FASCINATING FACTS: 50 Bizarre Facts About Gruesome Disasters
1. Great Whiskey Fire
The Great Whiskey Fire of Dublin killed 13 people in 1875, but none of them perished as a result of smoke inhalation or burns. All victims died of alcohol poisoning by drinking the whiskey from the river of burning whiskey that ran through the streets of Dublin that night.
2. The worst sports disaster took place in 29 C.E. in a cheap wooden stadium in Fidenae, 8 miles north of Rome. It collapsed during a crowded gladiator game and killed at least 20,000 people. The Roman Senate responded by requiring that future stadiums be inspected and certified.
3. In 1937, a gas leak in the basement of a local school in New London, Texas caused a massive explosion which killed almost 300 children and teachers. It is the deadliest school disaster in US history. Adolf Hitler even sent his condolences by telegram.
4. The Chernobyl disaster would have been a lot worse if three engineers hadn’t volunteered to swim through radioactive water to open valves and drain the liquid to prevent a steam explosion.
5. In 2004, more than 300 people died in a supermarket fire in Paraguay because the owners shut the doors so that people wouldn’t leave without paying for the merchandise.
6. Sultana disaster
The worst maritime disaster in US history was the Sultana disaster. It was a steamboat in which 1192 souls perished in 1865 after its boilers exploded just outside Memphis. Not very many people heard about it since news coverage focused on the killing of John Wilkes Booth the previous day.
7. No alarms went off on the day of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion because they had been disabled to spare workers from being woken up by false alarms.
8. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the history of New York City and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. 146 garment workers, most of the victims being women between the ages of 14-23 perished behind the doors of the factory which were locked to prevent worker theft. Many had to jump out of windows to try and escape the blaze.
9. During the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, fishermen in South India said they saw with their own eyes “the reality of generations of legends…the remains of ancient temples and hundreds of refrigerator-sized blocks, all briefly exposed before the sea swallowed them up again.”
10. The infamous Great Seattle Fire of 1889 also killed 1 million rats, which completely eliminated the town’s major rodent problem.
11. Halifax explosion
The death toll of the Halifax explosion would have been significantly higher if not for a lone railway dispatcher. The railyard had evacuated after being warned of the impending explosion, but one man ran back to telegraph halt orders to all inbound trains for Halifax, saving hundreds of lives.
12. In 1985, a volcano in Colombia that was covered in glaciers erupted, instantly melting the glaciers. Two hours later, a 100 feet deep flood of rock and water traveling 39 feet per second leveled an entire nearby village named Armero, killing 20,000 out of its 29,000 residents.
13. On a day in which there was fog heavy enough to reduce visibility to less than 500 yards, two Boeing 747s had a head-on collision on the runway of the Tenerife Airport in Canary Islands, which resulted in 583 casualties and the deadliest accident in aviation history.
14. A massive earthquake struck Japan in 1923, causing a fire tornado that incinerated 38,000 people in 15 minutes and it got so hot that people’s feet got stuck to melting tarmac preventing them from running away.
15. In 1980, an oil drilling company misinterpreted the coordinate reference system causing it to puncture the salt mine below it and draining the entire Lake Peigneur into it.
16. Kamaishi City tsunami
Out of the 1,000 deaths in the Kamaishi City tsunami of 2011, only 5 were school-aged children. 3,000 children from two elementary schools were saved because one professor who survived a 2004 tsunami insisted on rigorous tsunami evacuation training.
17. Bhopal gas disaster was the worst industrial disaster ever killing close to 4000 people. In 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and caused significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The American CEO of the company was arrested, let out on $2100 bail and never came back to India to face charges.
18. In 1989, a train disaster in Russia killed 575 people all because of a gas leak. Estimates of the size of the explosion have ranged from 250–300 tons of TNT equivalent to up to 10,000 tons of TNT equivalent. Without anyone knowing, a faulty gas pipeline 3,000 feet from the line had leaked natural gas liquids and weather conditions allowed the gas to accumulate across the lowlands, creating a flammable cloud.
19. The Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster was one of the worst industrial accidents in the US. Between 476 to 1,000 workers eventually died of silicosis in the 1930s after a silica vein was struck boring the tunnel.
20. In 1921, workers at an ammonium nitrate factory in Oppau (now in Germany) tried clearing a clogged silo with dynamite. The resulting explosion killed 500 people and left 6500 homeless.
21. Ryongchon disaster
The 2004 Ryongchon disaster in North Korea killed 160 and injured up to 3000 people when a train full of gasoline crashed into a train full of butane. Many children were blinded by looking at the blast out of school windows and the shockwave sent glass projectiles into their face.
22. In 1957, an explosion occurred at a plutonium plant in the USSR, resulting in the third-worst nuclear accident in history. The government kept it secret for 19 years.
23. During World War 2, a munitions accident in a Port Chicago, California became the world’s largest explosion ever recorded before an atom bomb was tested. It accounted for 15% of African-American naval deaths for the entire war.
24. In 1769, a single lightning stroke struck the city of Brescia, Italy hitting gunpowder storage. The resulting explosion killed 3,000 people and destroyed one-sixth of the city.
25. The 2010 San Bruno Pipeline Explosion created a reported 1000 foot tall wall of flames and a 1.1 Earthquake. It destroyed 38 homes, killing 8 people including a 44-year-old woman named Jacqueline Greig. She worked at the California Public Utilities Commission trying to replace outdated gas lines.
26. Wanggongchang gunpowder explosion
The Wanggongchang gunpowder factory explosion of 1626, in Beijing, China killed 20,000 people and was heard 150 km away. Victims were stripped of their clothing due to the force of the blast. The cause behind it has never been determined.
27. West Loch disaster was a maritime accident that sank 6 ships and killed nearly 200 Americans in Pearl Harbor during World War 2 in 1944. It was censored and classified until 1960 and thus very little known is known about the disaster.
28. In 1989, 96 people were killed at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England after they were crushed due to overcrowding. Although match attendees and hooliganism were first cited as the cause, a 2016 inquiry found the police to be at fault due to their mismanagement of the crowd.
29. In the Balvano train disaster of 1944, over 500 people illegally riding a steam-hauled freight train died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the train stalled on a steep gradient in a tunnel in Basilicata, southern Italy.
30. The Burnden Park disaster was a human crush that occurred on 1946 at Burnden Park football stadium in England. The crush resulted in the deaths of 33 people and injuries to hundreds. The bodies were then left covered on the sidelines and the game later restarted, with only a sawdust line separating players from corpses.
31. Kaprun Disaster
32. During the Ozone disco fire of 1996, 162 people died at a nightclub in Quezon City. It is worst fire in Philippine history. Jaydee’s ‘Plastic Dreams’ was the last track playing as people died.
33. In 1975, a “once-in-2000-years” flood caused the failure of the Banqiao dam in China, which killed 171,000 people and destroyed nearly 6 million buildings.
34. Limnic Eruptions are a form rare natural disaster in which dissolved carbon dioxide suddenly erupts from deep lake waters, forming a gas cloud capable of suffocating wildlife, livestock, and humans. Lake Nyos in Cameroon had a limnic eruption in 1986 and killed more than 1700 people in their sleep.
35. In 2002, a nightclub fire in Lima, started by unlicensed bartenders doing tricks, was fueled when drunk customers threw alcohol on the flames to try and contain it. Among the resulting casualties were a lion and a tiger.
36. Mount Erebus disaster
In 1979, a passenger jet with 257 people left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica. The pilots were unaware of the altered flight coordinates of 2 degrees. Sadly, the incorrect coordinates led them to a phenomenon known as “sector whiteout” in which there is no contrast between the sky and the ground. It placed them directly in the path of the active volcano Mount Erebus, killing everyone.
37. The Luzhniki disaster was a deadly human crush that took place at the Grand Sports Arena of the Central Lenin Stadium in 1982 in Moscow during a UEFA cup soccer match. It was triggered by a woman losing her shoe and stopping, trying to retrieve it and put it back on. A couple of people also stopped, trying to help the fan in need, but the moving dense crowd on the stairs, limited by metal banisters, promptly crushed them down. Death toll varied in press reports from 3 to 340 fatalities.
38. The Amagasaki derailment was a train accident that occurred in Japan in 2005 that resulted in the deaths of 107 people. While the driver was officially blamed for the crash after running a red signal, it’s believed he was unable to focus knowing the punishments he’d face after the infraction.
39. In Alexander L Kielland platform accident, the Norwegian semi-submersible drilling rig/floating hotel turned full submersible, killing 123 people in the process.
40. The worst mining disaster in history, killing 1,549 miners, happened in 1942 in the Benxihu Colliery when Japanese administrators of a mine using forced labor in China cut off the ventilation, trapping 1,518 Chinese laborers and 31 Japanese administrators to die of burns or suffocate.
41. MV Doña Paz disaster
The MV Doña Paz was a Philippine-registered passenger ferry that sank after colliding with the oil tanker MT Vector on December 20, 1987. With an estimated death toll of 4,386 people and only 24 survivors, it was the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in history.
42. The biggest maritime disaster is believed to be the sinking of MV Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945. An estimated 9,400 out of 10,500 of the passengers perished after the ship was hit by three Soviet torpedoes. This death toll is six times greater than the famous Titanic disaster.
43. In 1976, SS Sansinena, a Liberian oil tanker in Los Angeles harbor exploded suddenly, killing 9 and injuring 46 people. It shattered windows for miles around. Some people even thought it was an earthquake at first. The cause for the trigger to the explosion was never discovered.
44. During the 2003 Station Nightclub fire, a reporter filmed the entire fire from the moment before the pyrotechnics went off on the main stage. He was at the club doing a piece on nightclub safety.
45. In 1968, a landslide event at the Vajont Reservoir in Italy created a mega-tsunami which crested its dam, flooding the valley below. The resulting wave destroyed 5 villages and killed 2000 people. In 2008, UNESCO called the tragedy a “cautionary tale” of “the failure of engineers and geologists.”
46. Iroquois Theatre fire
Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903 killed over 602 people. It gained a lot of attention as the victims were mainly women and children from an upper-middle-class background. The theatre had been falsely billed as “absolutely fireproof”, but lacked basic safety infrastructure.
47. In 1927, a fire started in the Laurier Palace Theatre in Montreal, Canada and killed 78 children. The city responded by banning children under 16 from cinemas which lasted until 1961.
48. “The Great Smog” of London, UK was a severe air pollution event that lasted 5 days and killed an estimated 12,000 people in December of 1952.
49. The worst elevator disaster in history happened on September 11, 2001 in NYC. Each tower had 99 elevators that either dropped on impact or were still trapped when the building collapsed, claiming 200 of the 2,977 lives lost that day.
50. In 2014, a massive, deadly gas explosion in a Harlem piano shop sent pianos flying across the store, surrounding the technician who lived there in a protective “cocoon” as the five-story building collapsed. He walked away with only a scratch.