5 Extremely Bizarre Man-Made Disasters

June 3, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Boston molassacre damage
Photo credit: Panorama of the Molasses Disaster site

From underground fires to streets flooded with beer.

Throughout humanity’s history, there have been some terrible natural disasters that have unfortunately led to numerous deaths. But there have also been a number of manmade disasters that were just plain bizarre. Here are 5 very strange events:

The Boston Molassacre

January 15, 1919, marks a tragic, yet one of the most bizarre disasters in the United States. In Boston, Massachusetts’ North End, a 50-foot-tall holding tank burst, releasing 2.3 million gallons of sticky molasses in a 15-foot-high, 160-foot-wide wave that flooded through the city at speeds of 35 miles per hour. It destroyed numerous buildings, and resulted in the deaths of 21 people and also injured another 150. The cause of the holding tank’s failure was determined to be improper construction and poor maintenance. As a result, local residents brought a class-action suit, one of the first in Massachusetts’ history, against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA).

Boston molassacre damage

Damage to the Boston Elevated Railway due to the flood

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Sidoarjo Mud Volcano

Sidoarjo is host to the biggest mud volcano in the world, but it was not always there. In May 2006, a natural gas well was being drilled by PT Lapindo Brantas, when it blew out and began spewing mud. At its peak, the volcano was erupting 180,000 cubic meters of mud per day. Luckily, the gushing mud has began to slow, but it is still expected to continue until at least 2017. So far, the mud covers an area twice the size of New York’s Central Park. The disaster claimed the lives of 13 people and an estimated 50,000 people have been displaced after losing their homes to the mud.

Sidoarjo mud volcano damage

Photo credit: Arifhidayat/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Centralia’s Underground Fire

Centralia was a coal mining town, and beneath the town itself were numerous old and abandoned mines, along with several seams of unmined coal. It was common practice for Centralia to clear the town’s landfill by burning it. However, in May of 1962, the fire was not extinguished properly, and the embers from the fire eventually burned down into a vein of coal, igniting an underground blaze. Unfortunately, the ground beneath Centralia is now very unstable and could collapse at any moment. In fact, the fire almost swallowed a 12 year-old boy in 1981. The town was officially evacuated after that incident and now only 7 brave people still live there.

Centralia underground fire damage

Photo credit: Lyndi & Jason/flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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London Beer Flood

Beer can be dangerous in large quantities, especially when a tsunami of it is gushing through city streets. This is exactly what happened on October 17th, 1814 in St. Giles, London. A bizarre industrial accident resulted in the release of a 15-foot beer wave that claimed the lives of 8 people. An iron ring around one of the beer brewing tanks snapped, releasing hot fermenting ale, but also starting a domino effect. The force of the initial blast opened several more vats. More than 320,000 gallons of beer were released into the area, which blasted through the brewery’s back brick wall and onto the city’s street. The wave of beer flooded basements and caused the collapse of two houses.

Horse Shoe Brewery circa 1830

The Horse Shoe Brewery; site of the Great London Beer Flood disaster of 1814.

The Great Death Smog

In London in 1952, a deadly thick, polluted fog formed over the city, bringing road, air, and rail transport to a standstill. That year, London’s winter had been very cold, so to keep warm residents were burning large amounts of coal in their homes. Normally, this smoke would rise into the atmosphere and disperse, however, a strong anticyclone (high pressure system) had settled over the region, which pushed the air downwards and warming it. This created an inversion, where the air close to the ground was cooler than the air above it, so the pollution was trapped in the region. Due to a combination of unfortunate weather events, it is estimated that 4,000 people died from the smog, but that number could be as high as 12,000.

The Great Death Smog

Photo Credit: N T Stobbs/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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