Eyjafjallajökull Erupts

En Route: A Volcano Erupts
En Route: A Volcano Erupts

Reading reports of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull erupting, and seeing video of the magnificent, terrifying event, I was reminded me of my own volcano encounter at Mount Merapi.

The destructive forces that come with such a geological event are nearly unimaginable. Thousand-degree flows of molten rock — accompanied by toxic, heavier-than-air gasses that eradicate all living things along its path — carve deadly streams across the landscape.

The magnitude of the Earth’s geological power combined with its sheer unpredictability is clearly evident here. The last time Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced AYA-feeyapla-yurkul) erupted, in 1821, it lasted two years.

Below Mount Merapi, giant ravines bear testament to the unstoppability of these forces of nature.

I recall my guide describing how, in a village in Central Java, rescue workers facing encroaching rivers of lava took shelter in an underground bunker. Designed to guard against noxious fumes and ashfall, the structure was not designed to protect people from the searing heat, and the refugees perished.

Coverage of the recent eruption and the fact of having witnessed the aftereffects of a living, breathing volcano on a tiny community made for a sobering perspective: Luck was all that separated the timing of my visit from those tragic moments of 2006 in Indonesia — or 2010 in Iceland.

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