The limnic eruption of Lake Nyos, Cameroon, Africa, was a silent killer. It crept up from behind and left no physical damage, no life, and no trace that it ever occurred.
On the morning of August 21st, 1986, a new ghost town was formed. At first glance, Nyos Village in Cameroon, Africa seemed unusually quiet, but otherwise normal. There was no physical destruction to be seen, but damage was certainly done. Everything was still, not a dog barking or a friendly hello from a local. There were no children playing, no birds chirping, no morning buzz of activity around the village’s center. There was no motion, no sound. The village was no more, even though it still stood. Every living thing had died.
Lake Nyos is a volcanic lake, created by a maar volcano. Volcanic activity under the surface caused a buildup of carbon dioxide gas dissolved into lower layers of the water over 400 years, so the lake was a ticking time bomb. On the night of the limnic eruption, rain had cooled the lake’s usually crystal blue surface and weakened the surrounding slopes. When some form of mass wasting occurred, depositing sediment into the lake, water was overturned and over a square kilometer of carbon dioxide was released. This filled the nearby villages and farms, killing 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock animals.
A degassing system has been put in place, which uses the pressurized nature of the carbon dioxide to pull the dissolved gas from the the bottom layers of the lake and release it safely into the atmosphere. Though this system is in place, scientists are still unsure if this is enough to keep the lake from erupting again. The area has just recently been repopulated, and Cameroonian agencies are working to rebuild the area with new schools, safe water drinking stations, and mills.
I will leave you with a recount of the disaster from one of only six survivors from the village of Nyos, Joseph Nkwain: “I could not speak. I became unconscious. I could not open my mouth because then I smelled something terrible … I heard my daughter snoring in a terrible way, very abnormal…. When crossing to my daughter’s bed … I collapsed and fell … I wanted to speak, my breath would not come out…. My daughter was already dead.”