#3. Aberfan Disaster
The folks at the National Coal Board in Wales must have had some lazy parents. For 50 years, workers deposited various rocks and mining debris in the same poorly maintained area, not even bothering to sweep anything under the bed or a pile of clothes or something.
Instead they dumped it on the side of Merthyr Mountain which, other than being where Gandalf the Grey keeps his wizard condoms, is notable for being above the small village of Aberfan.
During that five decade period, several people voiced concern about the gargantuan pile of debris blocking out the sun, because unless you are a deep sea creature this is generally considered to be a bad thing. However, the area crew ignored this and continued to mock the basic laws of physics, because what's the point of having an emergency response system if you can't provoke the wrath of God?
And provoke they did. In October 1966, after days of heavy rain, water mixed with the debris to create a massive mudslide. As the debris raced towards the village it gained more force, colliding into a second pile of debris lower on the mountain because really, a back-up mudslide is the sort of thing you should have waiting in the wings.
Noting that Aberfan was lying in the path of this tremendous oversight, some workmen were quick to call and sound the alarm. But the call never went through because their telephone cable had been stolen. This would have been a simple unfortunate coincidence had it not been stolen several times before. When the only thing standing between you and impending doom are the operators at AT&T and some bandits keep stealing your telephones, you should probably check and see if you've got a dial tone well before there's a dire emergency.
In the end, the mudslide crushed and/or suffocated 144 people, 116 of which were children. The National Coal Board was found responsible and ordered to pay a whopping 500 pounds for every child lost (enough to buy a whole, shitty used car at the time!), but were otherwise unpunished.
Even the nine people found to be directly responsible managed to keep their jobs, but we're pretty sure they never got their phones turned back on.
#2. Vajont Dam
During the 1920s, the Italian energy company, SADE, had a dream: to build a big-ass dam in the valley of the Vajont River. It would take decades, and during that time SADE assured everyone they had studied the terrain--including past landslides--and told those in the Vajont valley that everything was peachy.
Experts came out of the woodwork to call bullshit, saying that the side of neighboring Monte Toc would collapse into the basin if they dammed it up. SADE decided to call their bluff, wrapping up construction in 1959 and starting filling in 1960.
You can see where this is going.
After a series of minor landslides, SADE knew what they had to do: sue the media outlets who reported on the story.
A year later, five major earthquakes were reported, but SADE shrugged it off, citing the accepted scientific fact that earthquakes never strike the same place twice. They then proceeded to fill the basin to maximum level. Meanwhile, the mountain itself was moving downward a meter a day in an attempt to flee its own horrible tragedy.
"GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"
In 1963, SADE pushed their luck too far and after many attempts to fill and drain the reservoir, rain joined forces with a massive landslide into the reservoir itself and created a 750-foot tall wave that wiped out the villages of Erto and Casso, who had never been told a mega-tsunami was imminent.
The Italian government (which owned the dam by this point) immediately tried to pass the disaster off, blaming it on "God's mysterious designs of love," which is an excellent name for a J-Pop band but is a pretty weak excuse for ending 2,000 lives. After a lengthy trial, SADE was held responsible but never forced to pay damages, proving once and for all that crime (or at least negligence) doesn't pay, but it also doesn't necessarily cost you anything.
In May 1962, the citizens of Centralia, Pennsylvania hired a group of volunteer firefighters to clean up the town's landfill. By "landfill" we mean "the abandoned mine where they stuffed their trash" and by "clean up" we mean "set on fucking fire."
After burning the trash the firefighters made the bold decision to not actually put the fire out.
Naturally, the fire spread, growing throughout the mine and gaining intensity as it did so. Signs of distress began popping-up as the inferno caused damage to the terrain and began destroying sections of road across the borough, causing smoke to billow from below.
People started getting sick from both the toxic smoke rolling up from the ground and the lowering of oxygen levels as the underground hellfire consumed it from the air.
Despite the illness, ruined roads and sudden pillars of Satanic smoke, serious attention wasn't paid until 1979 when a gas station owner noticed his tanks had reached a temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
The state of Pennsylvania finally conceded that Centralia was burning from the inside out when in 1981, a 12-year-old boy was almost swallowed alive by his grandmother's back yard. After hearing of this story, the firefighters responsible offered no comment, presumably because they were busy not putting out any fires.
Once national attention was brought to the incident, Congress spent $42 million dollars in a massive relocation effort. Most residents, fearing everything from a large-scale collapse to consumption at the hands of a vengeful Earth, accepted the offer and moved to near by cities.
Still, some of the 1,000 or so residents stayed behind. In fact, up until recently, there were still a handful of residents (nine in 2007) who felt that standing your ground was more valuable than not living in a place that is constantly on fire.
"Yea, but if I move downtown I have to park in the street."
Few buildings still stand, having been destroyed by the state or nature itself. The fire continues to burn today and is predicted to continue burning for 250 years. Centralia is now reported to be empty, seeing only the occasional visitors in wayward adventurers and people who never played a Silent Hill game.
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And check out some man-made fictional disasters, in The 5 Lamest Disasters in Disaster Movie History. Or check out some corporate disasters, in 5 Corporate Promotions That Ended in (Predictable) Disaster.
And stop by our Top Picks to comedy of natural disaster-like proportions.
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