1. Dust Bowl
Around World War I, homesteaders flocked in mass to the southern Great Plains, where they replaced the native grasses that held the topsoil in place with wheat and other crops. Eschewing sustainable agricultural practices, such as crop rotation, they managed to reap big harvests during the wet years of the 1920s. But when a prolonged drought struck in the 1930s, the now eroded and nutrient-poor soil began blowing up into huge dust clouds that ravaged the landscape. As one “black blizzard” hit after another, harmful dust particles accumulated in people’s lungs, causing hundreds of deaths and sickening thousands. Dead livestock and wildlife littered the ground. By the time the drought ended, up to one-third of the most affected homesteaders had fled the Southern Plains for greener pastures.
2. Great Smog
As a bitter cold snap gripped London late in 1952, its inhabitants used unusually large quantities of coal to heat their homes. Soot poured out of their chimneys, mixing with factory and power plant emissions to form an acrid-smelling fog that hovered over the city from December 5 to December 9. Trapped in by a high-pressure weather system, as well as the lack of wind, this toxic stew reduced visibility to near zero. Abandoned cars dotted the roads, movie theaters closed because no one could see the screen and some people even accidentally stumbled into the Thames River. Worst of all, about 4,000 Londoners died of respiratory ailments over those few days, and up to 8,000 more would succumb in the months that followed. Recent research shows that those in the womb at the time of the so-called Great Smog of 1952 grew up performing worse in school and were less likely to hold a job than their peers.
3. Minamata Disease
In the early 1950s, the residents of Minamata, a small coastal city in southern Japan, began observing some startling animal behavior. Cats would suddenly foam at the mouth, dance around wildly and throw themselves into the sea, whereas birds would crash land and fish would inexplicably go belly up. Before long, humans too were suffering from what became known as Minamata Disease, slurring their speech, stumbling about and having trouble with simple tasks, such as buttoning buttons. The culprit finally emerged in 1959, when it was determined that the chemical company Chisso Corporation, one of Minamata’s biggest employers, was dumping mercury into the sea as part of its manufacturing process and that this toxin was poisoning people (and animals) who ate the local seafood. Chisso continued releasing mercury-tainted wastewater until 1968, reportedly causing at least 2,000 deaths, as well as birth defects, paralysis and other maladies.
In the predawn hours of December 3, 1984, a toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate gas escaped from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, and quickly spread throughout the city. Vomiting and gasping for air, those who didn’t die in their sleep poured into unprepared area hospitals or desperately attempted to outrun the fumes. Dog, bird, cow and water buffalo corpses reportedly lined the streets. Investigations later uncovered a slew of safety violations at the plant, including broken and outdated equipment. Lax management also played a role; a supervisor, for example, allegedly broke for tea at the moment of crisis, believing it was only a water leak. Though estimates vary, roughly 15,000 Bhopal residents are believed to have died in what’s often referred to as history’s worst industrial accident. Hundreds of thousands of additional inhabitants suffered afflictions ranging from memory loss and nerve damage to blindness and organ failure. To this day, the site of the plant, now owned by Dow Chemical Company, remains highly contaminated.
On April 26, 1986, a turbine test on one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power station went horribly awry, leading to a series of explosions that spewed massive amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere. The accident, which the Soviet authorities attempted to cover up, initially claimed only 31 lives: two plant workers who died in the blasts, a third who reportedly keeled over of a heart attack and 28 first responders who contracted acute radiation syndrome during the frantic early stages of the cleanup. However, Chernobyl also unleashed a thyroid cancer epidemic and likely caused additional cancer cases as well. In 2005, a United Nations-backed panel calculated the eventual death toll at up to 4,000, whereas other organizations put this number significantly higher. For perhaps centuries to come, an exclusion zone, set up around the plant following the forced evacuation of tens of thousands of area residents, will be off limits to human habitation.
6. Kuwaiti Oil Fires
Seeking revenge for his imminent defeat, Saddam Hussein ordered retreating Iraqi troops to set fire to about 650 Kuwaiti oil wells at the tail end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Oily smoke plumes shot high up into the sky, darkening the sun and making breathing difficult for those who ventured outside. One U.S. environmentalist compared it to “standing behind the exhaust pipes of hundreds of malfunctioning diesel trucks.” Meanwhile, black rain, a mix of natural precipitation and smoke particles, fell as far away as the Himalayas; hundreds of oil lakes up to four inches deep blotted the landscape, fatally luring in birds who confused them for water; and a layer of “tarcrete,” sand and gravel combined with oil and soot, covered almost 5 percent of Kuwait’s territory. By the time the last of the blazes was extinguished that November, an estimated 1 billion to 1.5 billion barrels of oil had spilled out and more than 100 people were dead, including 92 Senegalese soldiers whose transport plane crashed in the smoke-blackened skies. Immediately thereafter, Hussein initiated another environmental disaster, draining the vast marshlands of southern Iraq in order to suppress a Shiite rebellion.
7. BP Oil Spill
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, located far out in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded into flames, killing 11 workers and injuring several others. The rig, owned by offshore drilling contractor Transocean and under lease to oil giant BP, then sank two days later, causing a petroleum leak that would gush out of control for nearly three months. According to the U.S. government, around 4.2 million barrels of oil ultimately escaped, contaminating at least 43,300 square miles of ocean and 1,300 miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida. Considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in history, it temporarily decimated the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries and killed thousands of birds, sea turtles and dolphins. BP has since shelled out tens of billions of dollars in cleanup costs, fines and legal settlements.
The 9 deadliest manmade disasters in the past 50 years
The United Nations' World Environment Day on June 5 hopes to raise awareness and spur action to protect the environment and prevent disaster from striking.
Unfortunately, accidents happen. Oil spills, poisonous-gas leaks, and out-of-control wildfires have caused devastating damage to the environment and those who live in it.
Here are nine environmental disasters from the past 50 years that wreaked havoc on humans, animals, and the environment.
The World’s Worst Environmental Disasters Caused by Companies
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is one of the worst company-created environmental disasters in history. Water and wetlands are sullied. People are dead. We’re still waiting on wildlife casualties and strange illnesses.
Amazingly, these themes are familiar. As long as mines and factories have existed, they’ve cut corners to save money, sprung leaks, and blown components. Consequences have ranged from curious smells to countless human deaths.
We’ve compiled the worst corporate environmental disasters in the world, from the mid-20th century to today. Some of these disasters have been going on for years. Others still haven’t been resolved. And as long as corporations continue to slither through accountability loopholes, BP won’t be the epitaph to this sordid pattern.
“Despite the country’s oil riches, much of Nigeria’s population suffers from fuel shortages”, wrote a CNN reporter in 2006 after a deadly explosion at a Nigerian oil pipeline killed 200 people. For Africa’s biggest oil-producing region, that statement says it all.
The ongoing disaster at the Niger Delta, the US’s fifth-biggest source of oil, almost makes the current Gulf disaster look innocent. There have been 7,000 oil spills there between 1970-2000, according to the BBC. That’s roughly 300 spills per year, writes Newsdesk, and “over 13 million barrels of oil. That’s the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill every year for 40 years.”
Explosions are frequent. The biggest one, in 1998, killed 1,000 people. Yet the government hasn’t gotten its claws into key perpetrator Exxon Mobile, and Nigerian people haven’t been able to land any settlements. Poor infrastructure, next to no wealth distribution to residents, and political upheaval keep the region in constant cataclysm. Big oil companies don’t mind–Shell blames militants for its leaks and explosions. As long as those hundreds of billions keep lining oligarchs’ pockets, the Niger Delta, it seems, will remain hapless.
“Nobody knows how we suffered experiencing death so closely everyday … the rich and influential have wronged us. We lost our lives and they can’t spend a day in jail?”
So said Hamidi Bi, who expressed outrage over the meager two-year sentences handed down on June 7, 2010, to the seven men held accountable for the 1984 Union Carbide pesticide plant accident, which released toxic gases that killed more than 5,000 residents (activists estimate 25,000 died). An estimated 500,000 residents continue to suffer from birth defects, blindness, early menopause, and a host of other debilitating conditions.
Those seven men are out on a bail and will likely never see the inside of a jail cell. It’s a case of passing the buck that started that day in 1984 and reverberates 25 years later. In 1989, Union Carbide reluctantly forked over $470 million in settlement. Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, feels the legal case is resolved. This is probably the reason Dow continues to ignore extradition requests to produce Warren Ghoeghan, the legal case’s “prime suspect.”
Amazingly, the Indian government continues to deny that any chemicals are at the site, despite evidence that chemicals are poisoning Bhopal’s water supply. And Dow continues its idiotic absolution of responsibility, while the Union Carbide CEO continues to hide out. Since all the bigwigs involved in this shameful event are sitting on their haunches, check out Bhopal.net to take citizen action.
From actors to politicians to environmentalists to fisherman and ordinary people like you and me, people are in a word, “pissed” about the Deep Horizon oil rig explosion. Clearly in over their heads, British Petroleum (BP) is no closer to plugging the source than it was when it first occurred on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.
In the first days following the explosion, BP attempted to minimize the extent of the damage. They went on record as stating that only a few gallons were leaking daily, and that every effort was being made to plug it up and end this disaster. What BP refers to as “a few,” as of June 8, 2010, is closer to between 20 and 40,000 a day.
Actor Kevin Costner swears he has the answer, President Barack Obama continues to be “frustrated,” Sarah “Caribou Barbie” Palin somehow sees environmentalists as the blame for this disaster. Meanwhile, the fishing industry and wildlife will be devastated for decades.
Who’s to blame? The list is too long to enumerate, but what matters now is whether BP can figure out the technology to plug this thing, and fast!
In 1964, Texaco started drilling in the Ecuadorian rainforest. The company eventually exported as many as 220,000 barrels a day to the US.
During this black gold rush, the Cofan, indigenous people who drink, bathe, and fish in the Amazon, began noticing a stench coming from the water. Texaco’s run-off system, in which “the pollutants come from a pool through a tube into the swamp and the swamp feeds the river from which the Cofan take their water,” didn’t seem to be working. Indeed, 18 billion gallons of run-off were found in the river times the Exxon-Valdez spill.
Texaco defended the run-off system, saying that it was, “within industry standards.” Now the Amazon Defense Front is fighting back by representing the 30,000 plaintiffs who are tired of the damage to the river, cleaning up behind Texaco, and the unusually high levels of cancer they’ve been experiencing. As of May 2010, the damages sought were up to $27 billion.
In the 1940s, the Niagara Falls company Hooker Chemical began looking for a site to dump its “increasing amounts of chemical waste.” The Niagara Power and Development Company gave Hooker permission to offload its toxic junk in the Love Canal, an abandoned Niagara River canal that had turned into a municipal dumping site. For 11 years, Hooker dumped 21,800 tons of synthetics and chemical byproducts into the Love Canal site. After Hooker stopped dumping, they covered the site with dirt. Grass grew on top of the area, concealing the noxious chemistry set beneath.
Urban sprawl hit Niagara around the same time. Developers tried to build a school on top of the dump. Finding that they couldn’t, they built it–and an entire suburban neighborhood–close to the area (kids need a safe environment to grow up in, after all).
Nobody uttered a word about the waste until 13 years later, in the mid-1970s. A journalist investigation found residents presenting everything from “an alarming rate of miscarriages to tumors and birth defects.” After much hoopla, residents were finally “advised” to move, sell their homes back to the government, and pretend nothing had happened.
Hooker Chemical today is a subsidiary of US oil giant Oxy Petroleum. In 1995, Oxy paid Love Canal residents $129 million in restitution.
In 1956, Japan’s Chisso Corporation was in the habit of dumping mercury into southern Japan’s Minamata Bay. When evidence surfaced that the mercury was giving locals neurological issues, Chisso vehemently denied wrongdoing. They then embarked on a curious combination of PR spin and a witch hunt.
Here’s how it worked. Chisso referred to the infected residents as poor, ignorant, and incapable of understanding science or research. Chisso enlisted the aid of doctors, whose pockets they lined, to back up their claims.
US photographer W. Eugene Smith did an exposé on the topic in Life Magazine, making the world and Japan’s Supreme Court aware of the continued poisonings, cover-up and pay-offs. Although it would be an unexpected career-ender for Smith–Chisso hired members of the Yakuza to “settle this once and for all”–it started a chain reaction that recently culminated in Chisso compensating victims’ families more than $80 million.
9 The Minoan EruptionCirca 1500 BC
The Minoan eruption (aka the Thera or Santorini eruption) occurred approximately 3,500 years ago and devastated the Minoan civilization and the Mediterranean cultures of the time. The eruption was between 6 and 7 on the VEI, pushing some 60 cubic kilometers (14 mi 3 ) of dust and rock into the atmosphere.
The volcanic explosion and resulting tsunamis wiped out many communities in Akrotiri, Crete (Minoan), Cyprus, Canaan, ancient Greece, Egypt, and most areas of the Aegean Sea. The resulting devastation allowed the Mycenaean civilization to take over the Minoan culture and blend it with their own. 
This formed the first advanced civilization in mainland Greece, with its palatial states, urban organization, works of art, and writing system. It also heralded the first steps toward our modern cultures and the development of Koine Greek, the language of the original Bible.
At the time, the event itself had worldwide repercussions. In China, the volcanic winter effect of the Thera eruption corresponds to the collapse of the Xia dynasty, thus allowing the Shang dynasty to rise. The Bamboo Annals describe the time as &ldquoyellow fog, a dim Sun, then three Suns, frost in July, famine, and the withering of all five cereals.&rdquo
In Egypt, there is evidence to suggest that the calamity heralded the end of the Second Intermediate Period. Apocalyptic storms, climatic change, and tsunamis were the gods&rsquo way of showing displeasure with this period, resulting in the New Kingdom period and ancient Egypt&rsquos most prosperous time as well as the peak of its power.
2020's Worst Environmental Disasters, and How Climate Change Played a Role
In a year of unprecedented disasters, much of the damage done to our planet in 2020 was self-inflicted.
From devastating oil spills in sensitive areas to deadly wildfires that consumed record acreage to failing dams that flooded entire towns, the worst environmental disasters of the year showed the influence of humans.
That influence is clearly evident when a tanker slams into a coral reef and spills thousands of barrels of oil. It's less obvious when climate change is a factor behind raging wildfires across the Western U.S. and Australia.
Particularly in California, human-caused global warming, decisions on forest management and fire suppression, and expansion of homes and businesses into less-developed areas have combined to make the 2020 fire season one of the most destructive in recorded history.
"Humanity is waging war on nature," said António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, according to the Guardian. "This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it."
Below is a more detailed look at some of the worst environmental disasters of 2020.
Oil Spill in Russia’s Arctic Region
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency after some over 125,000 barrels (20,000 tons) of diesel fuel spilled from a collapsed storage tank on May 29 at a power plant in the Siberian city of Norilsk, above the Arctic Circle. The oil flowed into the Ambarnaya River and turned a 7.5-mile stretch crimson. The river feeds Lake Pyasino, which flows into another river that leads to the Arctic Ocean. The oil also contaminated the Daldykan River.
The former deputy chief of Russian environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, Oleg Mitvol, said there had "never been such an accident in the Arctic zone," according to BBC.com. He said the cleanup could cost $1.5 billion and take as long as 10 years.
Rosprirodnadzor confirmed that Lake Pyasino was contaminated and it asked Nornickel, the company that owns the plant, to pay a record $2 billion in compensation, CNN reported.
The company said thawing permafrost caused by climate change was to blame for the spill.
"Right now we can assume . that due to abnormally mild summer temperatures recorded in the past years, permafrost could have melted and the pillars under the platform could have sank," said Nornickel chief operating officer, Sergey Dyachenko, according to CNN.
The head of Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources also cited thawing permafrost as the likely cause.
"We are still investigating, but there is a high probability that this is due to the thawing of the soil due to the climatic changes that are occurring in the Arctic zone," said Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Dmitry Kobylkin, according to a report by the Bellona Foundation, an environmental organization.
The consensus among scientists is that the Arctic has warmed at a rate of twice the global average over the past 30 years, BBC.com reported. The Copernicus Climate Change Service said temperatures in Siberia were higher than average at the beginning of the year – up to 18 degrees higher than normal in May.
Still, environmentalists argue that Nornickel has a history of environmental accidents and was relying on obsolete equipment.
"The root cause is not so important. More important is the reaction rate and how (Nornickel) relates to such incidents. Here a whole complex of systemic problems was revealed," said Simon Kalmykov, a member of the Bellona Foundation.
Most of the spilled diesel fuel has been cleaned up, according to Nornickel, and any remaining fuel is localized. More than 9 million gallons of fuel mixed with water has been collected and stored until it can be separated, the company said. About 104 acres around the Ambarnaya River also have been cleaned, it said.
The World Wildlife Fund in Russia said toxic chemicals left behind by the diesel fuel could impact the region for decades to come. The spill threatens not only fish, but also birds and a herd of wild reindeer, the WWF said. Indigenous people in the Taymyr area rely on the reindeer for their livelihoods.
"The accident . will have catastrophic impacts on nature and it could take years to recover. WWF shares the concerns of the indigenous population. We have raised concerns about the consequences of such accidents for a long time. It is extremely urgent that the federal government take action to prevent the further spread of the toxic fuel. It is also necessary to study the issue of how to support the indigenous minorities of Taymyr engaged in traditional nature management in their original territory," Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects at WWF Russia, said in a statement.
Alexey Knizhnikov, head of the Program for Business Environmental Responsibility at WWF Russia, said, "Stopping further spread is important, but the toxic elements will still be in the river and the lake. A spill like this should not have happened in the first place. (Nornickel's) aging infrastructure combined with rapidly thawing permafrost in the region highlight the need for companies in the Arctic to switch to alternative energy sources."
Mauritius Oil Spill
On July 25, the Japanese ship Wakashio left a regular shipping channel and ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. On Aug. 6, the grounded ship began leaking oil. It spilled the equivalent of more than 7,400 barrels of oil into a pristine lagoon, killing scores of sea creatures.
"This oil spill occurred in one of, if not the most, sensitive areas in Mauritius," oceanographer and environmental engineer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo told Reuters. "We are talking of decades to recover from this damage, and some of it may never recover."
The ship's operator, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, said the Wakashio was carrying about 3,800 tons (almost 24,000 barrels) of very low sulfur fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel oil, CNN reported.
Of the 7,400 barrels of oil that leaked from the vessel's fuel tank, the operator said about 2,900 barrels were manually recovered from the sea and coast. French and Japanese crews were able to remove most of the fuel that remained aboard the Wakashio, BBC.com reported, before the ship broke apart on Aug. 15.
The oil spread over more than 18 miles of the island nation's 217-mile shoreline.
Mangroves – the roots of which provide nurseries for marine life, like mollusks, crabs and fish – were covered, Jacqueline Sauzier, president of the non-profit Mauritius Marine Conservation Society, told the journal Nature. Chemicals from the oil may seep into corals and seagrass, Sauzier said.
Those chemicals might also affect the critically endangered Pink Pigeons that live on the Île aux Aigrettes, a small island near the wreck.
Environmentalists also said dozens of dolphins were washing up dead in the month after the spill. The government collected carcasses, but the results of autopsies were not released.
"We will never know if anyone should be held accountable for the death of 50 whales and dolphins if there is no public information," Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa senior climate and energy campaign manager, said in a statement. "Instead of buying time and placating the public, authorities in Mauritius should gain its trust by disclosing all they know."
The spill also affected many fishermen who were already struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There is a community of 15,000 people who live alongside, and are suffering alongside, the wildlife of this small corner of Mauritius," Adam Moolna, an environment and sustainability lecturer at Keele University in England and a Mauritian, told the Independent.
Mauritius, a country of 1.3 million people, relies heavily on tourism and the sea. Tourism makes up 8.6% of the nation’s economy and employs 10% of its workers, according to the World Ocean Initiative. More than 9% of export earnings come from the seafood industry, which makes up 1.3% of the economy.
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines has agreed to provide at least $9.4 million for environmental projects and to support the local fishing communities, the Voice of America reported. The Mauritius Natural Environment Recovery Fund would help restore the coral reef and to protect mangroves, seabirds and rare species.
The ship's owner, Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping, said in early November the cleanup should be mostly completed by January, Reuters reported.
After the Wakashio broke apart, the front portion of the ship was towed out to sea and sank, despite pleas from environmentalists that sinking the ship could cause further damage.
"Sinking this vessel would risk several whale species and contaminate the ocean with large quantities of heavy metal toxins, threatening other areas as well, notably the French island of La Réunion," Greenpeace Africa said in a statement.
The stern remains lodged on the coral reef. Nagashiki Shipping said the removal of the stern would begin in late December and last several months.
The ship's captain was arrested and charged with endangering safe navigation, BBC.com reported. Crew members told police there had been a birthday party on the ship the day it ran aground. Investigators also were looking into claims the ship navigated close to the shore in order to pick up a Wi-Fi signal, according to BBC.com.
The government of Mauritius has said the country sustained $30 million in damage as a result of the spill, according to the Voice of America. Mauritian officials have said the country will seek compensation from Nagashiki Shipping and its insurer, though a treaty limits how much the country may be able to collect.
Japan's government also is considering some form of economic assistance to Mauritius, Nikkei Asia reported. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said during a visit to the country on Dec. 14 that Japan will "positively consider" Mauritius' request for about $289 million in loans to help recover from the spill, the Japan Times reported. Japan also is working on an aid package that would include support for the fishing industry and for restoring damaged mangroves.
Venezuelan Oil Spill
An oil spill twice the size of the one in Mauritius washed ashore in Venezuela's Morrocoy National Park in early August, spoiling 9 miles of the area's white-sand beaches and endangering sensitive wildlife.
Environmentalists, who said they first noticed oil floating in the Caribbean Sea along the country's northwest coast on Aug. 2, warned it could damage the park's important wetlands and offshore coral reefs, BBC.com reported. Venezuela's authoritarian government offered little information about the spill.
Independent researchers and opposition lawmakers said it most likely came from El Palito oil refinery operated by the government-owned PDVSA oil company, according to Reuters. Satellite images showed a slick 3.5 miles long and 1 mile wide near the refinery on July 22. Researchers estimated it contained 26,700 barrels of oil.
"We project that the negative consequences on ecosystems and their components could last for 50 years or more," said Julia Alvarez, a biologist with Venezuela’s SVE ecological society.
Eduardo Klein, director of the Remote Sensors Laboratory at Universidad Simón Bolívar, said the spill was the first of three big oil spills from El Palito this summer and fall, the Caracas Chronicles reported.
Samuel Berti, who has been fishing off Puerto Cabello for 30 years, told the Caracas Chronicles he has pulled fish from the water with oil coming from their mouths.
The spills are among several recent incidents involving Venezuela's crumbling oil industry, the Washington Post reported. In September, oil gushed into the sea off Venezuela from a cracked underwater pipeline from the Cardón refinery, which PDVSA has been trying to restart. A second pipeline spewed natural gas into the sea.
In the Gulf of Paria, off northeastern Venezuela, the FSO Nabarima, a rusting storage vessel with 1.3 million barrels of crude, is taking on water. Activists, anti-government oil workers and analysts worry the ship could sink and create a major environmental disaster in the Caribbean Sea.
Matthew Smith, who writes about oil and gas, mining and infrastructure for OilPrice.com, says the volume of spills and other environmental incidents connected to Venezuela's oil industry will keep rising.
"As financial pressures on Caracas mount because of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly weaker oil prices and strict U.S. sanctions, funding for vital oil maintenance activities will keep declining. That means already heavily decayed oil infrastructure will keep crumbling, causing the volume of oil spills, leaks and other environmentally damaging incidents to mount. These not only damage the environment but also sharply impact the livelihood and health of everyday Venezuelans who are already caught amid one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century."
Wildfires in the U.S.
The National Interagency Fire Center reports that as of Dec. 4, there have been 52,934 wildfires in the U.S. that have burned 14,905 square miles this year. That's twice the land area of the state of New Jersey, and it's the second-largest area burned in the past 10 years.
Oregon saw nine people killed and over 4,000 homes destroyed as 1,908 square miles burned in more than 2,000 wildfires.
Colorado saw three of its largest wildfires in state history this year. They forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate. The largest, the Cameron Peak Fire, began on Aug. 13 and burned 326 square miles before being contained on Dec. 5, according to InciWeb. Its cause is being investigated.
The East Troublesome Fire, which started Oct. 14, consumed 302 square miles and killed two people. Its cause is still being investigated. The third-largest, the Pine Gulch Fire, started by a lightning strike, burned more than 217 square miles.
However, no state saw as much wildfire destruction this year as California. Five of the six largest wildfires in the state's history happened in 2020. The largest, the August Complex Fire, burned 1,615 square miles, more than twice the acreage burned by the second-largest fire, according to Cal Fire. Overall, 9,639 wildfires consumed more than 6,527 square miles this year in California. The fires killed 33 people and destroyed or damaged more than 10,000 structures.
"Climate change is having a big role in California's wildfires, and this year puts a cap on the exceptional trend in wildfires we've seen in recent decades," Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and energy systems analyst, told weather.com. "We actually have slightly fewer fires in California than we had in the 1980s in terms of the number of fires, but our typical fire today burns about five times more area than it burned in the 1980s."
The huge fires are happening because conditions on the ground have changed, Hausfather said.
"When a spark happens, it's much more likely to catch and to spread rapidly into a major fire," he said.
Two factors play into that: drier vegetation (fuel aridity), driven by changes in precipitation, which hasn't changed all that much, and changes in temperature, which have increased during the fire season, especially in California, he explained.
In addition, California's forest ecosystem naturally adapted to burn every few decades, which clears out the underbrush that fuels big fires. But the forest service has done a "zealous job of extinguishing almost every fire they can manage since the 1920s or so," Hausfather said. That has created a degree of fuel buildup that means once fires do occur, they can grow faster.
"They can be much more devastating than if our forests were in a condition where they had more frequent low-level burns," he said. "It's the combination of those two things: a history of fire suppression leading to fuel build-up and drier vegetation from climate change that are driving the record areas burned we've seen in recent years."
Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University, pointed out that there are multiple contributors to individual wildfires and wildfire risk overall, including the weather, ignition sources, where and how structures are built and how fuels are managed. What's important is how changes in any one of these affect the risk overall, he said.
"With respect to climate change, the area burned in the Western U.S. has increased around tenfold over the past four decades," Diffenbaugh told weather.com. "Careful study shows that about half of that increase in area burned is attributable to long-term warming via the effect of that warming on the fuel aridity."
In a research paper published this summer, Diffenbaugh and his colleagues found that the frequency of extreme wildfire weather in California has more than doubled in the last four decades.
"Days with extreme wildfire weather are much more likely to contribute to large areas burned," said Diffenbaugh. "Long-term warming is driving that increase in extreme wildfire weather days via vegetation aridity."
These conditions are likely to continue, he said, and Hausfather agrees.
"The one really pernicious aspect of climate change is it's not easily reversible," Hausfather said. "Even if I could wave a magic wand and bring all global emissions down to zero tomorrow, temperatures would still remain as they are right now. The best we can hope for is that the current conditions we see in the Western U.S. in terms of dry vegetation are the new normal and it doesn't get worse."
Both scientists also said more resources need to be devoted to forest management and other efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire.
"If this is the new normal in terms of area burned each year, a lot of these forests aren't going to be able to regrow to the level of density or maturity they were in the past," Hausfather said.
Diffenbaugh said, "We're in a 'once in our history' experiment observing the succession of these forests. They're growing back in a new climate. It's yet to be seen how that unfolds."
"Sea Islands" Hurricane - August 27-28, 1893
Estimated death toll: 1000 - 2000
It is estimated that the "Great Storm of 1893" that struck the southern South Carolina and northern Georgia coast was at least a Category 4 storm, but there is no way of knowing since measures of hurricane intensity weren't measured for storms before 1900. The storm killed an estimated 1,000 - 2,000 people, mostly from storm surge affecting the low-lying barrier "Sea Islands" off the Carolina coast.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused thousands of animal casualties.
While drilling a deep exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, the rig known as Deepwater Horizon exploded.
Reports from five years after the disaster estimate that over 800,000 birds, 65,000 turtles, 12% of the area's brown pelican population, and four times as many dolphins than the previous historic rates had died. A reported 10% of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill sank to the seafloor, affecting the seafloor for years to come, according to experts.
Environmental disasters across world in 2020
The year 2020 saw many environmental disasters that have fueled climate change and vice versa across the world, including tropical storms, hurricanes, landslides, and deadly floodings caused by heavy rains.
Thousands of people have been killed and millions of more have been displaced due to these disasters as well as states of calamity announced in different countries.
The following are the major global environmental disasters of 2020 compiled by Anadolu Agency:
- Flash floods in Jakarta, Indonesia in the early hours of the first day of 2020 after overnight rain dumps nearly 400 millimeters of rain, leaving at least 66 dead, and displacing 60,000 in the worst flooding in the area since 2007.
- At least 41 people are killed in two days in Pakistan due to heavy snow.
- Taal Volcano in the Philippines affects nearly 400,000 authorities declare a state of calamity in Batangas, Cavite provinces.
- Deadly heavy rain and floods kill thousands of people, displace more than 30,000 others in southeast Brazil.
- Pyroclastic flows reach 900 meters (3,000 feet) southwest of the crater, while ash and smoke spew 7,000 meters (2,300 feet) after a volcanic eruption in Japan&rsquos Mt. Shindake.
- At least 41 people die after two avalanches in Turkey's eastern Van province.
- Swarms of deadly desert locusts, accelerated by climate change, enter Uganda after ravaging parts of Kenya and causing food shortages.
- The worst of Storm Ciara abates in central Europe after near-hurricane winds have battered the region while Scandinavian countries, as well as Switzerland, France, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Germany continue to experience downpours and high winds.
- Rivers overflowed cause widespread flooding in Iran's Lorestan province after heavy rain on Feb. 24 leaves roads damaged, bridges destroyed and numerous villages cut off.
- At least 19 people die in the US state of Tennessee as a result of a heavy tornado that also causes major damage to buildings, roads, bridges, utilities, and businesses.
- The death toll in Rwanda rises to 53 from floods caused by heavy rains over the past two months. The floods destroy over 800 houses, damage 23 roads and 17 bridges, and nearly 500 acres of agricultural land.
- More than 3,000 houses, as well as 6,600 hectares of farms, are swept away by floods in Tanzania's Coast region.
- A strong storm in the southern Mersin province of Turkey destroys tens of thousands of almond trees.
- More than 700,000 people in different parts of Zambia are affected by floods that also leave many people in 28 districts in need of relief food.
- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warns that much of southern England and Wales will be hit by high levels of air pollution in the month.
- Indonesia&rsquos Anak Krakatau volcano, between Java and Sumatra islands in Lampung province, erupts, spewing ash columns up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) above the craters.
- The death toll from flooding in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo rises to 40.
- Authorities in Afghanistan warn that more than 7 million people are still at risk as at least 56 people die from severe flooding over the past weeks.
- Thousands of people are displaced and affected by flooding and mudslides in Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions, northern Tanzania, over the last past days.
- A dam partially collapses due to heavy rain in eastern Uzbekistan, affecting 70,000 people. The waters wash away hundreds of houses.
- Mudslide kills at least 45 miners in the northwestern Grand Cape Mount County of Liberia.
- Heavy rainfall caused by Typhoon Vongfong in Samar Island in the Philippines destroys homes and displaces over 140,000 people.
- Cyclone Amphan, which forces displacement of 3 million people in India and Bangladesh, claims at least 88 lives.
- The death toll from floods pounding the East African nation of Kenya rises to 285. Nearly one million people are affected, announces the government.
- An eruption at Sangay Volcano in Ecuador&rsquos Amazon region leaves several cities covered in ash.
- At least 63 people are killed or missing, while nearly half a million people are displaced, as heavy rains continue to lash southern China.
- Three Gorges Dam in China, the world's largest dam, is at risk of collapse amid historic floods that also put more than 400 million people&rsquos lives at risk.
- A huge cloud of Saharan dust moves from Africa over the Atlantic Ocean and darkens the skies over parts of the Caribbean.
- At least 83 people are killed in lightning strikes in India&rsquos eastern state of Bihar, as monsoon storms hit the country.
- Torrential rains, defined by the country&rsquos meteorological agency as &ldquoonce-in-50-years,&rdquo hit Japan&rsquos Nagasaki.
- At least 110 miners are killed in a landslide caused by heavy rain at a jade mine in the state of Kachin, northern Myanmar.
- Landslides caused by heavy monsoon rain kill at least 60 people and leave over 40 missing in Nepal.
- Tens of thousands of residents are left without electricity as a severe storm and heavy rain hits western Russia, forcing a state of emergency to be declared in Saratov's St. Petersburg area.
- With over 80 people dying in floods in northeastern India and 2.4 million people feeling the impact, more than 100 animals, including 11 one-horned rhinos, also die at Kaziranga park in Assam state.
- At least 119 people die in Bangladesh due to floods caused by monsoon rains and an onrush of river waters from upstream India.
- Landslides and floods caused by heavy rains kill at least 30 people in Suleja city and Gwagwalada area in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
- At least 49 people are killed in a massive landslide in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
- The Sinabung volcano on Indonesia's Sumatra Island erupts spewing ash and smoke 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above its crater.
- The first typhoon of the season lands in South Korea and is on its way northeast.
- Death toll from floods caused by heavy rains in Yemen rises to 174.
- Death toll from flooding in Turkey's Black Sea province of Giresun rises to 11.
- At least 50 artisanal miners are killed when a gold mine collapses in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo due to landslides caused by heavy rains.
- Hurricane Sally makes landfall on the US Gulf Coast, bringing life-threatening flooding to parts of the Florida panhandle and Alabama.
- At least three people die in hurricane-like "medicane" (Mediterranean hurricane) storm that hits Greece.
- Turkey's largest city Istanbul is hit by hail and heavy rain, causing floods and disrupting traffic.
- At least 31 people are killed and more than a dozen are missing in rain-related incidents in Vietnam and Cambodia.
- At least 15 people are killed in the south Indian state of Telangana due to incessant rains.
- At least 39 people die, thousands displaced in flooding in Cambodia.
- Vietnam mobilizes at least 250,000 troops and 2,300 vehicles to combat Typhoon Molave, the "worst storm" facing the country in at least two decades.
- One person dies due to a partial tsunami in Izmir's coastal district of Seferihisar following a magnitude 6.6 earthquake shaking Turkey's Aegean region.
- At least 3,300 homes in Napier, New Zealand are hit by floods, landslides and power outages caused by the heaviest downpour in the country in 57 years.
- Tropical Storm Eta heads to the north of the Yucatan Channel after killing at least 200 people in landslides in Central America and the Caribbean.
- Seasonal Deyr rains, which hit Somalia between October and December, seriously affect the lives of roughly 73,000 people.
- The number of people killed in flooding caused by Typhoon Vamco rises to 53 in the Philippines.
- Hurricane Iota, labeled as a Category 4 and "extremely dangerous", make landfall on Nicaragua's coast.
- At least 17 people are killed, 12 others injured and over 10 remain missing after days of heavy rain causes floods and landslides in northwestern Colombia.
- Cyclone Gati which makes landfall in late September dissipates but rains from the deadly storm continue to pound different towns.
- Record-breaking rainfall hit the Croatian city of Split, causing traffic chaos and flooding homes and businesses as 118.8 mm (4.6 inches) of rain is registered by the country&rsquos meteorological department.
- Floods caused by heavy rains displace more than 3,000 people in Malaysia.
- A massive hailstorm accompanied by heavy rain and drastic temperature drop hit Lebanon's capital Beirut and the surrounding suburbs.
- At least 68 people die from flooding in various parts of Nigeria this year, while no less than 129,000 are affected.
- A major winter storm dumps more than 3 m (9.8 feet) of snow in parts of Italy and Austria and more than 770 mm (30 inches) of rain in the town of Barcis in northern Italy.
- Heavy rain-caused flooding continues to negatively affect lives in several provinces of Iran as at least seven people are killed due to 160 mm (6 inches) of rain, equivalent to two months' worth of rain in the country.
- Italy's historic city of Venice is left partly underwater after a flood defense system does not work on time due to a mistaken weather forecast.
10 Deadly Disasters We Should Have Seen Coming
We know that our readers love to read articles about disasters. Which is fine by us&mdashfor ostensibly being the smartest creatures on the planet, we human beings make enough terrible, terrible mistakes to ensure that we will likely never run out of this type of discussion fodder.
The following events&mdashmost of which are pretty well-known&mdashare tied together by a few common threads. For one, mistakes were made. For two, people died, and&mdashhad common sense prevailed&mdashthey could have been far less deadly, or prevented altogether.
As the only country to ever be on the receiving end of a nuclear weapon deployment, Japan has long vowed to never develop nuclear weapons themselves. For decades, though, a great deal of the country&rsquos electrical power has been provided by nuclear power plants&mdashits first came online in 1966, and its 54 plants rank it among the top countries in the world in that respect.
On a fateful March day in 2012, a tsunami triggered by a powerful earthquake swept through Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing three of its six reactors to melt down and resulting in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Despite the risks posed by tsunamis to nuclear plants being very well understood&mdashand stringent preventive standards put in place by Japan&rsquos nuclear regulatory commission&mdashthose standards were simply not followed leading up to the incident. A report issued by Japan&rsquos parliament referred to the disaster as &ldquoman-made&rdquo because&mdashwhile it is obviously impossible to prevent or accurately predict earthquakes&mdashthe nuclear accident could easily have been avoided.
While over 20,000 died in the earthquake and resulting tsunami, the actual death toll from the nuclear incident is undetermined. Various reports cite between two and six deaths at the scene the health implications for those exposed to the radiation from the accident may never be fully known.
The single worst marine oil spill in history, the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig claimed eleven lives and resulted in an ocean floor oil gusher spewing crude into the sea unabated for almost three months. When all was said and done, nearly five million barrels of oil had been deposited into the Gulf of Mexico, and it didn&rsquot take long to ferret out the root cause of the disaster: lax management by British Petroleum (BP), who owned the well, and a series of simple oversights.
A lengthy report by the national oil spill commission identified nine separate management decisions that saved the company time and/or money that may have been contributing factors, as well as&mdashmost frustratingly&mdasha &ldquoculture of complacency&rdquo among management and an unwillingness to adhere to &ldquoworld-class safety standards&rdquo. The kinds of things that are bad enough when they lead to a grease fire at a restaurant, but are absolutely maddening when they lead to one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever.
If this doesn&rsquot angry up the blood effectively enough, consider: BP had an engineer on board the rig whose job it was to interpret the kind of data that would have effectively prevented the tragedy altogether. This was pretty much his sole purpose for being on board, yet BP employees chose to crunch the data themselves the engineer was never consulted, and the commission stated that if he had been, &ldquoevents likely would have turned out differently&rdquo.
The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster&mdashin which the shuttle exploded moments after takeoff&mdashtraumatized a nation of schoolchildren, who were watching on live TV as the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, perished along with six other crew members. The cause of that accident was determined to be a faulty O-ring, which sounds innocuous enough this particular O-ring helped to seal one of two solid rocket fuel boosters, and when it was breached, the escaping gases were hot enough to burn a hole in the shuttle&rsquos external fuel tank. It exploded, taking the shuttle with it. This would seem like a fluke, had NASA not ignored partial failures of the same O-ring on previous launches, or been warned about their susceptibility to cold weather (it was 36 degrees at the time of the launch). They did, and they were but, if there was a lesson to be learned here, it would take another disaster for NASA to learn it.
That would be the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, in which the shuttle vaporized upon re-entry to Earth&rsquos atmosphere, again killing all seven crew members. This happened when a chunk of insulating foam&mdashreferred to as &ldquobriefcase-sized&rdquo in most accounts&mdashtore free of an external fuel tank and struck the left wing of the craft. The extent of the damage wasn&rsquot known until the doomed attempt at re-entry, and officials concede that had they known, there still was nothing they could have done to prevent the explosion.
But, studies as far back as 1990 warned that these foam tiles were vulnerable points, and that ice buildup could cause them to break free, which is exactly what happened to Columbia. Heavy rainfall leading up to the launch almost certainly contributed to this as well, and we once again seem to be talking about a &ldquoculture of complacency&rdquo&mdashand a mindset that rewards achievement at all costs over safety. The 2003 incident resulted in the permanent cancellation of the shuttle program.
For ten years up until 1991, the Imperial Foods processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, churned out chicken nuggets and strips for fast food chains and grocery stores around the country. Nearly 200 people were employed at the plant in &rsquo91, and for the decade it had operated, state safety inspectors had not paid it one solitary visit.
Accounts vary as to whether the problem was flies getting in or stolen chicken getting out, but owner Emmett Roe&rsquos solution was as simple as it was obviously hazardous&mdashto padlock all the doors. On September 3, 1991, seven of the plant&rsquos nine doors were locked or otherwise inaccessible when a hydraulic line failed, spewing gallons of hydraulic fluid which was ignited by gas burners for the frying vat. This caused a fire that produced voluminous amounts of extremely toxic smoke, toxic enough to incapacitate a person within seconds.
25 people lost their lives. As a result of the disaster, the state levied the highest fines it ever has for safety violations before or since, exceeding $800,000 Roe pleaded guilty to 25 counts of involuntary manslaughter and served just under five years of a 19-year sentence.
New Zealand&rsquos Pike River coal mine was supposed to bring in ridiculous amounts of export income for the country. It was to be opened in 2008, but &ldquotechnical difficulties&rdquo with some of the machinery forced it first load of 60,000 tons of coal to be pushed back to early 2010, which was an early indicator that perhaps this operation was not proceeding smoothly.
In fact, the owners of the mine were under a lot of pressure from their financiers to produce, and because of this&mdashyou may see a theme developing here&mdashsafety became secondary to production. In an absolutely astonishing oversight, there was only one active sensor to detect levels of methane in the mine it failed, and the only surprising thing about what happened next is that it didn&rsquot happen sooner.
On November 19, 2010, an explosion trapped 29 workers within the mine. Rescuers could not enter due to the risk of another explosion, and if that sounds callous, it may have been&mdashbut the fear was not unfounded. On the 24th another explosion did take place, followed by another on the 26th, and another on the 28th. All 29 miners lost their lives, and as of January 2011 the mine&mdashwhich was projected to generate 170 million dollars in annual income for New Zealand&mdashhas been sealed, and attempts at recovery abandoned.
The Airbus A330 is one of the most sophisticated and popular passenger planes in the modern aviation industry. It has downright futuristic autopilot controls&mdashto the extent that once a flight path has been programmed, pilots only have to spend about three minutes manually controlling the plane about a minute and a half during takeoff, and during landing.
Unfortunately, this is a bit of a double edged sword&mdashpart of a pilot&rsquos experience is knowing how a plane handles in all conditions, including adverse ones, like the ones that met Air France Flight 447 over the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009.
Flying through a thunderstorm, the plane&rsquos speed sensor became clogged with ice and began relaying inaccurate information to the flight crew. It was determined in an investigative report by the French government that confusion reigned among the inexperienced crew, who &ldquoseemed to have trouble looking past the automation they were accustomed to and not really able to continue with the old raw information that pilots used to depend on&rdquo. Because of the clogged sensor, the autopilot eventually returned manual control of the plane to the crew, who failed to properly diagnose what was happening and stalled the plane. It crashed into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people aboard.
In January 2013, a perfect storm of oversights and neglect&mdashcombined with one excruciatingly stupid decision&mdashled to a fire that devastated the Kiss nightclub in Sao Paulo, Brazil, killing more than 230 people. It was one of the worst such incidents in the country&rsquos history, and the fact that the club was operating with an expired fire safety certificate is only the most obvious indicator that it should not have been operating at all.
The club was reported to have a capacity of 2,000, despite 1,300 being the maximum allowable occupancy for its square footage under Brazilian law there were no working fire extinguishers, sprinklers or emergency lighting, nor were there clearly marked emergency exits&mdashas evidenced by the fact that some panicked clubgoers tried to cram themselves into the restrooms, thinking them to be exits.
The stupid decision? The band that was playing that night decided to introduce pyrotechnics to this tinderbox. Pyrotechnics that were designed for outdoor, not indoor use, because&hellip the outdoor versions cost a buck twenty five, while the indoor flares cost 35 bucks apiece. Sparks from the flares ignited soundproofing tiles on the ceiling, and the rest is maddening, tragic history.
Louisiana, like most states in the southeastern portion of the U.S., is no stranger to hurricanes. Katrina, the storm which devastated New Orleans in 2005, was a category 3 hurricane, like the more recent hurricane Sandy, which struck the East Coast in 2012. Sandy was directly or indirectly responsible for 285 deaths, however Katrina was responsible for ever eighteen hundred. Most of the death toll was due to flooding, the result of the catastrophic failure of New Orleans&rsquo levee system.
Three teams of engineers independently reached the same conclusion in investigating the aftermath of the storm&mdashKatrina, while it would have caused modest flooding and wind damage in any event, was amplified into the full-scale catastrophe it was due to design flaws in the levees, which were built by the Army Corps of Engineers specifically to protect the city against just such a hurricane. Explained Ray Seed, head of one of the teams, at a press conference: &ldquoPeople didn&rsquot die here because the storm was bigger than the system could handle&hellipPeople died because mistakes were made and because safety was exchanged for efficiency and reduced costs.&rdquo
Reduced costs, indeed. In addition to the ridiculous, unnecessary and predictable loss of life, Katrina became hands-down the costliest natural disaster in United States history, with cleanup and recovery costs currently estimated at 108 billion dollars&mdashand counting.
Most of the disasters on this list played out over relatively brief periods of time&mdashmost in weeks or months, some in as little as a day. The scourge that has come to be known as the Dust Bowl played out over the entire decade of the 1930s, in the heartland of America.
It was during this time that thousands of East Coast dwellers began heading west to seek relief from the hardships wrought by the Great Depression. The key factor here is that the preceding few years had brought uncharacteristically heavy rains few remembered that after the Civil War, settlers passing through the area had continued straight through to the West Coast because the land was practically uninhabitable&mdashon some maps of the late 1800s, the area is referred to as the &ldquoGreat American Desert&rdquo.
The rains had brought heavy grass and plant growth to the area&mdashgiving the new settlers the mistaken impression that the area was suitable for farming. And farm it they did, or at least they tried&mdashplowing and plowing again, vast stretches of land that had its moist topsoil eradicated, leaving only dry dirt and dust. And when the wind kicked up, this dirt and dust became a malevolent, deadly force.
On the heels of a ten-year drought, these dust storms literally choked the life out of hundreds of square miles of land. Nobody knows how many died due to starvation or illness due to respiratory and other diseases. The drought finally broke in the fall of 1939&mdashjust in time for the outbreak of World War II.
As of 2010, there was probably no country on Earth more ill-suited to withstand a catastrophic earthquake than the tiny island nation of Haiti. An underdeveloped country, Haiti has never had a robust infrastructure there are literally no such thing as building codes. This alone was a recipe for disaster, but when that disaster finally struck, geologists the world over were less than surprised&mdashthey&rsquod been predicting just such an event for years.
You see, one of the world&rsquos largest fault lines&mdashcomparable to California&rsquos famed San Andreas&mdashruns quite close to Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince. The fault had been creeping along at seven millimeters a year&mdashfor two and a half centuries. It was literally not a question of if, but when the year before the quake, one professor of geology at Oregon State University said in an unrelated interview that a big quake striking the West Coast of the States concerned him far less than the situation in Haiti.
That situation came to its terrible fruition on January 12, 2010. The 7.0 magnitude quake killed over 300,000 people, injured that many more, and left a million homeless. A pair of geophysicists who specialize in Caribbean fault lines, Eric Calais and Paul Mann, warned that this was imminent in 2008. And while it&rsquos not like it would have been feasible to abandon the island, it seems like there must have been a course of action preferable to the one that was taken&mdashnone.
There are more interesting lists on Floorwalker&rsquos blog, and the cool kids follow him on Twitter.
9 The Sinking Of The Lusitania
The sinking of the British RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat during World War I wasn&rsquot supposed to be unexpected or surprising, since Germany had ran several advertisements in The New York Times, warning of the ship&rsquos impending doom. The advertisements ran for several weeks until the morning of the day that the Lusitania left the United States. That day, it even appeared on the same page that informed people of the ship&rsquos departure back to England from New York.
The British government also warned the captain of Lusitania to avoid areas around the British shore where German U-boats were active and that if he ever passed such areas, he should zigzag his way through. The captain received more warnings as he entered just such an area, but for some reason, he ignored them and slowed the ship down. He also stayed too close to the shore and refused to zigzag, all of which made the Lusitania the perfect target. The ship was torpedoed, and 1,195 people were killed.
1. Nuclear Weapons Detonations at the Nevada Test Site
After the end of World War Two, the U.S. and the Soviet Union entered a period known as the Cold War, a time when both sides tested numerous nuclear devices – both below ground and above. At first, the U.S. exploded its bombs in the South Pacific, and then in January 1951 they began nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site in southern Nevada. At times, the mushroom clouds from these detonations could be seen in the city of Las Vegas, only 65 miles from the site. Moreover, parts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah had radioactive fallout sprinkled upon its residents for years during the atmospheric tests.
But the town of St. George in Utah may have gotten the worst of the fallout, because it was downwind of the test site. In fact, a John Wayne movie, The Conqueror, was filmed around St. George when a bomb nicknamed 𠇍irty Harry” was exploded, and afterwards the film&aposs cast and crew experienced an unusually high rate of cancer.
Furthermore, deaths from various forms of cancer increased in the test site area from the middle 1950s into the 1980s. After testing at the site ended in 1992, the Department of Energy estimated that 300 megacuries of radioactivity remain at the site, making it the most radioactive place in the U.S. Nevertheless, public tours are allowed here, though you have to wonder why anybody would want to visit such a terrible place!