation and carrying people out to sea. Another 4,500 people were scorched to death from the pyroclastic flows that rolled over the sea, stretching as far as 40 miles, according to some sources.
In addition to Krakatau, which is still active, Indonesia has another 130 active volcanoes, the most of any country in the world.
Taken from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history [27.08.2013]
The dramatic skyline in Edvard Munch's The Scream (1893) is claimed by some historians to be based on the global atmospheric effects as seen by him over Oslofjord, Norway, shortly after the eruptions
Czech writer Karel Čapek was inspired by the name and intensity of the eruption when writing his 1922 novel Krakatit about an abuse of power in a form of powerful explosive of the same name. It was adapted into film in 1949, directed by Otakar Vávra and starring Karel Höger.
The Twenty-One Balloons (Viking Press, 1947), a Newbery Medal-winning children's novel by William Pène du Bois, recounts the incredible adventures of Professor William Waterman Sherman who in 1883 sets off in a balloon across the Pacific, survives the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa, and is eventually picked up in the Atlantic.
Krakatoa, East of Java was a film directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and starred Maximilian Schell; the novelization of the same title (New American Library, 1969, ISBN 0-451-03797-9), was written by Michael Avallone.
The eruption of Krakatoa and the following tsunami are depicted in the 1998 Scrooge McDuck comic The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark by Don Rosa.
In the 2001 science fiction novel by Connie Willis entitled Passage, various disasters are discussed by the characters, particularly by the hospitalized girl Maisie, who shares her "disasterology" books with Dr. Joanna Lander:
Joanna pulled it out of the bag and brought it over to the bed, and Maisie began searching through it. "Krakatoa was the biggest volcano ever. It made these red sunsets all over the world. Blood red. Here it is." ... "It blew the whole island apart. Krakatoa," she said, flipping through the book. "It made this huge noise, like a whole bunch of cannons."
Dark of the Sun: A Novel of Saint-Germain (Tor Books, 2004; ISBN 0-765-31103-8), by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, sees the vampire Count Saint-Germain flee the eruption and undertake an arduous travel back to his homeland in Transylvania.