In a way, most history can be explained through disasters, natural or manmade. The mass enslavement of Africans in American colonies came following sweeping malaria epidemics to which African people seemed to be immune; American colonists’ desire to part ways with the British Empire sprang from a costly, devastating series of civil wars in England. Modern plastic surgery and medicine were borne from the disaster that was World War One. Some disasters and their effects are straightforward, but others are more difficult to comprehend because of the vast devastation, strange effects or simple confusion that they incite.
Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision
On November 12, 1996, two airlines crashed head-on in the skies over Charkhi Dadri, a village just west of New Delhi. The aircraft involved in the collision were Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100B traveling from New Delhi to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76 en route from Shymkent, Kazakhstan to New Delhi. The crash occurred when the Kazakhstani airline was supposed to descend to 15,000 feet but instead descended to 14,500 and then to 14,000, which put the plane directly in the path of the Boeing craft.
They collided and the Ilyushin ploughed through the Boeing’s left wing. All 37 people on the Kazakhstani aircraft perished, as well all 312 passengers on the Boeing. The collision stands as the deadliest mid-air collision in human history and the third deadliest plane accident.
New Madrid Earthquake
A series of Intraplate earthquakes shook apart the area of New Madrid—present day Missouri–around the Mississippi River between 1811 and 1812. The first earthquake on December 16th had its epicentre in northeast Arkansas and measured up to an 8 on the Mercalli intensity scale. This earthquake was followed by another six hours later, and two more on January 23rd and February 7th, respectively. The third quake caused warping, magma eruptions, fissuring and landslides.
After the February earthquake, it was reported that the Mississippi ran backwards for several hours and two temporary waterfalls developed. The upthrusting of land caused the formation of Reelfoot Lake 15 miles south of the epicentre while the crushing of quartz crystals underground created flashing lights that lit up the sky. Incredibly, the earthquakes could be felt over 50,000 square miles. For comparison’s sake, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, deadly enough in its own right, was felt over 6,000 square miles.
The Summer That Never Was
When Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted in 1815 it launched Europe and North America into what seemed like a permanent winter. Temperatures dropped an average of 0.7 – 1.3 Fahrenheit, which resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere. A dry fog fell across most of the United States and record snowfalls hit New York and Maine in June. Europe was still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars and was also in severe trouble. Riots broke out in France and the United Kingdom and Italy was blanketed in red, volcanic snow. It is during this time that Mary Shelley would compose Frankenstein and our modern interpretation of vampires would come to exist. Apparently starvation leads to the invention of nightmares.
The Gates of Hell
Deep in the Karakum desert of northern Turkemenistan is a gaping hole in the crust of the earth that burns with abandon. Some scientists believe the Darvaza Crater was initially a borehole for a Soviet expedition looking for natural gas. After concerns of it leaking poisonous gas, the crater was set on fire in 1971. The flames still rage. The crater spans 226 feet and reaches a whopping 100 feet into the planet. The government of Turkmenistan hopes to close up the hole to prevent the expansion of the flames and gases, while preparing for future development in the area.
Texas City Chain Reaction
The Texas City disaster occurred on April 16, 1947 in the Port of Texas City, a deepwater port in Galveston Bay. At the time, it was the deadliest industrial accident in US history, as well as one of the largest non-nuclear related explosions. The disaster began with a fire on board the French vessel SS Grandcamp docked in port. It was carrying 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate that detonated and caused a chain reaction of explosions and fires. The initial blast incinerated 1,000 buildings on land. The following explosions caused industrial buildings and chemical plants to ignite and spread the destruction even farther. The blasts were felt as far away as Louisiana. Official estimates put the death toll at 567 and injuries at more than 5,000. All but two Texas City fire fighters were killed. Some of the dead were never identified.