Disasters can be of two types, natural and man-made. Both of them can claim lives and cause untold destruction. You cannot control the natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and so on. However, the man-made disasters could have been avoided had man exercised care.
One has to admit that it would have been difficult to control even these disasters after their unfolding. He could have only prevented them from occurring. However, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. They are disasters because the Man had not taken the requisite steps to prevent them.
The reasons for their occurrence could be anything from fatigue to sheer negligence and mechanical failure to pure indifference. However, one cannot ignore the fact that these are not accidents. Innumerable people have lost their lives and thousands have been maimed for life. Man is accountable for the same. One should consider such cases under the legal term, ‘culpable homicide amounting to murder’. Therefore, you see cases being still fought in various courts all over the world for claiming adequate compensation. Of course, it is a different matter, that no compensation would be enough.
Let us look at the top 10 worst man-made disasters in history.
10. Church of the Company Fire: Santiago, Chile, December 08, 1863
We open our list with a disaster that claimed the lives or around 3000 people in a major fire at the Church of the Company, Santiago on December 08, 1963. It is an irony that these people lost their lives while worshiping the Almighty. Of course, you cannot expect God to help you when you invite danger to your doorstep. A huge crowd had gathered inside the Church to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. An oil lamp accidentally ignited one of the veils adorning the walls. A volunteer trying to use cloth to smother the fire ended in spreading the fire uncontrollably. People naturally rushed towards the exit. Unfortunately, the doors were designed to open from the inside. This caused a huge stampede with the fire spreading rapidly causing the roof to collapse trapping everyone inside.
9. Halifax Explosion: December 06, 1917
At No. 9 we have a multiple disaster at Halifax Harbor. This incident occurred on December 06, 1917. A Norwegian vessel was leaving the harbor when it collided with the French cargo vessel, Mount Blanc. A series on ill-conceived maneuvers resulted in the ships brushing against each other. The French vessel was carrying dry picric acid, 10 tons of gun cotton, 35 tons of benzoyl, and 200 tons of TNT. What can you expect when the vessel is a virtual bomb in the making? There were initial sparks that aroused interest in the onlookers at the harbor who gathered to have a glimpse. The French vessel found its way into the bay and grounded whereby it set the minions on fire. Minutes later there was a huge explosion sending up a huge fireball about 2 km into the sky. The intense explosion sprayed molten metal for miles around the area. The explosion resulted in an 18 m high tsunami that carried all the onlookers into the sea. Every building in the vicinity was destroyed. The official count of the fatalities was around 1950. It is a surprise that only one person from the crew of Mount Blanc lost his life.
8. Kuwait Oil Fires: The Gulf War – 1991
At No. 8, we have an act of war. The timing of the incident was around 1991 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and ordered his men to set the Kuwaiti oil wells on fire. His men went on a rampage and burnt more than 600 oil wells in Kuwait. This caused huge explosions everywhere and oil spills all over Kuwait. The fires raged uncontrollably for seven months. There was immeasurable loss to life and property. The loss caused to the environment was also tremendous. This act resulted in the Gulf war where the US had to interfere. It had the potential into snowballing into a world war but fortunately nothing of that sort happened. Saddam Hussein had to pay with his kingdom and life but this manslaughter is one of the biggest in the history of the modern world.
7. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Alaska, March 24, 1989
When you talk of maritime disasters, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the Titanic accident. There have been bigger and more dangerous disasters in maritime history. One such disaster occurred on the early hours of March 24, 1989 when an oil tanker, Exxon Valdez struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef. The collision resulted in a spillage of 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil. This might look like an accident but it certainly was not. Exxon did not adhere to safety norms by ordering a tired crew to man the tanker. They did not maintain the RAYCAS radar system properly. The captain of the tanker was heavily drunk at that time. He handed the controls of the tanker to the third mate. He could not maneuver the vessel properly due to fatigue. The radar was also not turned on thus putting the blame squarely on the persons manning the ship. There were no human casualties but the damage caused to sea life and the environment was tremendous.
6. Dioxin Pollution: Meda, Italy, July 10, 1976
At No. 6, we have a chemical leak that could have been easily avoided if the authorities had taken proper care. This incident occurred on July 10, 1976 at the ICMESA chemical manufacturing plant near Seveso, Italy. This leak was due to a rupture in a pressure disk in a reaction vessel. It resulted in the release of the extremely toxic TCDD also known as Dioxin into the atmosphere. The breeze carried it towards the nearby neighborhoods killing birds and small domestic animals in its path. There were no human casualties but hundreds of people suffered skin infections that subsided with treatment. This was an avoidable disaster because a little care could have saved the lives of hundreds of birds and animals. They had to pay a heavy price for the negligence of humans.
5. The Love Canal
The entry at No. 5 is a potential time bomb. It can explode at any time anywhere. A man by the name of William T. Love wanted to build a canal connecting the upper and lower Niagara Rivers thereby ensuring that the residents of his model city could get cheap fuel for their houses and industries. The period was sometime around 1910. Just as he had partially dug up the canal, Tesla discovered the means to transmit electricity over long distances using alternating current. This made Love abandon the job of building the canal. The unused canal became an industrial dumping ground. In 1953, the Hooker Chemical Company covered the canal with earth and sold it to the city. That was the starting point of the tragedy. Acute water shortage made people dig wells for exploring the sources of water. What they got was a dose of tremendous chemical waste. These chemicals destroyed every bit of vegetation in the area besides causing birth defects in children. The children born in the area had a high level of white blood cells, a sure sign of blood cancer. The main culprit was benzene. The tragedy is that there could be many more love canals lying in wait for a major disaster.
4. Banqiao Dam Collapse
Man builds dams to facilitate storage of water for agriculture and for generating electricity. The same dam becomes dangerous when it bursts. However, such incidents do not happen daily. However, the Banqiao Dam was not that fortunate. Touted as the strongest dam in the world, it earned the name, Iron Dam. The dam can withstand 300 mm of rainfall in a day. However, you have heard the saying, ‘Man proposes and God disposes’. On August 06, 1975, the region witnessed the wrath of Typhoon Nina that brought with it 1060 mm of rainfall in a single day. The requests to open the dam were turned down due to danger of flooding of the low lying areas. However, incessant rainfall caused the dams in the upper region to overflow and accumulate in the Banqiao dam reservoir. Due to communication failure, they could not open the dam in time. By the time they did so, the water pressure was tremendous. The blockage of the sluice gates by sedimentation compounded matters further forcing the dam to collapse under the weight of the water. This sent waters gushing downwards at a speed of 50 km per hour with the waves being 10 km wide and 7 m high. Evacuation was not possible due to lack of communication. Hence, more than 26000 people lost their lives in the immediate flooding with another 145,000 people succumbing to various diseases subsequently.
3. Chernobyl Explosion: Pripyat, Ukraine, April 26, 1986
At No. 3, we have a disaster that displays its after effects even today after 30 years after the incident. We are referring to the Chernobyl explosion. An event as insignificant as an underground power failure can cause a loss of $ 200 billion and still counting. This power failure resulted in the explosion at the nuclear reactor thereby releasing radioactive chemicals for about 9 days continuously. The combined strength of this radiation was 400 times more than what was witnessed at Hiroshima. The official death count was a mere 9 at that time. However, every subsequent generation has suffered because of the reaction to the radioactive chemicals. The loss to the environment is immeasurable. Today, the town is a complete wreck with people from all over Ukraine, parts of Russia and the Eastern Europe suffering daily because of a manual failure that occurred more than 30 years ago.
2. Bhopal Gas Leak: Bhopal, India December 02-03, 1984
The No. 2 spot in this list goes to the Bhopal gas leak that occurred on the night of December 02 and 03, 1984. Chemical plants can be dangerous. A small mistake can claim the lives of thousands of people. On this fateful night, human negligence at the Union Carbide pesticide plant resulted in water seeping into a tank containing 42 tons of methyl Isocyanate. This resulted in a chemical reaction thereby increasing the pressure inside the tank leading to the escaping of the toxic gas into the atmosphere. The North Westerly winds pushed this gas towards Bhopal resulting in people experiencing severe coughing, vomiting, and burning in the eyes. People started to panic and started running helter-skelter. This resulted in people inhaling more of the gas thereby worsening the symptoms leading to more than 8,000 deaths immediately. More than 20,000 people succumbed in the aftermath of the incident due to contracting various diseases because of the inhalation of this gas. You can see the effect of this toxic gas even today as groundwater and soil in the surrounding areas containing 40 times more pesticides that the applicable norm.
1. London’s Killer Smog: London, Winter of 1952
The Industrial revolution brought with it rapid industrialization all around the world. However, it brought with it problems such as environmental pollution as well. The pollution assumes greater proportions in the winter months because of the fog. The winters in 1952 were severe in England forcing people to burn more coal to keep them warm. This resulted in the release of large amounts of Sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Coupled with the release of toxic gases from the exhaust of vehicles, the smog spread to all the parts of London causing more than 4000 deaths in the subsequent weeks. More than 100,000 people suffered from pollution-related respiratory illnesses. This is one of the worst disasters caused due to pollution anywhere in the world.
If you look at each of the above incidents closely, you can point out some kind of human failure at some point or the other. This entails that it could have been prevented had they taken proper care. Therefore, these incidents should qualify as man-made disasters.