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10 Lesser-Known Facts About Great Disasters in Human History

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.”

St. Francis dam disaster
St. Francis dam. William Mulholland. Image credits: Imveracity/Wikimedia,

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. (1, 23)


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.’

 Mexico Earthquake- Miracle babies
Image credits: United States Geological Survey/Wikimedia

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. (12)


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.

Great Whiskey Fire of Dublin
Image used for representational purposes only.

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. (12)

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.

Notre Dame fire
Image credits: SEIN RYU/

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. (12)


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.

Titanic Disaster
Titanic Disaster.

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. (1, 2)


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