Top 10 Worst Industrial Disasters in the World

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Natural disasters have claimed innumerable innocent human lives throughout history. There’s no escape from their unexpected waves of destruction. When it comes to Mother Nature, there is no way to escape her fury.

But there still exists something equally terrifying. There is a unique terror about industrial disasters when our best precautions fail to protect us and our achievements turn against us. Industrial disasters have shaken and claimed millions of lives across the world. It not only creates havoc in the place of origin but also the region surrounding it.  Still today, there are people who have no option but to live with the deformity caused to them by a disaster that occurred hundreds of years ago.

There are many industries which are effective only when they operate in a large scale. Strict safety regulations are mandatory. But sometimes while concentrating more on the production scale, loopholes start appearing in the safety factor of the workers. Safety has always been a trade off when it comes to making profit. Safety precautions are discarded when it conflicts with cost efficiency. That is one of the main reasons that have caused massive industrial disasters in many parts of the world.

The most notable industries where disasters frequently happen are the petro-chemical, defense and energy industries. Here we provide some of the deadliest industrial disasters that have shaken the world and their essence still persists.

10. Oppau Explosion, Germany

oppau explosion

The Oppau Explosion occurred in a store on 21 September 1921 that dealt with nitrogen fixation works. It contained around 4500 tons of ammonium sulphate nitrate. Before the World War, only ammonium sulphate was made in Oppau. But later the manufacture of ammonium nitrate was started and during the time of the disaster, ammonium nitrate and sulphate were being produced to be used as fertilizers. The explosion occurred when the workers at Oppau site decided that the best way to loosen 4500 tons of ammonium nitrate was to detonate several dynamite charges. Well, they were unaware of the highly explosive nature of ammonium nitrate and their idea led to an explosive equivalent to 1-2 kilotons of TNT! The massive explosion created a crater of radius 125m and the magnitude of pressure was so high that it ripped off roofs from houses situated 25km away from the site of explosion. 80% infrastructure was destroyed leaving 6500 homeless and around 500-700 dead.


9. San Juanico Disaster, Mexico

San Juanico Disaster, Mexico

On 19 November 1984, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in history occurred in the Mexico City Area causing the greatest rescue effort to assist population in an emergency rarely undertaken. The tragic catastrophe occurred around 20 km away from Mexico City in a large LPG storage and distribution center. Around 40,000 people lived around the center and a further 60,000 lived in the hills surrounding the village. The cause of the disaster was basically LPG leakage which may be due to pipe leakage or rupture due to excessive pressure. Following the leakage, a vapour cloud was built up that floated across the area. The cloud ignited and a massive fire was caused at the plant site. Around 600 innocent lives were taken with thousands shaken.


8. Texas City Disaster, USA

Texas City Disaster, USA

The Texas City explosions were America’s worst industrial disasters. On April 16, 1947, a  small fire broke out in a ship that was carrying bags of ammonium nitrate. Immediate attempte were taken to extinguish the fire but it totally intensified and led to a massive explosion! Amidst the chaos, the ship standing nearby was not given much thought and it exploded 16 hours later. Almost 600 people died including the volunteer fire squad. The magnitude of the explosion was so large that two planes flying at 1500 feet were knocked off from the sky. A tidal wave more than 15 feet high was generated and it engulfed the nearby areas leading to huge destruction of property. As usual, the cause of the explosion was lack of awareness. A report says that it is possible that a cigarette could have been dropped into the hold. The workers had no knowledge about the hazards of ammonium nitrate. If they had a little idea about its explosive nature, many lives could have been spared.


7. Courrieres Mine Disaster, France

Courrieres Mine Disaster, France

The burning of methane by the naked flame of a miner’s lamp led to Europe’s worst mining accident on March 10, 1906. A dust explosion devastated a coal mine and killed around 1099 miners. As a result of the explosion, coal dust spread to nearby areas thus increasing the cases of black lung disease. There was lack of trained mine rescuers in France during the time of the disaster because of which thousands of workers perished due to gas inhalation. Expert teams only arrived two days later thus extinguishing the little hope that few survivors held in their hearts.


6. Savar Building Collapse, Bangladesh

Savar Building Collapse, Bangladesh

A nine-story building claimed 1,127 lives and leaving 2,500 injured as it pancaked to the ground on April 24, 2013. The destruction was so massive that the rescue attempt ended only on May 13, 2013. Each day 100 dead bodies were being pulled out from the bed of rubbles and steel. This incident is considered as the deadliest infrastructure failure. The building housed a garment factory, bank and many small shops. Most of the workers were women along with many children in the nursing facilities inside the building. This disaster bled out many hearts around the world.


5. Benxi Colliery Disaster, China

Benxi Colliery Disaster, China

This deadly coal mine explosion disaster occurred on April 26, 1942 in the ore-rich region of Benxi, Liaoning, China. Gas exploded in one of the shafts killing around 1,549 Chinese miners. Flames burst out through the entrance. The shaft was closed to avoid the entry of unauthorized personnel. This led to the production of carbon-monoxide and killed more people than were killed by the gas explosion. It took 10 days to completely clear the shaft of dead bodies and corpses were taken to mass graves. Some people were burned beyond recognition.


4. Vajont Dam Disaster, Italy

Vajont Dam Disaster, Italy

260 million cubic metres of rock fell from the top of Monte Toc into the reservoir of Vajont Dam producing an enormous wave of at least 50 million cubic metres of water. The dam was not much scratched but flooding destroyed numerous villages surrounding the dam and 1,900 to 2,500 fatalities were caused. Though the dam was incorporated with all the technical specifications, but certain geological factors were not brought into play. A little ignorance led to a terrifying threat for many human lives.


3. Halifax Explosion, Canada

Halifax Explosion, Canada

At the height of World War I, a Belgian Relief Vessel collided with a French ammunitions truck at the Halifax harbor leading to the worst man-made explosion in the history of mankind. Nearly 2000 people died and some 9000 were severely injured in the disaster. 200 people were blinded by flying glass. The explosion flattened around 2.5 kilometer square of the city of Halifax. Moreover, a tsunami was generated about the height of 60 feet. After the explosion, hospitals were filled with the wounded and the morgues struggled to identify and document the dead. The explosion was so massive that it shattered glasses up to 100 km away.


2. The Bhopal Disaster, India

The Bhopal Disaster, India

A pesticide plant leaked methyl isocynate gas and other chemicals into the atmosphere on the night of December 3, 1984. 4,000 – 20,000 people succumbed to death as a result of the poisonous gases released. A dense toxic cloud settled over the region killing 8,000 people in the very first days mainly from cardiac arrest and respiratory malfunction. Those yet to be born were left with a life worse than death. Children were born with congenital diseases and children till date are struggling to be self-reliant. Every new generation till date continues to get sick from cancer and birth defects to everyday effects of aches, fevers, pains, headaches, nausea and constant exhaustion.


1. The Banqiao Dam Disaster, China

The Banqiao Dam Disaster, China

On August, 1975, China witnessed a tragedy which could not be beaten by any disaster that occurred around the world. A change in weather pattern created a typhoon. When the hot air of the typhoon came in contact with the cold air from the North, massive rain was caused. Within 24 hours, 1 years’ rain was poured. This exceeded the water holding capacity of the dams and they were on the verge of bursting. Total 62 dams collapsed affecting 11 million people. Even the evacuation orders could not be enforced because of the lack of communication due to flood. Around 100,000 people lost their lives. This is considered as the greatest disaster ever.


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