10 Bizarre Disasters History Forgot About
BY JENNIFER WIRTH
Photo: Boston Globe/Boston Globe/Getty Images
History has proven that humans can inflict quite a bit of damage on one another; but sometimes the damage comes from above. Explore some lesser-known natural and man-made disasters that have caused the demise of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
The Great Smog of 1952
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If you’re looking for a great example of how industrial developments can impact the environment, look no further than The Great Smog of London in 1952. Pollution in the city got so bad a large sooty mass of smoke decimated air quality in the area for nearly four days. The smog caused livestock to die of asphyxiation and caused many locals to have extreme breathing issues, sometimes to the point of death. Nearly 4,000 people died before wind picked up and cleared the smog, and the city jumped into action with the Clean Air Act of 1956 to control their pollution.
The Year Without Summer
In April of 1815, Mount Tambora erupted and caused a giant cloud to cover the sun. While the physical blast killed thousands of people alone, the resulting climate change also caused the planet to experience an entire year with no summer. Heavy snow fell throughout the summer months in America, and the time became known as the year when everyone froze to death. Although the dreary months were unpleasant, they sparked some interesting inventions, like the bicycle, and the bad weather prompted Mary Shelley to write her book Frankenstein.
The St. Pierre Snake Invasion
In April of 1902, a large volcanic eruption caused yet another strange environmental occurrence. Bald Mountain, which towered over St. Pierre, Martinique, was considered a dormant volcano, but when it flooded the city with ash and the smell of sulphur, the area quickly became inhabitable for local snakes. The 6-foot-long snakes flooded out the mountains, killing upwards of 50 people and several animals. To make matters worse, the volcano eventually erupted and destroyed the town. Only two people survived out of a population of 30,000.
The Year Of The Locust
Thanks to perfect conditions in the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains were plagued by an annoying bug invasion during the summer of 1874. A dry, arid spring allowed locusts to lay eggs in large quantities, and by summertime trillions hatched and descended upon states like Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas, and Iowa. The bugs would travel in huge clouds and beat against horses, houses, trains, and windows. People did everything in their power to control the bugs, but they ended up destroying the majority of the crops that year.
The Tunguska Event
On June 30th 1908, a large meteor struck a remote part of Russia, causing a huge explosion and shockwave that knocked people off their feet and felled 80 million trees. The meteor hit an area of Russia known as the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, which is now called Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russia. The comet was nearly 60 feet across and likely burst before it hit the surface, but is still considered an impact event. The blast inflicted by the event was between 10 and 20 megatons of TNT and was 1,000 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The Great Boston Molasses Flood
When you think of floods, you likely don’t envision a large mass of molasses flowing through the streets. However, for the residents of Boston’s North End in 1919, that’s exactly what happened. The flood was caused when a huge cast-iron tank full of raw black molasses burst and sent two-story waves of sticky molasses oozing down the Irish and Italian neighborhoods. The molasses, which buried pedestrians and people in carriages, ended up killing 21 people and injuring up to 150. The molasses did significant damage to the area’s architecture, and in addition to destroying buildings, it brought down an elevated railroad track.
The Empire State Building Crash
On a foggy day in July of 1945, a B-25 Army Bomber from the U.S. Army crashed into the Empire State Building, causing the death of 14 people. The event took place on a Saturday, so there weren’t many people in the building. Debris from the impact traveled several blocks and dropped nearly 900 feet. The impact from the debris caused fires in nearby penthouses to break out, and when part of the engine plummeted down an elevator shaft it caused the Empire State Building to erupt in fire as well. The fire was contained in just 40 minutes and surprisingly the structural integrity of the building was not damaged. Most of the offices were open for business the following Monday.
The Basra Mass Poisoning
In 1971, the Iraqi port of Barsa received a huge shipment of seed grain that was chemically treated to prevent rot. The grain, which was mostly American barley and Mexican wheat, was sprayed bright pink to indicate that it was covered in a lethal mixture of chemicals and the bags were printed with warning labels in English and Spanish. However, local rebels stole the bags from the port and distributed them as food to the starving population. Consuming the grain resulted in over 6,500 people being poisoned with mercury, and many people had long-lasting effects such as blindness, deafness, and brain damage.
Chandka Forest Elephant Stampede
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In 1972, the Chandka Forest area of India experienced a terrible drought and heat wave. The heat and lack of water drove local elephants insane to the point that villagers were afraid to leave their homes. On July 10, 1972, the elephants stampeded five villages and killed 24 people. Ironically, the area is now very lush and wet and is actually known as an elephant sanctuary.
The Dust Veil
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In the mid 530s, a thick veil of dust and grit covered the Earth and blocked out the sun for several years. The lack of sunshine caused a mass global cooling, along with a long winter that destroyed crops, brought on a drought, and caused widespread famine. The massive dust veil is credited with causing the first outbreaks of the bubonic plague, and the reason for the event is still widely unknown. Some scientists believe the veil was caused by a massive volcanic eruption, while others believe it was Halley’s comet zooming past Earth.