7 Worst Man Made Disasters In History




Halifax Explosion 

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photo credit: the Canadian Encyclopedia

December 6, 1917

1,950 fatalities, 9,000 injured

The Halifax Explosion was the largest man made explosion in the world at its time. The explosion happened when two ships, the SS Imo and the SS Mont-Blanc, collided at low speeds in the Halifax harbor, located in Nova Scotia, Canada. The SS Mont-Blanc was transporting several thousand tons of highly explosive chemicals and TNT from New York. It was carrying 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 10 tons of gun cotton, 200 tons of TNT and 35 tons of benzoyl. Both ships made a sequence of wrong maneuvers and the crash happened at 8:44 am in the morning. The sparks from the ship’s steel bodies rubbing together caused a massive amount of sparks that lit the benzoyl barrels onboard the SS Mont-Blanc. The crew desperately tried to put the fire out but they failed. Knowing what would eventually happen all the crew from both vessels abandoned ship. 20 minutes after the initial crash an explosion of 12,000 Gigajoules (1/5 of Hiroshima) absolutely obliterated everyone and everything within a half mile radius. The blast also sent a 60 foot tsunami wave into the community. 1,950 people died instantly in the blast, another 9,000 people were injured. Buildings up to 10 miles from the explosion were destroyed. People 200 miles away from the explosion heard it. Huge metal pieces from the ship that weighed over 2,000 pounds were thrown over 2 miles onshore. 


The MV Dona Paz 1987 Disaster

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photo credit: FFE Magazine

December 20, 1987

1,749-4,341 fatalities

The MV Dona Paz incident is the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history. Nicknamed “Asia’s Titanic”, the MV Dona Paz was a Philippine passenger ocean liner that sank after colliding with the Philippine oil tanker, the MT Vector, on the night of December 20, 1987. The MT Vector also sank as well. The MV Dona Paz was on its way to the capital city of the Philippines, Manila. It was constructed to only carry 600 people but it was illegally carrying over 2,000. The night of the disaster the air was clear but the sea was really choppy. When the two ships hit, the over a million liters of gasoline on the MT Vector ignited and exploded. It started a fire that quickly spread to the MV Dona Paz. All the lights on the MV Dona Paz went out upon impact so people couldn’t see. To make matters worst the lifejackets were locked away. Passengers had to jump into the fiery ocean to try to survive. The waters were also shark infested. Another ship saw the explosion and arrived on scene about an hour later. They only rescued 26 people in the water. 24 were passengers from the MV Dona Paz and 2 were crew members from the MT Vector. Within 2 hours of the collision the MV Dona Paz sank and within 4 hours the MT Vector sank. The Philippine government didn’t know about it until 8 hours after the explosion. The Philippine Coast Guard conducted an investigation and found out that only one apprentice crew member was monitoring the bridge, meaning basically an intern was steering the ship. The rest of the crew were relaxing and drinking. The captain was reportedly watching movies in his cabin. 


The Great Smog of ’52


photo credit: www.brittanica.com

December 5-9, 1952

4,000 -12,000 fatalities, 100,000 became ill

The great capital city of the United Kingdom, London, has had poor air quality due to it dense population since as early as the 13th century. But after the 1600s, when the industrial revolution happened, it made things a lot worst. The pollution in the city combined with unique wind conditions would bring on a pretty thick smog from time to time. They called these events “Pea Soupers” because of the smog’s greenish color. They got a cute nickname because they were relatively harmless. People would just stay inside more when they occurred. However, in the beginning week of December, 1952, this was not the case. A very thick poisonous smog formed over London and stayed there for 5 days straight. It was a colder winter that year so the London residents were burning more coal causing a lot of Sulphur Dioxide to rise in the air and mix with the other pollution from car exhaust. Also, to make matters worst winds blew in even more pollution from across Europe that settled around London and formed what’s known as an anticyclone. This is where low winds blow counter-clockwise in a circle trapping the air in the middle. The smog was stuck on the city for 5 days and was seeping into people’s houses. People’s respiratory tracts started failing and 4,000 people died. Another 100,000 became ill because of it. Afterwards, the city passed the Clean Air Act of 1956. 


Bhopal Gas Tragedy


photo credit: Livemint

December 3, 1984

16,000 fatalities (over half a million injured) 

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. On the night of December 3rd through the following morning, a deadly gas leak occurred at the Union Carbide Indian Limited (UCIL) pesticide factory. What happened was routine pipe maintenance caused water to back flow into huge storage tanks of methyl-isocyanate (MIC) which caused the liquid MIC to turn into gas. The tanks couldn’t contain the pressure and the tanks exploded open, releasing a  giant cloud of poisonous gas to terrorize the neighboring towns around the factory. People woke up coughing with their eyes burning. Many started running away from the plant but their increased breathing just made it worst. MIC gas poisoning burns the respiratory tract and shuts down the circulatory system. It’s estimated that 8,000 people died within two weeks of the leak and another 8,000 people died since. Over half a million people still have illnesses related to the incident. The factory owners, UCIL, had to pay $470 million in fines due to poor management. 



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April 26, 1986

4,000-16,000 fatalities 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident was the greatest nuclear disaster in history that happened on April 26, 1986, in Soviet Ukraine (now Ukraine). One of the reactors in the nuclear power plant had an unexpected nuclear chain reaction in poor conditions which caused it to explode and catch fire. This released an enormous amount of airborne radioactive contamination for nine days into the USSR and Europe. The reactor explosion killed 2 men of the power plant staff. 134 firemen were hospitalized due to radiation poisoning. 28 of them died within a few months and 14 died due to cancer within the next 10 years. The city was evacuated and is now a ghost town. The USSR wanted to keep the explosion a secret because it happened due to a design flaw they knew about in the reactors and mis-management. Europe only discovered something was seriously wrong because their nuclear powers plants were detecting radiation in the air. The total death toll caused by Chernobyl is highly disputed. Russia claims it’s only about 4,000. But due to lack of information and uncertainty we don’t know exactly how many people died by the radiation effects causing cancer, but by some experts estimates it was in the tens of thousands all across Europe. The area surrounding Chernobyl won’t be 100% safe to live for another 20,000 years. Although some people returned to live there and its now even a tourist attraction. 

Fidenae Amphitheater Collapse 

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27 AD

20,000 fatalities

The Fidenae Amphitheater Collapse is the worst stadium disaster in human history. It occurred in the ancient Roman city of Fidenae, which is just north of Rome, in 27 AD. An entrepreneur name Atilius had an amphitheater built to celebrate the end of prohibition of the gladiator games the Roman Emperor Tiberius had banned. Huge audiences of people flocked to these early renewed gladiator games so Atilius built his stadium cheap and fast so he could capitalize. 50,000 people attended his stadium for the games and the whole thing collapsed killing 20,000 people and injuring a lot more. After this disaster the Roman Senate made a law prohibiting anyone who doesn’t have at least 400,000 sesterces (Roman money) from hosting gladiator games. They also passed laws stating any new stadium built must be built well, on a solid foundation and must be inspected, They then banished Atilius from the Roman Empire. 


Banquio Dam Collapse

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photo credit: Ozy

August 8, 1975

26,000 fatalities (by flood), up to 145,000 (by famine)

The Banquio Dam was completed in 1952, in the Huai River Basin in Henan Province, China. It was referred to as “the Iron Dam” because engineers were certain it couldn’t break. It was designed to hold 300 mm of rainfall per day, which is a phenomenon that happens about every 1,000 years in the area. In August 1975, because of Typhoon Nina, the entire province got 1060mm of rainfall in just 24 hours, when usually they average 800mm for the whole year. The storm took out communications to the dam base and so they couldn’t hear they were being told to open the dam. Also, all the smaller dams upriver from them had their communications down to. One by one the smaller dams failed causing an enormous amount of water to hit the Banquio Dam. It too broke and 78,800 tons of water per second burst out. The total water released from all the dams combined was almost 16 billion tons. The water caused a wave as big as 22 feet tall by 6 miles wide that traveled at 30 mph. The wave completely destroyed everything in its path 34 miles long and 10 miles wide. It is estimated that 26,000 people perished in the initial flood and 145,000 died due to famine that followed. The dam has since been rebuilt.