Krakatoa-Preparing for the Future?

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They were just like any other family. They loved, laughed, cried, argued, fought, struggled. It had always been that way.

The parents were getting on in years. All but one of the children were grown now. The youngest was planning her wedding—hopefully within the year.

The weather had been a little unsettled lately. The local "nut" said there was trouble ahead, but who listened to him? He was building a boat miles from any water! And it was a boat like nothing anyone had ever seen; it was more like a barge, for it had no rudder. It looked finished now—after what seemed like over a hundred years.

The rain that had begun yesterday had continued through the night. This morning it was pouring. Vibrations deep beneath the surface shook the earth under their feet, and the rain pelted down so hard they could barely see. A sudden panic overwhelmed them and they ran to the huge boat, stumbling through the mud.

The animals that had gathered by the boat were nowhere to be seen. Rubbing their eyes in disbelief, they watched a searing light trace an outline on the side of the barge. When it faded, the huge ramp and entrance door to the side of the great craft looked as if they had been sealed with pitch by an invisible workman.

A catastrophic roar shook the ground. Great chunks of earth exploded skyward, followed by gushing torrents of water. They scrambled for the nearest hilltop, but there were hundreds of other panic-stricken people ahead of them. The water rose rapidly.

They were too late.

As it was in the days of Noah...

In Matthew 24:36-42, Jesus Christ compared the time of His return to the days before Noah's Flood. He spoke of interrupted lives and people caught unaware by the events enveloping them.

It will be a time that's hard to fathom, just as it's difficult to envision what it must have been like to have been overtaken by the Flood. An unexpected catastrophe ended millions of lives—and will again, according to Jesus Christ.

There is, it so happens, a historical account of a terrible catastrophe that happened just over 120 years ago, approximately the same amount of time Noah had to prepare. The year was 1883—and there's a lesson in it for those who heed the warnings of Scripture.

Our story happens at the precise geographic location of 6 degrees 6 minutes south latitude, 105 degrees 25 minutes east longitude, which is in the ocean near the nation of Indonesia. This nation is composed of many islands, including Sumatra to the west of "our spot" and Java to the east. "Our spot" is a place that was once known as the island of Krakatoa. I say "once known" because... well, let's just get into the story.

The Dutch had colonized the area, and were in control in the 1880s. They strung together the various islands in the area, forming one administrative region—which, with some adjustments, became the nation of Indonesia.

But that's not where the history of Krakatoa begins ("Krakatau" as the locals called it; an English newspaper printed it that fateful summer of 1883 as "Krakatoa" and the name stuck). The Javanese peoples to the east of Krakatoa tell us that the island of Krakatoa "blew its top" previously in about the year A.D. 535.

The next explosion was in 1680 and was witnessed by several ships' captains. They reported the mountaintop smoking and belching fire. But the smoke stopped, and the island occasionally issued small wisps of cloud and smoke for the next 200 years.

Early on the morning of Thursday, May 10, 1883, things changed. Just after midnight the lighthouse keeper at First Point, a rocky headland on the southeast side of the Sunda Strait, felt a tremor in the air. The lighthouse seemed to shift on its foundations. The sea whitened, appeared to freeze briefly (like a depth charge going off under the surface), became oddly smooth, shivered slightly and returned to the usual motion of the waves.

Five days later it happened again. This time it was stronger, and was felt to the west as well, in eastern Sumatra and western Java. One Dutch official in the Sumatran town of Ketimbang was awakened by the thudding, rumbling bangs under his feet on May 15, and five days later filed a report.

Beaches on fire

The ships were the next to notice. The Sunda Strait was then, as now, a very busy waterway. There were at least 10 ships in the vicinity when Krakatoa's first eruption began in May 1883. Each captain had a story to tell. Several reported large amounts of volcanic ash falling all over their ships. One told of his compass spinning crazily, finally settling at least 12 degrees off course, caused by the extremely high iron content in the ash. Dozens of other reports appeared, some official, some private.

In the Javanese coastal town of Anjer, fishermen came home that day with tales about the beach splitting wide open, spewing black ash and red-hot stones into the air. Two Dutch officials, disbelieving, raced out to the island in a small boat. They dodged floating pumice and massive charred tree trunks in the ocean, saw horrific thick clouds of volcanic ash and the beach itself on fire.

Two days later, it all calmed down. After six weeks a Dutch exploration mission landed on Krakatoa and examined the still charred island. They climbed the volcano's crater, burned the soles of their shoes, coughed through the sulfuric foul-smelling air and returned safely. On Aug. 11 a Dutch army captain, ordered to perform a geologic survey on the island, landed and spent two days. He left late on Aug. 12, reporting that all three peaks were emitting smoke and vapor. No less than 14 vent holes, or fumaroles, on the sides of the peaks were smoking. He concluded that Krakatoa could erupt again at any moment.

Two weeks later, the island proved him right.

On Sunday, Aug. 26, things were pretty much normal in the town of Anjer. Until 1:06 p.m. The telegraph agent for the port was sitting on the veranda of the Anjer Hotel smoking his cigar, looking out to sea, when he heard an explosion. He immediately looked to his left and saw an enormous cloud of white smoke spewing from the mountain. The sea thrashed in turmoil, the water action unlike any tide known to man. Within minutes the town was enveloped in volcanic dust and ash. The sun was blotted out.

Ships in the area tried desperately to steam out of danger, dodging showers of rock and ash. One Dutch warship was picked up by the huge tidal waves generated and thrown 21⁄2 miles inland on Java. A British ship anchored in Batavia (80 miles east) reported "electrical disturbances" in the huge cloud mushrooming over the mountain, and estimated that the column of smoke this time was more than twice as high as in May—reaching over 17 miles up.

By 8 p.m. Sunday, the ocean began to cause the most grief. As the explosions continued and intensified, the sea itself was churned up at unfathomable levels. In Ketimbang residents fled in terror, up the mountainsides, away from the rampaging walls of water. Tsunamis over 130 feet high raced from the island at 60 miles per hour. Reaching the Sumatran shore, they slowed to 20 miles per hour and, slicing inland, slowed further still.

One family literally outran the waves up the mountain. They dodged chunks of smoking pumice hurtling from the sky, burning like meteorites. The mud and jungle reached out to slow them; the wife felt her throat constricting, and reached to find the reason for her difficulty. Leeches had attached themselves to her neck like some grotesque jewelry. This family reached its summer hilltop cottage at midnight all safe—husband, wife, three children and household servants. Thousands of others were not so fortunate.

Four more gigantic explosions were still to come. The first was at 5:30 a.m., Monday, Aug. 27. Forty-five minutes later, Ketimbang was destroyed by a monster wave. Shortly afterward Anjer suffered the same fate. The second explosion came at 6:44 a.m., 41 minutes after what should have been dawn that day. At 8:20 a.m., a third, terrible explosion was felt 80 miles away in Batavia. Buildings began to sway and "crackle," some residents said.

Unimaginably destructive force

Then, at 10:02 a.m., in a culminating, majestic, awful roar that was the loudest noise that has been reported since human beings have inhabited this planet, the majority of the island of Krakatoa simply vanished. Six cubic miles of rock were blasted out of existence.

Captain Sampson of HMS Norham Castle, steaming near Sumatra, wrote these words in his log: "A fearful explosion. A frightful sound. I am writing this in pitch darkness. We are under a continual rain of pumice-stone and dust. So violent are the explosions that the eardrums of over half my crew have been shattered. My last thoughts are with my dear wife. I am convinced that the Day of Judgment has come."

He and his crew survived. Many did not: 165 villages were destroyed; 36,417 people died—almost all of them drowned in the gigantic tidal waves following the explosion.

The eruption produced two kinds of shock waves. The first was a sudden burst of air pressure measured by a myriad of instruments in that age of immense interest in the new science of meteorology. That air pressure wave circled the earth seven times, finally dying away 15 days later as an echo too faint to measure! It traveled at the speed of sound (which varies with altitude and air pressure)—between 674 and 726 miles per hour.

The ocean waves (tsunamis) comprised the other shock wave. The town of Merak, 30 miles east of Anjer, lost all but two of its 2,700 residents—all drowned.

One woman in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), 2,000 miles away, was swept off the harbor sandbar when the wave hit the port city of Panama. She was deemed the most distant fatality.

The waves were distinctly measured at what seemed impossible distances. Over 3,000 miles away, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the wave was still four feet high when it arrived. A German South Polar expedition on South Georgia Island saw the icebergs lift 15 inches, a dozen times. Near the celebrated French resort of Biarriz, 10,720 nautical miles from Krakatoa, seven undulations in the ocean, each 3 inches high, were measured. The wave finally died in the English Channel—at Devonport, England, where the harbor authorities witnessed the last vestiges of Krakatoa's explosion wave, 11,800 miles distant.

Then there was the sound. The explosions were heard in Saigon, Bangkok, Manila and Perth—each nearly 2,000 miles away. Eighteen witnesses in Ceylon (also 2,000 miles away) reported the explosions. Stockmen driving their cattle across the Hammersley Range in Western Australia reported what they thought was artillery fire to the northwest.

On the island of Rodriguez, 350 miles from Mauritius, in a storm blowing in from the southeast, many of the island's 5,000 residents distinctly heard the explosions. They, too, thought they were hearing distant artillery fire. Rodriguez is 2,968 miles from Krakatoa.

Under the impact of Krakatoa's explosion, 13 percent of the earth's surface vibrated audibly.

And then there were the climatic changes. Modern experts estimate that ash from Krakatoa was thrown over 30 miles up—over 160,000 feet into the air. At that level, the tiny particles are virtually weightless, since they are in the lower stratosphere. The earth's sunsets were affected for three years, gradually returning to normal by 1886. Artists had a field day painting the red sunsets that resulted!

In two separate incidents in the northeastern United States, fire companies answered calls in the early evening hours, sure they had a fire to put out. It was the sunset glowing red from the ash from Krakatoa.

Probably the most grotesque development was the washing up on shores, hundreds of miles away, of corpses trapped in pumice "rafts." This went on for over a year.

What about Christians?

This tragic event has now receded so far into history that few are aware of the sheer power of the cataclysm. My source for the information in this article was the book Krakatoa, the Day the World Exploded, by Simon Winchester. According to the author, Krakatoa is "only" the fifth-most powerful volcanic explosion in earth's history, when all factors are taken into account. But its unique placement in the ocean, near several settled areas, contributed to the huge destruction it wreaked on this planet in 1883.

Krakatoa has a message for us as we anticipate the return of Jesus Christ to inaugurate the earthly rule of the Kingdom of God. That future time will be one of tremendous spiritual and physical upheaval on this earth, according to God's Word. We read of earth's inhabitants fleeing to the mountains and caves, begging the rocks to fall on them, when they observe some of the heavenly signs (Revelation 6:16). There will be nowhere to hide from the incomprehensible events shattering their lives.

Christ's revelation to the apostle John shows apocalyptic events that will make the earth itself seem on the verge of destruction. "And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth...Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found" (Revelation 16:18, 20).

The events surrounding the explosion of Krakatoa in August 1883 involved one volcano!

Where does that leave the disciples of Jesus Christ in this world? It places them in the position they must always be in—living life in such a way as to be ready for the events that lie ahead. Christ Himself said it best in Matthew 24:46: "Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing."

Is there any other way to live a godly life?

And the future?

In 1919, a survey was made of the area where Krakatoa Island had stood. After the 1883 explosion, all that remained was Rakata, the southernmost peak. It looked like a laboratory cross-section of the earth itself, sliced straight down into the Indian Ocean. But by 1919, a small shoe-shaped ridge had developed just north of Bosun's Rock, one of two small islands that had enveloped Krakatoa.

In June 1927, ships' companies reported seeing a distinct line of froth, bubbles and steam in the water; by year's end, a quarter-mile course through the water mirrored a great rending of the sea bottom, a thousand feet down. On Jan. 26, 1928, the volume of bubbles and flame changed form again—a plume of ash and a tiny mass of solid rock broke the surface of the ocean. A thin curve of brand-new land appeared, forming a scimitar-shaped island, a sandbar 500 feet long and 10 feet high, with smoke and explosions discharging from its base. It was named "Anak Krakatoa" ("son of Krakatoa"). The water's erosion forced it below the surface in less than a week.
For three years the ocean and the "son of Krakatoa" did battle. On Aug. 11, 1930, the submarine vents in the sea made their fourth attempt to reclaim a spot above the surface. On the second day, a massive eruption sent clouds of vapor, steam, ash and magma over a mile high, settling back down on the base.

The volcano was winning. Anak Krakatoa was now 20 feet high and half a mile long. By 1950, the new peak was 500 feet high, half a mile wide and a mile long.

Today, Anak Krakatoa is 1,500 feet high, with massive twin craters near its apex. The flora and fauna have returned; plants, animals, birds and insects have flourished. But since the 1960s, some of the vegetation has been destroyed. How?

By lava. The mountain is no longer silent.

It is gurgling, rumbling, steaming, convulsing. Perhaps it is preparing for Revelation 16:20. In any case, it is preparing, once more, behind the scenes, to be heard and seen by the entire world.

Are God's children similarly preparing? WNP

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