Four Floods That Were Dangerously Delicious

That tsunami of liquid still might be deadly, but it sure tastes sweeter when it’s made of chocolate
Four Floods That Were Dangerously Delicious

Natural disasters are horrifying things, stark reminders that we live on a planet that could destroy us at any moment, that we’re tenants rather than owners, and are perched precariously on the outside of a giant ball of flaming rock. 

Unnatural disasters, though? Well, sometimes they’re pretty tasty!

The London Beer Flood

There’s a theater by Tottenham Court Road Station in London that was, for about 20 years, dominated by an enormous gold statue of Freddie Mercury due to being the permanent-ish home of the musical We Will Rock You. Once upon a time though, long before Central London was a tourist-filled hellscape, that site housed a brewery.

A good one, too. The Horse Shoe Brewery had grown out of a pub and become one of the biggest producers of porter (dark, stoutlike beer) in the city, getting acquired by the Meux Brewery in 1811 and merging with Clowes & Co in early 1814.

Then disaster struck. Some of their barrels had seen better days, and the hoops that held them together were rusting. On October 17, 1814 a giant barrel, a 22-foot beast containing 3,555 imperial barrels (about 125,000 gallons) of 10-month-old porter, just couldn’t take it, and burst. This also damaged neighboring barrels, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer were immediately released, smashing through the wall of the brewery and flooding the streets beyond.

Eight people were killed, four of them children, crushed beneath collapsing walls. Two houses were outright obliterated and others damaged, with a lot of poor basement dwellings having to be abandoned. 

Rumors later spread that opportunistic drunks had been seen slurping beer from the streets, but these seem to have been made up, used as a way of stigmatizing the mainly poor, mainly Irish population of the area. The brewery was repaired, and via many business deals over the decades, is now part of the multinational Carlsberg Group.

The Boston Molasses Flood

On January 15, 1919, a tank containing more than two million gallons of molasses, set to be fermented in order to produce ethanol for industrial use, burst in the Purity Distilling Company in Boston’s North End. 

Molasses is incredibly dense, which meant the pressure inside the container was extremely high, and when it burst, it sent a 25-foot wave of the stuff out at 35 miles per hour. It flattened buildings and crushed people instantly, then when it settled, it created a sticky, inescapable flood, a waist-deep swamp of thick gluey goo that was so viscous that people in its path were easily asphyxiated. Horses were overpowered and slipped beneath the surface, trapped, in one eyewitness’s account, “like flies on sticky fly-paper.” The more people struggled, the worse their predicament. As night fell, the molasses cooled and got even thicker and harder to escape.

Emergency services dug through the mess for four days, rescuing everyone they could, and it’s to the eternal credit of how quickly they acted that the death toll wasn’t much, much higher than the final figure of 21. 

As the area was slowly cleaned up and rebuilt, some survivors began a class-action lawsuit seeking compensation for a disaster that only took place due to clumsiness and negligence. The barrel, for instance, was built for water, meaning the increased pressure of extra-dense molasses was an accident waiting to happen. The biggest legacy of the event is arguably the improved safety standards that companies in the U.S. now abide by — today, engineers’ and architects’ calculations are a key part of the permit process. Historian Stephen Puleo told NBC, “The tank didn’t even require a permit because it was considered a receptacle, not a building. Every building construction standard that we sort of take for granted today comes about because of the Molasses Flood.”

In 2013, there was another molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor. Around 1,400 tons spilled straight into the sea, killing enormous amounts of sea life. The cleanup in this case was handled by bacteria gathering in huge amounts to eat the sugar and dead creatures — it threw the ecology of the whole area off-balance for a while but at least nobody was hurt.

The Brooklyn Chocolate Flood

In May 1919, just four months after the molasses disaster in Boston, another sugary event hit the U.S. Rockwood & Company was second only to Hershey in the American chocolate market, and boasted New York’s biggest chocolate factory, a giant building in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Wallabout that took up a whole city block. 

In the middle of the night of May 12th, a fire broke out on the second floor in a room used to store sacks full of of cocoa beans and finished chocolate bars. The cause of it was later determined to be an incident of spontaneous combustion, due perhaps to excess moisture around the oily beans heating up and igniting.

Despite the fire department arriving on the scene incredibly soon, the fire spread quickly to the third floor, where butter was stored, and soon enough there was a flood of melted chocolate and butter spreading through the streets of Brooklyn. Like the Dublin Whisky Flood — in which a raging fire didn’t kill anyone, but excessive amounts of booze slurped from the road did, and which would be in here if we didn't already have an article about it — the chocolatey streets drew the attention of local residents whose desire to have a taste outweighed the “lapping it up off the ground”-ness of it all. 

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in an article with the truly great headline “Gutters Run Fudge; Urchins Run Miles to Chocolate Fire,” described how “little fellows fell on their knees before the oncoming flood and dipped it up greedily with grimy fingers” before “chocolate-gorged trunts, some with faraway looks in their eyes, were hauled off to school.” Nobody was hurt in the incident, although $75,000 worth of damage was done to the factory. After its repair, and another less-delicious fire in 1938, it was sold in 1957 to the Sweets Company of America and used to manufacture Tootsie Rolls.

The Russian Juice Flood

In 2017, the roof of a PepsiCo-owned warehouse in Lebedyan, Russia, collapsed. The falling debris caused thousands of gallons of fruit juice to spill — torrents of orange, tomato and apple juice cascaded through the streets toward the Don River. (It was reported in some circles that the flood was of Pepsi itself, but this is likely due to the fact that a big load of dirty fruit juice is going to look brown pretty swiftly.) 

Nobody was working in the factory at the time of the incident, and only two relatively minor injuries occurred from the 7.4 million gallons of brown crap that swept through the town. There were concerns that, as in Honolulu, the ecosystem of the river would be all messed up by the colossal fruit injection, but the fish of the Don escaped largely unharmed despite their home briefly becoming an enormous bottle of V8. 

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