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Trending that caught Doug's eye... active volcanoes

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Remember that long-running gag on the hilarious Canadian comedy series Second City Television?

We mean the one wherein the two overall-wearing hicks, Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok, would interview celebrities like Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, then encourage them to blow up.

The payoff came when the celebrity exploded, causing Big Jim and Billy Sol to joyfully bellow their catchphrase: "He blow'd up good! He blow'd up real good!"

It was hard not to think of those bozos last Saturday when Mount Etna, Europe's highest and most active volcano, once again blew its top, sending up a towering plume of ash visible throughout much of eastern Sicily.

Eruptions from the 3,350-metre volcano are fairly frequent, although the last major one occurred in 1992. Last Saturday's blast was more of a popgun than an atomic bomb, forcing only a brief closure of nearby airspace. None of the villages on the mountain slope had to be evacuated, but it created quite a spectacle, catching the eye of NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, who saw the show from the International Space Station and posted a photo on her Twitter account.

It was a good explosion, but not a great one, and it definitely can't hold a Roman candle to our five favourite volcanic eruptions of all time:

5) WHAT BLEW ITS TOP: Mount St. Helens

WHERE IT BLEW: Washington State

THE EXPLOSIVE STORY: At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980, after lying dormant for more than 120 years, this volcano in the U.S. Pacific Northwest flipped its lid. It was the most economically destructive and deadliest volcanic event in U.S. history, killing 57 people and thousands of animals. The eruption shot a mushroom-shaped plume of volcanic ash about 26 kilometres into the air, some of which made its way to Winnipeg in the form of a fine gray powder that fell from the sky. It was preceded by a 5.1-magnitude quake that caused a large chunk of the mountain to slide away. It erupted violently for nine hours, obliterating some 322 square kilometres of trees, 250 homes, 47 bridges, 24 kilometres of railways and 298 kilometres of highway. The mountain's snow-capped summit became a giant crater.


Mount Pinatubo


The Philippines

THE EXPLOSIVE STORY: Considered the second-largest eruption of the 20th century, Pinatubo put on a terrifying display on June 15, 1991, ejecting more than five cubic kilometres of material roughly 35 kilometres into the atmosphere. Packing a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) rating of 6 -- the scale goes from one to eight -- Pinatubo, which hadn't erupted for six centuries, claimed as many as 800 lives. Ash was spread around the world by air currents, and some roofs in the Philippines actually collapsed under the weight. According to scientific websites, it cooled global ground temperatures by 0.5 C for the next two years.

3) WHAT BLEW ITS TOP: Mount Vesuvius

WHERE IT BLEW: Southern Italy at the Bay of Naples

THE EXPLOSIVE STORY: Almost every schoolchild knows that when Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, it left the ancient Roman city of Pompeii -- along with Herculaneum and many area villas -- frozen in time, buried under ash and pumice up to six metres deep. It's possible up to 25,000 people were covered by the shroud of ash, but modern archeologists reportedly are aware of roughly 1,000 whose remains were preserved as the debris rained down for almost an entire day. During Pompeii's excavation, researchers used plaster to fill voids between the ash layers that once held Pompeii's citizens, allowing modern eyes to see the positions they were in at the time of death. It is now a World Heritage Site.

2) WHAT BLEW ITS TOP: The volcanic island of Krakatoa

WHERE IT BLEW: Indonesia

THE EXPLOSIVE STORY: How powerful was this blast? When Krakatoa erupted on April 26-27, 1883, it reportedly went off with the force of 13,000 atomic bombs. It is believed to have been the loudest sound in modern history, heard up to 4,800 kilometres from the island. According to, hundreds in a nearby Sumatran town died almost instantly when flaming ash incinerated their homes, and many more were washed away in tsunamis, with waves towering up to 40 metres. An estimated 36,000 perished in the cataclysm and the island itself was destroyed. Worst of all? In 1969, Hollywood released the thriller movie Krakatoa, East of Java. The problem? Krakatoa was, in fact, WEST of Java.

1) WHAT BLEW ITS TOP: Mount Tambora

WHERE IT BLEW: The Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia

THE EXPLOSIVE STORY: This was the Big One! On the eight-point Volcano Explosivity Index, the eruption of Tambora on the island of Sumbawa rated a 7, or "super-colossal." It is considered the biggest volcanic eruption ever recorded. Scientific websites say about 10,000 people were killed almost instantly by lava flows and toxic fumes, while the overall death toll from the apocalyptic blast, tsunamis and resulting starvation was closer to 92,000. According to and, it was so big it cancelled summer. So much ash was thrown into the atmosphere, it blocked sunlight and solar radiation, turning 1816 into "the year without a summer."

VOLCANO SAFETY TIP: Volcanoes such as Etna and Tambora are still active, so everyone should keep at least one eye glued to the sky at all times. Because no one wants to get "blow'd up," not even if it's "real good."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 D2

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