When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, the results were catastrophic. The cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii were buried by flowing rivers of lava. Although it hasn’t erupted since 1631, it’s still an active volcano, and it likely will erupt again in the future. While this kind of event doesn’t happen often, volcanoes around the world are constantly erupting on a much smaller scale. And if a volcano is active, there is always a chance the next eruption could do major damage. Many large cities have been constructed near active volcanoes and there’s no way to accurately predict if history will have a chance to repeat itself.
Scientists have become more adept at predicting the eminent eruptions of various volcanoes but there’s still a serious bit of guesswork involved, meaning we may never know until it happens. The United States has 173 volcanoes, more than any other country, but any city that’s built within the radius of an active volcano is at risk to be taken out at any time. It’s a scary thought when you consider the amount of damage done by volcanoes in the past.
Here are 25 cities from around the world that could be buried by lava at any moment.
Auckland is actually a city built entirely on an active volcano field. The 130-square-mile field has had about 50 eruptions over the course of history. Rangitoto and Mount Wellington are two of the better-known volcanoes near the city but there are many smaller volcanoes nearby, including some submarine volcanoes.
Although the chances of a full-scale eruption are small, it’s still an active field and anything can happen at any time. The New Zealand government monitors them closely for any signs of increased activity. If any of the larger volcanoes were to erupt, they could certainly cause a lot of damage to Auckland and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming isn’t known for its volcanoes, but scientists believe that might change in the future. While there are no mountainous volcanoes towering over the park, the lava field that runs underground has the power to cause problems for those in the nearby neighboring cities.
Scientists believe that this field could form a supervolcano and rumble to life. The USGS regularly monitors the area for volcanic activity. The risk of this particular volcano might not be as imminent as some others, but if these predictions prove to be true, they could have devastating effects.
The Andes Mountains stretch through 4,500 miles of South America, and Quito has become a popular scenic tourist destination for people around the world. But the city is surrounded by active volcanoes that could do some serious damage if a full-scale eruption were to take place. They also fear that the volcanic activity could melt the massive glacier which could lead to catastrophic mudslides.
The Cotopaxi volcano is the tallest point in Ecuador and has somewhat regular activity. It once sent hot debris nearly 70 miles away from the peak, but they went in the opposite direction from the city. Another volcano, Pichincha was dormant for hundreds of years but showed activity again in 1990 - leaving the city vulnerable to activity on all sides.
Europe’s largest active volcano is Mount Etna, which sits just outside the city of Catania. Today the volcano serves as a popular tourist attraction, but it’s still active and still has the potential to do a lot of damage to the city.
Going back to 1169 there have been several recorded instances of lava reaching the city. The worst occurred in 1669, when lava flowed through the city streets, destroying many buildings along with the city walls. But the surviving citizens were resourceful and repurposed the hardened volcanic rock into the famous buildings that line its streets today.
Iceland is well known for its volcanic activity in recent years. In 2010 the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted sending tons of ash into the air and caused the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights across Europe. But that’s hardly the only active volcano in the area.
Katla is even larger than Eyjafjallajokull and scientists believe that it’s due to erupt in the near future. Residents are well aware of the devastating consequences this could have. In addition to lava and ash that could damage their town, there is a massive glacier on top of the volcano. If the glacier melts, a destructive mudflow could affect the city.
The west coast of the United States is home to a fair amount of volcanic activity, and Mount Rainier has shown the potential to be one of the most devastating should a full-scale eruption ever occur again. 5,000 years ago, in what’s known as the Osceola Mudflow, a substantial piece of the volcano broke off and sent lahar all the way to modern-day Seattle.
This may seem like ancient history unlikely to affect the area again, but Clive Oppenheimer, a professor of volcanology at the University of Cambridge is quick to remind us that volcanoes can surprise us. "One of the lessons of history, even recent history, is the really big eruptions have not happened at volcanoes that scientists were looking at," he told The Telegraph.
The Aeolian Islands are home to two active volcanoes on the archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Stromboli volcano has earned the nickname “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean” and its constant spew of smoke has made it a major tourist attraction. The beautiful beaches and classic Italian village only adds to its appeal.
Its nearly always active, and there’s no way to predict when that activity might become more powerful and destructive. While not many people live there year-round, thousands of people visit during the summer.
Yogyakarta is a city on the island of Java in Indonesia and is a mere 17 miles away from Mount Merapi. Mount Merapi translates to “Mountain of Fire,” but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people from building their homes on its slopes. With a population of over 1.5 million people, many lives are in danger if the volcano erupts again.
It has recorded several large scale eruptions, some of which are fairly recent. In 1930 an eruption destroyed 13 villages and claimed the lives of 1,400 people. And in 2010 a series of eruptions left 353 people dead and thousands more homeless. Smoke can still be seen coming from its vent on a regular basis, but many in the area are still reluctant to follow evacuation orders.
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and only a couple of miles away from El Misti volcano. El Misti is nearly 20,000 feet tall and its previous eruptions are actually the reason Arequipa is known as “The White City” - it was built from volcanic sillar left behind.
There hasn’t been a total eruption since the 15th century, but it still shows signs of somewhat regular activity. Should it erupt again, experts say that it could be on the same level as Pompeii with the strength and speed of the lava flow - there could even be a consequential avalanche in addition to the ash and lava.
Shimabara is located on Japan’s southern island Kyushu. It’s well known for its traditional architecture and rich history of the 17th-century samurai. It’s only 25 miles away from the powerful Mount Unzen volcano which has claimed the lives of many in the past.
As an active volcano, it’s more than capable of sending lava, lahars, ash, and hot debris into the city. But it’s most destructive eruption was in 1792 when it triggered a massive tsunami. The 100-foot tall waves rushed through the Higo Province and killed roughly 15,000 residents. It’s carefully monitored today and Japan has extensive tsunami detection systems in place in an effort to prevent another tragedy.
Santorini, an island that is actually a volcano itself, is an extremely popular tourist destination. It’s also the site of one of the biggest volcanic eruption ever recorded. The powerful blast happened roughly 3,600 years ago and may have served as the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis. It’s still active today - it’s last eruption occurring in 1950.
But another nearby volcano in the Aegean Sea may pose an even larger threat to Santorini and nearby coastal cities. Kolumbo, the submarine volcano, is more than powerful enough to cause massive tsunamis if it has another full-scale eruption.
Mt. Baker hasn’t erupted since 1880, but scientists still consider it to be an active volcano - and it’s close enough to Vancouver to cause some serious damage to the city limits. Steam plumes have been seen as recently as 2018, so it's far from an idle volcano.
The USGS has labeled Mt. Baker as a very high threat. Volcanoes are given this rating based on what's been happening inside them and how close they are to people. Vancouver, a city of 600,000, is about 80 miles away from the volcano and there are many smaller cities and towns in between, making the possibility of massive destruction a very real possibility.
Pasto is one of Colombia’s oldest cities, famous for its ancient varnish technique. People from around the world have admired the unique handcrafted items that come from the region. Galeras, a towering volcano outside of the city is another popular sight in Pasto and a potentially serious hazard for the people living near it. In addition to hot magma and scorching debris, scientists believe that it could trigger a massive avalanche.
The only full-scale eruption from Galeras was recorded in 1580, but it’s still quite active and has regular small-scale eruptions. In 1993, six scientists hiked into the crater to study the volcano and collect samples. Unfortunately, a small eruption occurred while they were inside, claiming all six members of the team.
Mount Klyuchevskaya Sopka is a massive 15,000-foot tall volcano located just outside of the Kamchatsky peninsula capital of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The city’s proximity to the volcano means that it is at a high risk of being affected by lava, hot debris, and suffocating ash that could all reach the city. But this hasn’t stopped tourists from visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Klyuchevskaya Sopka has been very active since 2013 and some of its eruptions have been quite intense. They haven't caused substantial damage to the city yet, but that could quickly change if activity continues to escalate.
Tourists flock to this popular beach town, but most are totally unaware of the potentially dangerous volcano there. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction considers Mount Teide to have the potential to be one of the earth’s most dangerous volcanoes should it ever fully erupt again. While it’s currently dormant, the UN still monitors it closely.
Mount Teide, which is Spain’s tallest peak, overlooks the small fishing village and has a long history of causing serious damage. It last erupted in 1909 causing minor damage. But the eruption that occurred in 1706 nearly wiped out the nearby town of Garachico. If its activity does increase, the results could be catastrophic.
Mount Taal is unique for several reasons. For starters, it’s a volcano inside of a lake that is inside of a larger volcano. And at just 1,000 feet above sea level, it’s one of the world’s shortest volcanos. This has turned it into a popular tourist destination, bringing people from around the world to Batangas.
While it hasn’t been active enough to be considered extremely dangerous in recent years, experts say that it could easily cause devastating amounts of damage to the city if it were to erupt. Even more dangerous than the lava, the toxic ash it produces could be heavy enough to crush building and make the air entirely unbreathable.
Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya is a sprawling national park just outside of the capital city. The park is home to the Masaya caldera, a crater in the volcanic plane that regularly releases sulfur dioxide into the air. The sulfur dioxide isn’t a huge problem, but increasing activity since the 1990s has scientists keeping a close eye on it.
With substantial explosions occurring in 2001, 2003, and 2008, scientists have good reason to be concerned that a serious volcanic event could come about in the near future. In addition to being so close to this volcanic activity, Managua is also located on the major Nejapa-Miraflores fault line, putting it at risk for serious earthquake activity as well.
Martinique is the site of the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. In 1902, Mount Pelée erupted, sending lava down the mountainside and into St. Pierre. It devastated the city, wiping out everything in its path. As the city is only about 4 miles from the volcano, very few people had time to escape and nearly everyone that lived there perished in the aftermath.
An eyewitness described the event saying, “The mountain was blown to pieces, there was no warning.” The unexpected eruption deterred people from rebuilding the former capital city to what it was, but a smaller city has been built there and is under constant threat from the volcano.
Kagoshima is a large city of nearly 600,000 people. It’s also home to Japan’s most active volcano - Sakurajima. Unlike most other volcanoes around the world, this one is a nearly constant source of activity. Rumbling and minor eruptions are common here - most of which don’t have any serious consequences.
But if history repeats itself, the results could be much worse. An eruption in 1914 claimed the lives of 35 residents. Fortunately, most in the city had already evacuated to safety because of an earlier earthquake. If this hadn’t happened, the outcome could have been devastating. Because of this, the Japanese government actually built shelters designed to protect residents from falling debris and ash.
Alaska is no stranger to volcanoes and the state is actually one of the most geologically active places on earth. According to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, it’s home to 141 active volcanoes, but most are in remote areas. Anchorage is the northern state’s largest city, and it’s surrounded by active volcanoes.
While the city hasn’t seen any major damage in recent years, the possibility is still there. Nearby volcanoes like Mt. Spur and Mt. Redoubt are frequently active and have shown signs of powerful activity in recent years. The city and nearby communities can see dustings of ash and flights often have to be canceled or delayed.
25 miles west of Mexico City is the city of Puebla. Puebla sits at the base of Popocatépetl. This mountain takes its name from the Aztec word for “smoking mountain” and is still an incredibly active volcano today. Its last known eruption was in 2010 and there have been at least 20 major instances of volcanic activity in recent history.
More than 2 million people live in the city today and government officials have issued warnings instructing people to stay at least 4 miles away from the crater. In 1995, five hikers were found dead on the mountain and experts believe that gasses from the volcano may be to blame. People have risked living there since the time of the Aztecs, mostly because of the rich soil for farming.
Legazpi City is well known for its black-sand beaches, sweeping ocean views, and fabulous hiking trails. But this popular tourist destination is also home to one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines - Mount Mayon. The Philippines are actually home to many volcanoes, but few show as much activity as Mayon.
If the volcano were to have a full-scale eruption, poisonous volcanic ash could descend down to the city, causing the air to quickly become unbreathable. The volcano also poses a risk to hikers - a small eruption recently claimed a group of five hikers near the summit, proving that there doesn’t need to be a full-scale eruption to cause some serious damage.
Mount Nyiragongo, an 11,000-foot tall volcano is located a mere 12 miles north of Goma. Nyiragongo is unique in that it’s home to one of only five lava lakes in the world, and Nyiragongo's is the largest of the five. While this might not sound quite as dangerous as a full-scale volcanic eruption, Nyiragongo has devasted Goma in the past.
In 2002, a massive flow of lava overflowed from the lake and rushed into the city, nearly destroying Goma. The flow was about 1,100 yards wide and over 6-feet deep. It destroyed the city’s airport and about 4,500 other buildings, as well as taking 147 lives. The lake is carefully monitored, so the city was prepared to evacuate, which saved many lives.
Vesuvius has destroyed cities before, and scientists believe it could happen again. Henry Gaudru, president of the European Volcanological Society, says, “The Napoli area is probably the most threatened modern urbanization.” The city itself sits only miles away from the supervolcanic Campi Flegrei fields - roughly the same distance that Vesuvius was from Pompeii - putting its residents at serious risk if there was an eruption.
Experts say that the old and narrow cobblestone streets could cause major problems if the town needed to evacuate, while the lava itself could reach the town in a mere 6 minutes. Naples is home to about 1 million people, and if Vesuvius were to erupt again, the town could easily see the same fate as Pompeii.
Hilo is located near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and has experienced the effects of volcanic eruptions several times throughout its history. Mauna Loa spit lava into the city in 1855 and 1880. Again in 1984, flowing lava came to a stop just outside the city limits. The city itself is built on hardened lava flows and several nearby villages have been destroyed in past eruptions.
Mauna Loa is a particularly dangerous volcano for several reasons. It’s the largest active volcano in the world and produces lava faster than most others. There are also many rifts and cracks down the sides of the mountain, giving lava the opportunity to exit the volcano closer to the city than if it was all forced out the top. Thankfully for city residents, the lava moves slowly enough to allow for evacuation.
Sources: The Telegraph, LiveScience, CBS, Arc GIS