History & Classics  

History says humanity has survived disasters – at times man-made, at times natural ones. With time, some have become notable but well-known episodes to mention. But are you aware of the lesser-known facts about these great disasters in human history? Let’s have a glance!


1. Two hundred Japanese pensioners volunteered to handle the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. All of them were over 60. Upon being asked why, one man said, “Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. I probably now only have 13 to 15 years left to live.”
The worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, the deadliest of great disasters in human history, was in the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant Disaster in Okuma, Japan in 2011 due to a grave Tsunami caused by the movements of tectonic plates under the Indian Ocean.
10,000 people were evacuated to ensure no casualties. The government had to shut down the plant to stop radiation that had been already emitting for the last three months.
This was the time when Yasuteru Yamada, a retired engineer of 72, took the decision of replacing the young ones from the team who had been working to manage the nuclear disaster. He made a team of his own that consisted of nearly 200 pensioners, all over 60 years old.
Upon being asked he clearly stated that the decision was not really something great to be flaunted, but this was quite logical. He made the point clearer stating even if he were exposed to the radiation directly, it would have been a matter of the next 20-30 years for cancer to develop whereas he, being 72, had only 10-15 years to live further.
When people compared him along with his team to Kamikazes, the pilots involved in a suicide mission in WWII, he was not ready to take pride in the fact saying they had gone there to die whereas he and his team went to combat the disaster and not to die.
2. The methyl-isocyanate leakage that caused the Bhopal Gas Disaster killing 8,000 people in one night, went undetected as the factory shut down its alarms so as not to cause a disturbance in the neighboring residential area.
The Bhopal Gas Disaster is the worst historical evidence of extreme negligence causing dreadful harm to humanity. It was not a mere accident that took 8,000 lives away over the night of 3 December 1984, but it was an absolute apathy towards the people’s lives despite having enough knowledge of the vulnerable storage of deadly methyl isocyanate much before that day.
It’s one of them that top the list of the great disasters in human history. Besides, the fact of the previous shutoff of the public siren made it worse as people didn’t even get alerts of the gas leakage to save them.
Accidents due to gas leakage took place in 1982 and 1983 also, but that didn’t bother the authority of the Union Carbide Corporation. Since September 1984, newspaper reports by journalist Raj Keshwani have tried multiple times to draw the attention of the higher authorities of the government.
In the same year, the safety audit by the US engineers thoroughly exposed the safety hazards. On the contrary, the public sirens that used to ring even for minor leakages were shut down as that could raise unnecessary turmoil among the neighboring residents. And that one mistake also took the scope away of people saving their lives by running away on time. 
3. An engineer predicted the Challenger disaster about six months before it happened. He reported to his superiors the o-ring problem mentioning it “would be a catastrophe of the highest order – loss of human life.” 
In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger crashed just 73 seconds after its launch. Five NASA astronauts and two payload specialists died in the crash. Given the enormity of the accident, it is a disaster that caused a major setback in US space research. Later, investigations found that the reason for the crash was due to a mechanical error in an o-ring belonging to one of the solid rocket boosters.
However, an engineer named Roger Boisjoly predicted the problem almost six months before and sent a memo to the vice president of Morton Thiokol, the company that manufactured the solid rocket boosters.
Not only wasn’t Roger’s memo taken seriously, but he was also fired once he disclosed the matter to the presidential investigation committee after the disaster. Roger was presented with the AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility in 1986 as a token for his courage to expose the truth. 
4. After the disaster of Chernobyl, massive thermal explosion threats were detected. Three engineers volunteered to jump into the water under the reactor to find the safety valves and release them. “The Chernobyl Divers,” as they are known today, died within a few days due to the radiation.
The nuclear reactor accident that caused almost 4,000 deaths from direct and indirect radiation in Ukraine in 1986 is one of the most dangerous nuclear accidents on Earth and is considered one of the great disasters in human history.
The horrors of Chernobyl could have been ten times worse if three people hadn’t undertaken a suicide mission. These three people were Valeri Bezpalov, Alexie Ananenko, and Boris Baranov. The first two being engineers and the last one only a plant worker.
Their mission was to find a safety valve and unlock it to clear the contaminated water. The safety valve had immense importance because the pooled water was a mixture of water, sand, clay, and Boron, combined together at a high temperature it was in a lava-like state.
If the lava were to come in contact with the reactor, the thermal explosion could have killed hundreds of thousands of Eastern European people. All three of them managed to get to the safety valves with SCUBA gear and opened the safety valve knowing the radiation would kill them. The Chernobyl Divers are the reason the disaster was how we remember it today. 
5. Despite being warned and advised to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina, a large number of people refused to evacuate. Forty-four percent of them didn’t leave solely because of their pets. The government had to change the laws and put special focus on pet evacuation in the light of the incident.
In 2006, Hurricane Katrina was one of the most disastrous hurricanes that ever hit America and has carved a place in the list of great disasters in human history. It affected America in a similar manner as any natural disasters do, but it had one significant aspect.
A massive number of people didn’t agree to evacuate and fell victim to the storm, 44% of them solely because the evacuation was only for people, not pets. As the evacuation policies didn’t have any clauses for pets, most of them were deserted in the abandoned areas.
Hundreds of dogs and cats waiting for their masters to return starved to death on rooftops, floating furniture, or gave in to other diseases. This incident shook the whole nation and petitions for animal evacuation policies flowed into the congress.
Facing such strong public sentiments, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act. For the first time, pets were treated in parity with humans. 


6. In 1928, a dam in California collapsed killing more than 400 people. The chief engineer took sole responsibility for the St. Francis dam disaster saying, “If there was an error in human judgment, I was the human.”
The worst civil engineering failure in American history and also one of the great disasters in human history took place in California in 1928 and is still one of the worst nightmares that humanity has ever witnessed. The whole responsibility was born by the chief engineer, William Mulholland, who established the belief of a sensational and flawless project for the well-being of Los Angeles.
It’s very unfortunate that experts like William Mulholland also swept the fact of cracks and leaks in the massive St. Francis dam under the carpet. He himself proclaimed the dam safe after the reservoir was filled to its capacity for the first time on 7 March 1928.
But everything turned false when the massive concrete wall of the dam collapsed at midnight on 12 March 1928. The 12.4-billion-gallon water flood struck Los Angeles with 120-feet-high tides, and dozens of investigations ran to evaluate the fault and the faulty.
Mulholland admitted his fault of human judgments that he made while pertaining to the engineering principles while establishing the fact of a flawless dam, and later isolated himself from the entire world till his last breath. However, that could not return the 400 lives back to their families and repair the uncountable damages that the disaster caused. 
7. The 8.0 earthquake that killed hundreds of people in Mexico in 1985 surprisingly didn’t cause any harm to the newborn babies in a government hospital. Their miraculous survival named them the ‘Miracle Babies.’
The earthquake of 1985 killed more than 5,000 people in Mexico and that’s just on the official record. Properties including large buildings such as offices, complexes, schools, hospitals, and so many other things were completely destroyed.
But in the nursery section of two hospitals in Mexico City, the damage-control workers recovered at least six infants. They were without any food, drink, or even human touch for 4-7 days, unharmed.
Most of them were totally untouched with some having very minor injuries. How they lived for almost a week was a great surprise even undermining the fact that they survived an 8.0 earthquake.
According to doctors, infants have plenty of fluids in their bodies and are able to survive for days if they spend only the minimum amount of calories. As they didn’t have to move, the reasoning was justified. But the nature of their survival was nothing but miraculous. 
8. Greed took life as 13 deceased people of the Great Whiskey Fire of Dublin in 1875 didn’t die of inhaling the smoke from the fire outbreak but drinking poisonous alcohol from the street did so.
The lack of resistance to the greed to drink the flowing alcohol on the street of Dublin took 13 lives away in 1875. The scene prompts goosebumps when people were drinking the spilled alcohol using their hands, boots, caps as the cups for drinking the poison.
It was 18 July 1875 when about 5,000 barrels of whiskey exploded due to an unfortunate fire in the Malone’s malt house and warehouse on Chamber Street. The fire or the smoke should have been the cause of the deaths of 13 people, but the actual reason is far scarier than that.
The fire ignited around 4:45 p.m. on that day, and the street was flooded with the burning alcohol. The stream of alcohol was so irresistible to some people that they didn’t even think of the tragedy that the burnt whiskey could cause.
Destiny played its role by treating them with a miserable death after reaching the hospital. Some recovered and returned home from the hospital on the next day but could not survive more than a few days and succumbed to death. 
9. Firefighters that responded to last year’s fire at Notre Dame knew which works of art to rescue and in which order following a protocol developed for such a disaster.
More than 850 years old, the Notre Dame Cathedral is a precious ushering of civilization in itself that holds a lot of revolutionary and irreplaceable artworks in it. The architecture and the belongings of this Gothic church are a pride of the whole world that the wise and witty firefighters saved in 2019.
The church survived numerous revolutions and wars over the centuries, and a fierce flame caused by a mere short circuit was about to demolish the entire church on 15 April 2019. More than a dozen of fire engines tried to put off the fire with 18 high-pressure aerial hoses.
The retrieval of the artworks by the firefighters is commendable indeed as they saved treasures like The Holy Crown of Thorns, the Tunic, other two artifacts that are irreplaceable. They also succeeded in safeguarding the structure, the rear of the building, and two main towers of the church.
The team of 400 firefighters led by Father Jean-Marc Fournier acted according to the plan to safeguard the heritage. The decision and planning were swift enough to even safeguard the precious large painting of religious scenes and giant bells. 
10. After the Titanic Disaster, the ships sent to recover the dead bodies ran out of embalming supplies, so they only retrieved the bodies of first-class, wealthy passengers for the need to visually identify wealthy men to resolve any disputes over large estates.
The historical Titanic Disaster, one of the great disasters in human history, left about 1,500 passengers in the sea to drown or to freeze. The CS Mackay Bennett was equipped to bring all of them back to the shore and made the crew take the most controversial decision based on classism.
After reaching the location on 21 April 1912, the crew of 75 of CS Mackay Bennett rescued a total of 337 bodies over the seven days of hunting thoroughly in and around the location. Out of them, 119 bodies were buried at sea again, provoking the absolute case of classism as the crew buried third-class passengers only.
However, reports contradict that saying most of the corpses were damaged and decomposed. Besides, the lack of storage capacity and shortage of embalming material made them bring only the first-class and second-class passengers to Halifax to resolve any evident financial issues and claims.
But, the instances of bringing the body of a two-year-old boy that was rescued on the first day of the quest and a deceased member of the Titanic band proved the sensitivity and dilemma of the crew and the captain. Retrieval of the body of Mr. John Astor for reward money of $10,000 provoked the controversy more. But, it is said that the crew spent that money for the funeral of the unidentified little boy. 



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