Year
1888

Volcano buries victims in fiery mud

The Bandai volcano erupts on the Japanese island of Honshu on this day in 1888, killing hundreds and burying many nearby villages in ash.

Honshu, the main island of the Japanese archipelago, is in an area of intense geological activity, where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are relatively common. The Bandai volcano is a mountain in northern Honshu with a very steep slope. It had erupted four times in the 1,000 years prior to the 1888 eruption, but none of these had been particularly deadly.

At just after 7 a.m. on July 15, rumblings were heard from Bandai. Only 30 minutes after that, an explosion on the north side of the mountain caused powerful tremors. Fifteen minutes later, there was another explosion and, in the next two hours, dozens followed. The explosive eruptions sent debris thousands of feet into the air. The resulting cloud of ash and steam was estimated at 21,000 feet wide.

The giant cloud sent a dangerous rain of burning mud down over the area. Several villages in the Bandai area were buried by a combination of the fiery mud and landslides caused by the tremors. At the Kawakami spa, 100-foot-deep debris covered the ground. Although 100 bodies were recovered there, many were never found.

The best estimate is that 461 people were killed and hundreds more were seriously injured, suffering broken bones and skulls from the rain or flying debris, as a result of the eruption. More than one hundred people were critically burned. The eruption left an 8,000-foot crater in the earth. In the aftermath, the ash from Bandai dimmed the sun slightly worldwide for months.

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