6 Horrifying Disasters Conveniently Edited Out Of History
History is full of disasters that somehow missed the spotlight. Maybe they weren't big enough, or maybe they were almost identical to a completely different catastrophe and ended up consigned to the weird part of history where we file away things like Hydrox and Deep Impact.
Well, no longer. Here are six of the most forgotten disaster sequels and prequels in history.
The Kyshtym Disaster Was The 1950s Version Of Chernobyl
Chernobyl was ... well ... c'mon, don't play this game with us. You know what Chernobyl was. Pop culture (and on a number of occasions, us) have been recapping the events of Chernobyl for the last 30 years.
OK fine, it was a catastrophic meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Are you happy?
Look, here's a picture. Are you proud of yourself?
But even if you did know that, you probably didn't know that Chernobyl was itself only a so-so remake of another disaster in 1957. Much like Chernobyl, the Kyshtym disaster involved the release of a massive amount of radioactive material, untold casualties, and a swath of real-yet-unpronounceable place names.
Complicated somewhat here by the fact that this particular map is in German.
In 1957, the USSR was furiously trying to catch up to the U.S. in its nuclear weapons program. One of the weapons production facilities working on this great task was located in Mayak, Chelyabinsk, and was by all accounts a shitshow. Minimal safeguards to protect the workers from being turned into ghouls, a town built directly outside -- that kind of thing. In terms of industrial-sized gaffes, this is right up there with ... nothing.
Building a town next to a nuclear weapons plant is bad. Don't do that.
On September 29th, 1957, the plant's cooling system failed, triggering an explosion which catapulted a cloud of radioactive waste into the atmosphere. When it fell back to Earth, it contaminated 20,000 square km. There were evacuations, sure, but not everyone. At least a few people in the area were pressed into service, cleaning villages and burning crops to try to decontaminate the area. Decades later, the region is still a hotbed for cancer, "enjoying" a diagnosis rate five times higher than the national average.
The Soviets covered it up, because of course they would, but interestingly, that's only half the reason almost no one's heard about this. It turns out the CIA also helped cover up the disaster for decades. They had two very good reasons for this. First, they wouldn't be abiding by their remit if they weren't being colossal dickbags to someone, and second, they didn't want to cause any panic about the safety of nuclear energy in their own country.
The Ixtoc I Blowout Was Deepwater Horizon ... 30 Years Earlier
In April 2010, a blowout of methane gas aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform triggered an explosion and fire which engulfed the facility, sent it to the bottom of the ocean, and claimed the lives of 11 people. It was a disaster without precedent, so unexpected that BP was able to avoid filing a contingency plan for dealing with incidents like this and the resulting oil spills.
Which is too bad, because if anyone had bothered to read a goddamned history book or, like, this article, they'd know this exact thing happened decades earlier with Ixtoc I.
Yet another way Cracked prepares its readers for successful careers in risk assessment and mitigation.
Ixtoc I was a Mexican oil platform drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1979, a violent blowout ignited the facility and caused it to collapse into the sea. This destroyed the well, and with it any chance of stopping 20,000 barrels' worth of oil from gushing into the ocean each day. Turning off the flow was no mean feat. Experts from the world over, such as real-life firebender Red Adair, were drafted into the effort, and it took nine months for them to finally cap it.
If you've spent most of your life inland, note that "ablaze" is not a normal condition for the sea.
There was one notable difference between Ixtoc I and Deepwater. Pemex -- the operators of Ixtoc I, and a state-run company -- successfully avoided most of their legal problems by declaring that they had sovereign immunity from the courts. That's a stunt BP didn't even try to pull off in the fallout of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, pleading guilty to felony manslaughter, obstruction, and a variety of environmental crimes and paying a $4 billion fine.
Hooray for progress? That'll make the shorebirds happy, we suppose.
The West Loch Disaster Was Pearl Harbor's Second Calamity That War
Pearl Harbor has not had an easy time of it. First, and most famously, there was the sneak attack by Japanese forces in December, 1941 which resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 people. Second, and most infamously, there was the Michael Bay adaptation of the same attack.
A sneak attack on unsuspecting filmgoers.
But there was another disaster in there that almost no one knows about -- including, thankfully, Michael Bay. In May of 1944, a large contingent of landing ships were being loaded with troops, equipment, and munitions in preparation for an invasion of Saipan. For reasons that have never been uncovered, one of the ships exploded, sparking a chain reaction which ignited nearby caches of fuel and ammunition, sinking half a dozen landing ships and killing 163 people.
If there's an upside to this -- and no, not really -- at least no one was left entombed in the wreckage and doomed to slowly perish while their friends looked on.
"Hey, you know how this could have been worse?"
"Not now, Franklin."
This situation posed a problem for the military. They couldn't tell anyone about it, lest they tip off the enemy about an incoming attack. Which is how the whole thing got shushed up. Even after the attack went ahead (only a day later than scheduled), the disaster wasn't widely publicized, and only really came to light years later.
A footnote: The attack on Saipan was a success, and wound up becoming a major contributing factor toward America's ultimate victory. Which means that the first disaster at Pearl Harbor helped start the Pacific war, while the second disaster helped end it. That's not irony, precisely, but it's something. Feels like there's probably a German word for that.
The Great Chicago Fire Was One of FIVE Fires to Hit the Midwest That Day
Until the release of Cracked's next mixtape, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 is the most fire thing to have happened in American history. Which is kind of weird, because we don't actually know that much about it. We don't know how it started (it wasn't a cow), we don't know how many people died (estimates range from 120-300), and we definitely don't know how it relates to the other four conflagrations that tore apart the Midwest that night.
The Great Chicago Fire rolls five deep.
That's right, the Great Chicago Fire wasn't the only fire that night, or even the worst. That honor belongs to the Peshtigo fire, which swept through the frontier town of Peshtigo after a series of smaller fires joined into a Voltron-esque mess of heat, light, and rage. Somewhere between 1,200 and 2,500 people died as a result, many from drowning or hypothermia after diving into the nearby river for safety. A horror show by anyone's standards, but by the time the blaze died down, the fire in Chicago was already an hour old and hogging every ounce of media attention.
More like the Just OK Chicago Fire.
The remaining three fires occurred in the Michigan towns of Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee, and were all generally fueled by the same factors: high winds, drought-like conditions, and loggers leaving flammable debris in the flammable brush of the flammable forest, like a nesting doll made of fireworks. Although these towns were fortunate enough to avoid the death and destruction of their bigger brothers in Chicago and Peshtigo, they still incurred casualties of 50-100 people each.
At the time, the coincidental timings of all five fires led to a whole bunch of conspiracy theories. And why wouldn't they? We're suspicious.
"LANTERN FUEL CAN'T MELT WOOD BEAMS!"
The most entertaining of these theories was that all the fires were somehow ignited by a passing comet! That's badass! Who cares whether it's true (it's not), let's believe that anyway.
Mother Nature Hated New Orleans For A Long Time Before Katrina
New Orleans has a reputation for being a fun place where anyone can party, eat gumbo, meet an alligator, or resurrect a witch from the underworld.
All in surroundings that resemble an explosion in a clown store.
But it also has a reputation for disaster, as perhaps best exemplified by the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But that's hardly the only time calamity has befallen New Orleans, and to find out why, we first have to know a few things about it.
One, it has (and has had) a lot of pretty flammable wooden buildings. Which is why in March of 1788, almost the entire city became engulfed in the "Great Conflagration of New Orleans." Within the space of five hours, 856 of the 1,100 buildings in the city were burnt down, including the local church, the army barracks, the jail, and most of the French Quarter.
So all the good parts, basically, plus also all the rest.
What wasn't destroyed in the fire was torn up in 1794 when another fire broke out, The Great Conflagration of New Orleans 2. Fires continued to wreak havoc for owners and old-timey insurance agents in 1816, 1866, and 1919.
Yikes. But that brings us to the second and third problems with New Orleans. It's below sea level (and the sea just fucking hates that), and it's located on the Gulf coast, which is more or less built like a catcher's mitt for hurricanes.
And the pitcher is firing cannonballs.
Remember 1794, when that second fire broke out? Well, two hurricanes also struck the city that year, causing major flooding throughout. More storms continued to arrive throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, all the way up until 1947, when the first really major one arrived. This unnamed shitstorm (we didn't start naming them until 1953) put the city under several feet of water, killed 51 people, and caused $100 million in damages. Hurricane Betsy rolled through town a couple decades later in September 1965, killing a further 51 people and causing $1.4 billion in damage.
So yes, remember Hurricane Katrina, and the 1,200-plus people killed in 2005. But by that point, it should have been clear that New Orleanians weren't living in a city; they were living in some kind of cosmic simulation designed to answer that thought experiment about whether an object is still the same object even if all of its component parts have been replaced.
Vesuvius Was Erupting (And Killing People) Up Until 1944
As far as most people are concerned, Mount Vesuvius is a bit of a one-hit wonder. Yeah, wiping out Pompeii was awesome. We all remember where we were when that happened. But that was 79 CE, man. You can't keep living on your past glories, Vesuvius.
Maybe take your next album in a more electro, dance-infused direction.
But like an ancient rock band that keeps cranking out the albums for its die-hard fans, Vesuvius never stopped doing what it does best, and has been showering its neighborhood with ash and debris once or twice a century. In fact, its last eruption was in the decidedly non-biblical year of 1944 CE.
Perhaps the most notable of these eruptions was the one that took place in 1631. Although it wasn't as powerful as the one that knocked out Pompeii, it killed 6,000 people over the course of a three-day mini apocalypse. Featuring earthquakes, tsunamis, poisonous gases, rocks raining from the sky, and lahars, it was possibly the closest thing to hell on earth we've ever seen. But even though it killed more people than the eruption of 79 CE, it's largely been forgotten about.
"PLAY YOUR EARLY STUFF."
It's much the same deal with the Vesuvius eruption in 2000 BCE. Archaeologists working in the nearby town of Avellino stumbled upon a Bronze Age village which, like Pompeii, was sealed under a thick deposit of ash and pumice. It might warm your heart to know that there's evidence the nearby residents probably got out -- footprints leading away from the site were well-preserved -- though no one was probably having a great day.
And that aforementioned last eruption, the one in 1944? That one killed 26 people, although it's better-known for almost wiping out an entire American bomber group. On March 18, after days of small-scale seismic activity, the volcano erupted and began spewing lava, rocks, and ash onto the locals and military personnel stationed near there. The debris from the eruption damaged a number of planes' guns, controls, engines, and wings. So all the main plane parts, then. 88 were completely destroyed, though if it's any consolation, one of them got a rad as hell picture of the eruption as it was going on:
Definite potential for an album cover here.
Wow, with that kind of relentless history of death and destruction, it's no wonder that today, the area around Vesuvius has been evacuated ... Oh, what's that? 600,000 people live within nine miles of it? Oh.
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Last Halloween, the Cracked Podcast creeped you out with tales of ghost ships, mysteriously dead people, and a man from one of the most famous paintings in U.S. history who years later went all Jack Nicholson in The Shining on his family. This October, Jack and the Cracked staff are back with special guest comedians Ryan Singer, Eric Lampaert, and Anna Seregina to share more unsettling and unexplained true tales of death, disappearance, and the great beyond. Get your tickets for this LIVE podcast here!