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10 Lesser-Known Facts About Great Disasters in Human History

great disasters facts

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.”

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.

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. (source)

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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.

Bhopal Gas Disaster
Bhopal Gas Disaster. Image credits: Arindambanerjee/Shutterstock.com

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. (12)

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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.” 

Roger Boisjoly
Roger Boisjoly. Image credits: Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com, Dailymail.com/Wikipedia

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. (source)

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 Chernobyl Divers
The Chernobyl Divers.

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. (source)

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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.

Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina. Image credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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. (source)

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