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The Sinking of the Titanic -
The World's Most Famous Disaster

Written by Rick Archer
May 1, 2012


The 1912 sinking of the Titanic one hundred years ago is still considered to be the most famous Disaster of all time. 

Why?  Why is the Titanic disaster the most famous of them all?

This article will attempt to answer that question.  One warning - this article is not light reading.  Reading about disasters can be pretty depressing.


"Iceberg, Right Ahead!!"

At 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912, those words rung out on the bridge of the Titanic.  Reacting quickly, First Officer Murdoch ordered an abrupt turn to port and full speed astern to reverse the engines driving the outer propellers.

Thanks to the sharp turn, the ship's starboard side clearly missed the visible part of the iceberg.  However, beneath the water, the massive iceberg was much wider. 

The underside of the Titanic brushed against the deadly edges of the iceberg.  This buckled the hull in several places and popped out rivets below the waterline. The glancing blow created a total of six leaks in the first five watertight compartments. Murdoch then ordered hard right rudder, which swung Titanic's stern away from the iceberg.

The Titanic could sustain damage to four compartments, but the fifth compartment was breached for 10-15 feet.  This was the killer blow.  The watertight doors were shut, but this only postponed the inevitable sinking.

At 2:20 am, the Titanic would permanently disappear beneath the freezing waters of the Northern Atlantic.


It has now been 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic.  Since then there have been disasters with a far higher casualty list and much greater financial loss.  And yet the Titanic story is one of the most enduring disaster tales all of time. 


That's the question I asked myself.  Why, for example, is the Titanic story more important to us than the San Francisco earthquake or the Galveston Hurricane that both take place in the era of the Titanic?  How does the Titanic story manage to stay relevant today 100 years after it took place.

In order to answer my own question, first I decided to investigate all the famous disasters of the last 100 years or so. 

Here at Casa Archer, my lovely wife Marla is the unquestioned Master of Disaster. She watches End of the World movies with the same regularity that kids watch cartoons.

Marla's favorite time of the day to watch disaster movies is the wee hours of the morning.  Marla is a lousy sleeper, but for some strange reason she automatically goes to sleep one hour into any disaster movie. So she keeps four disaster movies on our DVR just in case she needs a sleep aid at 2 am.
Marla watches them on a rotating basis. On any particular night of the week I might wake up and see Marla watching The Day After Tomorrow. The next night it might be 2012, Outbreak or Dante's Peak.  Godzilla is without a doubt her all-time favorite.

Everyone knows I am strange, so any information revealing that Marla might be a little strange too apparently comes as no surprise to anyone. Everyone remarks about how "weirdly compatible" we are, and then they roll their eyes. I haven't figured out if they are giving us a compliment or trying to tell us to do society a favor and seek help.
I first began to suspect Marla had a dark side when I noticed how drawn she was to Salem Village back on our 2006 New England cruise.  Draw your own conclusions.

Stephen King, of course, is Marla's favorite author along with Anne Rice.  Few people know this, but Marla wanted us to get married at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The Stanley Hotel is this amazing old hotel that is rumored to be haunted. Stephen King said that the spooky night he spent at the Stanley Hotel gave him the inspiration to write The Shining

And what is Marla's favorite TV show?  The Zombie classic Walking Dead.  Marla goes deep into mourning every time the show ends a cycle. She frantically asks, "When will it return?"

And what is the number one night of the week for Marla? Saturday. Can you guess why?  Because Saturday is the night when the Sci-Fi Channel debuts a new disaster movie.  Marla can barely wait.  If there is a monster or a meteor, she's all in.

I love to tease Marla about her morbid streak, but let's face it, I am just a half-step behind her. Truth be told, I like monsters and disaster movies too.

Given our twisted natures, I suppose it is no accident that both Marla and I are both powerfully drawn to the Titanic story.

In my opinion, an opinion probably shared by many others, the sinking of the Titanic is the "Disaster of all Disasters".

I have pretty much taken the Titanic's celebrity for granted for a long time.  Thanks to the recent 100th Anniversary of the sinking, the Titanic has been on my mind.  To me, the Titanic remains the yardstick against which all other disasters are measured. 

Stop and think about it. If something terrible happens and it is bad enough, sooner or later it gets compared to the Titanic disaster. Anytime there is another disaster, what do we say? "It was a Disaster of Titanic proportions."

But one day I began to wonder "why" I believe the Titanic became the most famous.  What are the reasons?

After all, the Titanic is not the deadliest disaster of all time by a long shot.  Nor is it the worst disaster of all time.  Nor the costliest.  Nor do I even think the Titanic changed the world the most.  Nevertheless, I still think the Titanic is the most famous.


So why have I been thinking so much about the Titanic lately?

Recently a Welsh travel agent named Miles Morgan put together a Titanic Memorial Cruise to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the disaster.  Morgan rented two cruise ships - one leaving from Southampton UK and the other leaving from NYC - and invited people who are descendants of Titanic passengers and Titanic buffs around the world to participate.  The two ships would meet at the Titanic grave site in the North Atlantic to hold a service commemorating the event.

Marla and I were fortunate to be asked to be the guest dance teachers on one of the two ships that sailed in April 2012.  Thanks to our somewhat twisted natures, we didn't not hesitate to accept.

The moment Marla and I stepped onto the Azamara Journey, we were swept away by the solemnity of the occasion. Sure, there was some play and laughter, but there were also a lot of people on this ship who took the Titanic event very seriously. Far from being the "Fun Ship", this cruise trip had the large shadow of tragedy hanging like a dark curtain in the back of our minds.

Every day for seven straight days I meditated on the Titanic disaster. The organizers did something very clever - they dedicated one of the TV channels to show Titanic documentaries on a 24-hour loop. When they ran out of documentaries, they showed replays of the informative Titanic lectures that took place daily on the ship.

I spent every spare moment in my cabin watching those videos. With the Titanic tragedy playing non-stop in my mind, I tried my best to make sense of it all. There were so many angles to consider that I had trouble wrapping my mind around the totality of the experience. I have been in a fog ever since.

During the trip, I realized just how deep the fascination with the Titanic story runs with many people besides myself.  But why?  Why is there so much interest in this story?   Let's explore.



Disaster stories have a curious and very powerful hold on our consciousness.  As a rule, human beings are deeply fascinated by all good disaster stories. However, there have been so many different disasters to consider, I had to ask myself why the Titanic story clearly rules above all the others.  So I began to review various disasters in my mind.

Shortly before the Titanic sank in 1912, the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake were the most riveting stories of the Twentieth Century.

In the years to come there would be all sorts of new disasters. I rattled a bunch of them right off the top of my head - Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Challenger, Mt Saint Helens, Exxon Valdez, the Lusitania sinking, and the Hindenburg dirigible disaster were among the most captivating stories of our previous century.

More recently we have 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, Deep Water Horizon plus the colossal Indonesian and Japanese tsunamis.

I began to realize there are all kinds of disasters.  For this story, I identified twelve different types.

How do you compare them?  Good question.  Let's start by reviewing the categories.  One warning - put your seat belt on.  This material is very depressing.



One criterion to judge by would be the number of fatalities. The Titanic disaster is nowhere near the worst. Not even close.

The Black Death plague of 1348 that spread throughout Europe claimed at least 75 million lives, possibly even 200 million. 

In second place comes the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.  This outbreak claimed at least 50 million lives... and probably more.  The USA lost 675,000 people... our worst national disaster ever.

I can find no other disaster on my list that even begins to approach these two morbid totals.  The question is: does "Disease" count as a disaster?  I say yes.

I doubt anyone will disagree with me on this one.  Anything that kills the population of Europe to the tune of 30-60% is an enormous disaster!!  They say it took 150 years for Europe's population to recover from this gruesome plague.

Personally, I consider the Black Plague to be the worst disaster in history.  Just the picture alone makes me shudder.



The dubious honor for most deaths by flooding goes to China.  In fact, China claims the top 3 spots.  Make that the top 4 spots.  In fact, China has 7 of the 10 worst floods of all time.

The 1887 Yellow River flood took between 1 and 2 million lives. 

44 years later, China was hit with another flood that was far worse.  The 1931 flood is considered to be the worst flood in history (assuming we aren't counting the Noah's Ark flood).  The 1931 flood is estimated to have taken an astounding total of 2,500,000–3,700,000 lives. 

Sadly, just seven years later, China was hit with yet another flood.  The 1938 flood took almost a million people.

I have no idea why these Chinese floods claimed so many lives.  I understand that China is the most heavily populated country in the world, but China also has mountains.  Floods usually give some warning.  Couldn't the population have sought higher ground? 

By comparison, the 1927 Mississippi River flood that is considered the worst in American history cost 246 lives.

In terms of damage, the flood in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina was the costliest flood in American history.

35% of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area sits below sea level.  The city is protected by hundreds of miles of levees and flood gates.  Unfortunately, the levee system failed catastrophically in numerous sections during Hurricane Katrina.

Tens of billions of gallons of flood waters outside the levees spilled into vast areas of New Orleans, flooding over 100,000 homes and businesses.  This resulted in the inundation of 80% of the metropolitan area.  The depth of the water ranged from a few inches to as high as 27 feet in the coastal communities.

Obviously someone forgot to stick their finger in the dike.

Speaking of fingers, naturally there was a lot of finger pointing. In the end, everyone agreed the primary cause of the flooding was inadequate design & construction by the Corps of Engineers.

This is a common theme in many disasters - when man's attempt to control nature fails, many people die.  For example, China's Banqiao dam ruptured in 1975.  170,000 people lost their lives.  11 million people lost their homes. 

When technology and Nature compete, Nature often wins.



As Disasters go, surely the most spectacular of all have to be volcanic explosions.  The fire, the smoke and the lava are gripping images. 

To my mind, the most famous disaster of the ancient times has to be Vesuvius. Located in a densely populated area, the 79 AD eruption at the height of the Roman Empire vaporized an entire city in a flash.  16,000 people perished quickly as the city of Pompeii was buried under a flood of lava and rock.

The eruption of Vesuvius remains locked in all our minds as the perfect example that none of us are ever totally safe.  Disaster can hit anyone anywhere at any time.  That said, death by volcano can probably be avoided by moving to places where there are no volcanoes.

Speaking of Vesuvius, during my Titanic research I found a blurb on the Internet that suggests James Cameron intends to make a movie about Vesuvius. Where do I buy the tickets?

In 1883, a volcano located near Indonesia exploded with so much force that the entire island of Krakatoa was completely vaporized. Even to this day, the explosion is considered to be the loudest sound ever heard in modern history, with reports of it being heard 3,000 miles away.

One of the most violent events ever witnessed, Krakatoa is sometimes called the "Modern Vesuvius".  36,000 people lost their lives.

The eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in 1980 was pretty spectacular, but in terms of loss of life, only 57 people died.   As a rule, volcanoes are not big killers, but Marla informs me there is a super volcano at Yellowstone that one day may take us all out.  How cheerful. 



As Disasters go, few disasters scare us more than Earthquakes.  California residents have lived their entire lives in fear of the Big One.  Unfortunately, they have a reason to be afraid because they keep getting reminders that the scientists aren't kidding.

Some very powerful earthquakes have not caused much trouble. It all depends on where they hit.  When an earthquake hits in a heavily populated area, it becomes a serious killer.

There was an earthquake in 1556 in Shanxi province China that took almost a million lives. That holds the record for casualties.

The second biggest killer of all time goes to Haiti.  However there is an asterisk involved.  The Haitian government pegs the death toll from the 2010 earthquake at 315,000.  That said, independent sources put the total between 45,000-85,000. 

That is quite a discrepancy. Surely there is a story there.

The most famous earthquake in US history has to be the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  Although the death total was not too bad at 3,000, the amount of destruction was unbelievable.

Just to give an idea, the damage suffered by San Francisco in 1906 is considered comparable to what New Orleans went through with Katrina. 

The San Francisco earthquake and Hurricane Katrina are considered to be the second and third worst natural disasters in US history.  Want to guess which is the worst?  I'll get to it in a minute.

Interestingly, the San Francisco earthquake was not even remotely the most powerful earthquake in US history.  It comes in at #16 in strength, but first in terms of damage. 

You probably already know this, but the ten worst US earthquakes all took place in Alaska. 

The Anchorage earthquake of 1964 was one of the strongest earthquakes in world history.  However, only 9 people died. 

As they say in real estate, location is everything.



In the case of the San Francisco earthquake, it wasn't just the quake itself that caused so much damage.  It was the fire that followed. 

Similarly, it wasn't the violent winds that damaged New Orleans.  In fact, Hurricane Katrina gave New Orleans at best a glancing blow.  Katrina saved its worst for Mississippi.  It was the flooding that destroyed New Orleans. 

To this day, Hurricane Katrina is the "costliest" natural disaster in US History.  However, the death toll was not as bad as San Francisco's 3,000.  The death total comes in at 1,800.  The Katrina disaster stands at 9th place on the death list.

The second-deadliest storm to strike the United States, the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane, caused more than 2,500 deaths.  So what holds the number one spot?

The worst natural disaster in US history was the Galveston Hurricane of 1900.  Somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives.  That makes the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 the deadliest natural disaster in US history.

This storm was quite a tragedy.  At the end of the 19th century, the city of Galveston, Texas, was a booming town with a population of 37,000 residents.  Simple math suggests that close to 25% of the population died that day.

There were two reasons why so many people died in Galveston in that terrible storm.  One reason is that Galveston was defenseless.  Since its formal founding in 1839, the city of Galveston had weathered numerous storms, all of which the city survived with ease. 

Residents believed any future storms would be no worse than previous events.

Oddly enough, meteorologist Isaac Cline, the so-called hero of the storm ("Isaac's Storm"), wrote an article in the 1891 Galveston Daily News that said the same thing.  In his article he argued not only that a seawall was not needed to protect the city, but also that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to ever strike the island. 

Since Cline was the Galveston Weather Bureau section director, his word carried a lot of weight.  Consequently, the seawall was not built.  Galveston was growing. Development on the island greatly increased its vulnerability to storms.  Sand dunes along the shore were cut down to fill low areas in the city, removing what little barrier there was to the Gulf of Mexico.

However, the main reason for the death count was the element of surprise.  No one had any idea a hurricane was coming.  A few forecasters knew a "tropical storm" had moved northward over Cuba, but they had no way in those days to know where the storm was going.  They assumed it was heading to Louisiana.

Meanwhile conditions in the Gulf of Mexico were ripe for further strengthening of the storm. The Gulf had seen little cloud cover for several weeks.  Now the seas were as warm as bathwater. For a storm system that feeds off moisture, the Gulf of Mexico was warm enough to super-charge the storm from a tropical storm to a Level Four hurricane in just a matter of days.

The Cubans warned the Americans to watch out for this storm, but no one took them seriously.  Furthermore, back in those days, authorities avoided the use of terms such as 'tornado' or 'hurricane' to avoid panicking residents in the path of any storm event. As a result, there was no evacuation and no preparation.

Early the next morning, there were growing swells that should have got someone's attention.  However the skies were only partly cloudy. Largely because of the unremarkable weather, the majority of the population was unconcerned by the rain clouds that had begun rolling in by midmorning.  When the hurricane hit at 5 pm, everyone was caught flat-footed.  Once the 140 mph winds rolled in, only God could save those people now.



If you are an American, chances are you never even heard of the word 'Tsunami' until the terrible Indonesian tsunami of 2004. 

That said, apparently there have been a few American tsunamis. The USA even holds the record for the tallest tsunami ever recorded.  A 220 feet wave hit Alaska in 1964 after the gigantic Anchorage Earthquake.  The seismic tsunami wave hit the southwest part of the state and claimed 107 lives.

Hawaii sees an occasional tsunami. On April 1, 1946, all of the water mysteriously drained from the three-mile-wide harbor at Hilo.  Minutes later, a tsunami rushed onshore, destroying the waterfront. The process repeated itself twice. More than 150 people died in the process.

That said, no major tsunami has ever struck continental USA. 

The same cannot be said for Europe.  The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 was followed by massive fires.  Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, was in for a surprise. The fires turned out to be the least of their worries.  The city was already reeling when a tsunami hit that almost totally destroyed Lisbon.  Estimates place the death toll in Lisbon around 100,000, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

Interestingly, the Lisbon event was not the worst tsunami in European history.  An earthquake off the coast of Messina, Italy, in 1908 triggered a massive tsunami in the Mediterranean.  40-foot waves struck southern Italy on December 28, 1908, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in European history.  The death total was 123,000.

Historically, the Indian Ocean has very little experience with tsunamis.  That is strange in light of the fact that the worst tsunami in history was the infamous 2004 Indonesian tsunami. 

The earthquake that generated the great Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs

Over centuries, giant forces had been building up deep in the Earth

On December 26, 2004, that tension was released suddenly in a matter of moments.  The epicenter of the earthquake was near Sumatra, the main island of Indonesia.  The ground began shaking violently.  A series of killer waves were unleashed that raced across the Indian Ocean at the speed of a jet airliner.  The waves moved too fast to warn people in other countries.

By the end of the day more than 150,000 people were dead or missing.  Millions more were homeless in 11 countries, making the 2004 event the most destructive tsunami in history.  Unfortunately, just seven years later, an even worse tsunami occurred. 

Japan is certainly no stranger to tsunamis. In fact, "tsunami" is actually a Japanese word. Japan is hit by a tsunami at least once a year. This island nation considers these giant waves to be a national plague.  Tsunamis occur most frequently in the Pacific, particularly along the "Pacific Ring of Fire ". Several times a year, earthquakes of at least 7 on the Richter scale result in tsunamis.

Despite its long history with tsunamis, Japan was practically defenseless when the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake hit. This was the most powerful known earthquake to ever hit Japan.  It was so strong that it was one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900.  The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached incredible heights of up to 133 feet.  16,000 people died. 

As anyone who saw the pictures knows, the level of devastation was phenomenal. The World Bank's estimated economic cost was US $235 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in world history.  The tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the Level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. 


So why are we all so afraid of a meteor? 

I think I know a reason.  We know we have a fighting chance to survive a tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, or volcanic eruption. But most of us doubt seriously we could survive a direct hit from a giant meteor. 

We are all aware that an "impact event" as they call it is the most likely reason for the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

Approximately 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs suddenly experienced some sort of "extinction event".

The nature of the event that caused this mass extinction has been extensively studied since the 1970s. At present, the consensus is that a meteor crash in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula was the primary cause of dinosaur extinction.

Personally speaking, if I want to have an "event", I would much rather go to a Texans Super Bowl than experience an "extinction event" or "impact event".  However, I may not have a choice.

Any meteor crash would probably make any arguments about why the Titanic is the most famous disaster somewhat pointless. This horror is one of the ways that human life on Earth could conceivably end.  However, are we all getting worked up over nothing? 

They say the odds of an asteroid strike is one-in-a-million.  Still, while I understand it is far more likely I could be hit by lighting than harmed by an asteroid, it would to nice to go to my grave knowing my loved ones are okay and that the human race will continue.

We all know very well that million-to-one odds aren't too bad, but then again the Earth has been here for eons.  How are we supposed to know if an asteroid is due or not?  Having the spooky Mayan calendar pointing its cycle-ending hand to "2012" doesn't help our confidence.

If we make it through 2012, then we need to circle "2027".  Scientists are monitoring a killer asteroid known as Apophis.  Are you superstitious about Friday the 13th?  If so, this will make you sit up in your chair. On Friday the 13th, April 2029, the Apophis asteroid will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites.  If its trajectory on that day passes within a narrow range of altitudes called the “keyhole,” then the influence of the Earth’s gravity on the asteroid orbit could be fatal.  There would be a strong chance that seven years later on its next trip around the Sun, the asteroid will hit Earth directly in 2036.  

However, if Apophis misses the keyhole in 2029, we’ll have nothing to worry about in 2036.

Fortunately for all of us, the Earth has a wonderful defense shield against small asteroids.  Thanks to our atmosphere, an asteroid smaller than 33 feet that hits the atmosphere will not make it down to the Earth's surface, nor will it affect anything that happens on the ground in any meaningful or destructive way.  All you get is a shooting star.

How often do we get an asteroid larger than about 10 meters hitting the Earth? About once every thousand years.

We are "fortunate," depending on your definition of fortunate, to have had one hit only a century ago. The Tunguska event was an enormously powerful explosion that occurred in Siberia in June 1908.

The explosion is believed to have been caused by the air burst of a large meteor or comet fragment at an altitude of 3 to 6 miles above the Earth's surface.

Although the meteoroid or comet burst in the air before hitting the surface, this event is referred to as a meteor impact event.  Tunguska instantly became the largest impact event in recorded history.

Estimates of the energy from the blast suggest it was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. We should all consider ourselves lucky that it hit an area that was largely uninhabited although I am sure the Siberian wolves wouldn't agree.


If Genocide can be considered a disaster, the fatality totals of the natural disasters pale in comparison to human atrocities.  When he concentrates hard enough, Man is a much more effective killer than Mother Nature.

Man's cruelty to man knows few limits. In the Twentieth Century, there were seven Genocide situations that counted their victim totals in the millions.  Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Japan, Belgium, Turkey and Cambodia were the parties responsible.  Rwanda came close.

Although the more recent situations in Bosnia and Sudan are lamentable, they are low on the list at 100,000 each.

At 20 million some deaths, I had always assumed Stalin was the league leader.  However, the real all-time champion appears to be Mao Tse Tung.  Thanks in large part to his disastrous agricultural experiments, China is estimated to have lost between 49 to 78 million people during Mao's reign of terror.

Sorry to bring up such a depressing topic, but I don't think we can turn a blind eye and sweep these atrocities under the carpet.

Mao Ze-Dong (China, 1958-61 and 1966-69, Tibet 1949-50)

49,000,000 - 78,000,000

Jozef Stalin (USSR, 1932-39)

23,000,000 (the purges plus Ukraine's famine)

Adolf Hitler (Germany, 1939-1945)

12,000,000 (concentration camps and civilians WWII)

Leopold II of Belgium (Congo, 1886-1908)


Hideki Tojo (Japan, 1941-44)

5,000,000 (civilians in WWII)

Ismail Enver (Turkey, 1915-20, Ottoman Empire)

1,200,000 Armenians (1915)
350,000 Greek Pontians (1916-22)
480,000 Anatolian Greeks (1916-22)
500,000 Assyrians (1915-20)

Pol Pot (Cambodia, 1975-79)


Jean Kambanda (Rwanda, 1994)


Sudan and Bosnia

Source: Worst Genocides of the 20th Century

100,000 each


The detonation of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima was a deeply sobering event for all Mankind.  The fact that man was capable of building a weapon with this kind of power meant that humans now had the ability to destroy every living thing on this planet. 

Now I am positive that I don't want to see nuclear weapons ever used again and I am fairly sure most of you agree with me.  However, what difference does it make if 5,999,999,999 people out of 6 billion are totally against ever using this bomb again?  The section on Genocide painfully demonstrates that many people who hold power are hardly humanitarians.

Today our safety depends on a concept known as MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction.  This concept states that if one country attacks another with nuclear weapons, the second country will retaliate.  If things get out of control, the nuclear fallout assures that everyone will die eventually. This scenario is so horrible that rational people will never use nuclear weapons.

The flaw in this concept is that it assumes rational men are in charge. The fact that madmen like Hitler and Saddam seek positions of power is not a comforting thought. It only takes one lunatic to start the eight ball rolling.

To me, Hiroshima was a disaster.  Yes, I am glad it ended the war quickly. Yes, I am aware that more people would have died had we ended the war by invading Japan.  I am not debating the moral issues here. I am simply pointing out that 80,000 people were incinerated.  That more than qualifies this event as a "Disaster". 

The Hiroshima Disaster had far-reaching consequences.  Basically it meant that from here on out, no one was safe.

Thanks to a variety of delivery systems - missiles, bombers, drones and "suitcase nukes" - every person on Earth could die in a flash without even knowing it was coming.

Now in a sense every single person on the planet lives next to Vesuvius.  Not that it matters.  No matter where the bombs land, the radiation poisoning will catch up to us all eventually. 

Today we worry about Iran getting a nuke.  We worry about an Al-Quaida operative getting a Pakistani nuke or buying radioactive material from a disgruntled Russian.  Or maybe some nut case in North Korea will lose it all.  Fanatics don't care if they go down too.

Although we don't like to think about it, the world is not a safe place.  And if you think I'm worried, imagine how the Israelis feel?  


It has been ten years now.  But I still think about 9-11 every day.  I can't escape it.  Someone will say something about a terrorist on TV or I will read something in the paper and my mind will drift back to 9-11. 

Like Hiroshima, 9-11 was a game changer of the highest magnitude.  I think the 9-11 disaster changed the world more than any other disaster in history. This terrorist attack would affect the entire planet.  Air travel suddenly became a lot more dangerous.  Our world would never be the same.  Anyone who is sick of taking their shoes off in airports or being told to throw away a perfectly good tube of toothpaste will surely agree. 

9-11 lowered our trust level towards our fellow man.  Any single person in an airport could be dangerous.  Any man or woman with a suntan became a person of suspicion.  Anyone with a keffiyeh headdress was surely a threat.

Thanks to 9-11, our lives became a race of sorts.  Would we get to the terrorists before they got to us?  We were scared!

9-11 proved we had very dangerous enemies.  Even worse, these were evil people who made no sense to us.  Their barbarism was impossible to comprehend. They beheaded journalists who had never raised a hand to them and they blew up innocent people who were no danger to them.  Their hatred knew no limits.  All they seemed to care about was annihilating the USA.

Americans stopped wearing the white hats for a while.  We became paranoid.  We were suspicious of people who had once been our friends.  We had no idea how many bad guys were out there and what they were capable of.  We went to war because we thought our enemies had the ability to destroy our country. 

It once took the senseless sinking of the Lusitania luxury liner to draw us into World War I.  It took the cowardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor to draw us into World War II.  It took the surprise attack on the Twin Towers to spur us to action again.

If nothing else, the USA has shown one thing to the world. If you hit us, we will hit back... and harder than you ever imagined.

Now ten years later, we can point with relief to the fact that there have been no more successful attacks on our soil.  Obviously we must have done something right.  If this means I need to keep taking my shoes off at airports, then so be it.  

9-11 was the disaster that started another world-wide war.  So far our side appears to be winning.  Let's hope it continues. 

I for one am grateful to our amazing military for risking their lives to keep America safe.  Still, you know and I know the fanatics are still out there.  We can never let down our guard.

I therefore give my dubious award for the worst disaster of all time to both Hiroshima and 9-11.  These two terrible events made our planet a tough place to ever feel totally safe again.


I have listed death totals in the millions with regularity. I turn a blind eye to these horrible body counts because they are just numbers. However this disturbing picture makes it harder to ignore the human cost. It is one thing to see a volcano explode and run for dear life.  At least when it's over, it's over.  Radiation is the invisible assassin that remains behind to kill.

There is a lot of fear surrounding the possible failure of nuclear reactors.  I am sure there are millions of Japanese right now scared to death.  Will they will develop some form of the dreaded disease cancer?  Will they give birth to deformed children thanks to the unseen dangers of radiation released in the Fukushima reactor meltdown?  The paranoia must be unbearable.

Chernobyl was a Russian nuclear reactor located in the Ukraine.  On April 26, 1986, Reactor #4 suffered a catastrophic power increase which lead to core explosions.  Large quantities of radioactive fuel and core materials were released.  The burning graphite moderator increased the emission of radioactive particles which were carried by the smoke into the air. Incredibly, the reactor had not been encased in any kind of hard containment vessel.

As the explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, everyone was too shocked to think to warn the nearby city of Pripyat.

Pripyat was not immediately evacuated after the incident. The townspeople went about their usual business, completely oblivious to what had just happened.  However, within a few hours of the explosion, dozens of people fell ill. Later, they reported severe headaches and metallic tastes in their mouths, along with uncontrollable fits of coughing and vomiting.

Due to the intense levels of radiation that lingered, the city of Pripyat had to be permanently abandoned.  Today it is a ghost town that stands as a grim reminder to the Chernobyl disaster.

Chernobyl is the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. The disaster was the equivalent of 400 Hiroshimas.  This mean four hundred times more radioactive material was released into the atmosphere than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. 

The fallout spread over much of Western USSR and Europe.  The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles. This crippled the Soviet economy.  Some say Chernobyl did more to end the Soviet Empire than anything Ronald Reagan ever said or did.

Now that 25 years have passed, the scientists are in a better position to assess the long-term consequences of the disaster.  Wikipedia has a long section on the subject.

There was a report in 2005 saying that thyroid cancer among children was one of the main health impacts from the accident. More than 4,000 cases are reported. A rough estimate suggested that cancer deaths caused by Chernobyl may reach a total of about 4,000 among the 5 million persons residing in contaminated areas during the explosion.

One of the saddest effects is psychological. 
"20 years later the population remains largely unsure of what the effects of radiation actually are.  They retain a sense of foreboding.  A number of adolescents and young adults who have been exposed to modest or small amounts of radiation feel that they are somehow fatally flawed. Given their negative outlook, there is no downside to using illicit drugs or having unprotected sex.  They engage in much self-destructive behavior because they say they are doomed anyway. To reverse such attitudes and behaviors will likely take years to correct."

Chernobyl and Japan's Fukushima are the only two Level 7 events on the International Nuclear Event Scale, but fear of more accidents has put a damper on the industry.

Edgar Cayce, the American mystic who saw all history in a trance, described Atlantis as a highly evolved civilization with ships and aircraft powered by a mysterious energy crystal. This crystal was also part of a highly destructive "death ray".  Cayce said that Atlantis was lost due to a frightening meltdown caused by the explosion of the energy crystal. 

I found it interesting that the Cayce readings spoke of the existence of the advanced technology in Atlantis. His account of the final days of Atlantis seemed to eerily parallel our own struggle to avoid destroying our planet with a nuclear holocaust.

Cayce said when the island was destroyed, its refugees fled to ancient Egypt as well as pre-Columbian America. Cayce said the pyramids on both continents were built using technology from Atlantis. This was his explanation for the similarities between the Yucatan pyramids and the Egyptian pyramids.

Obviously I am in no position to confirm this story, but it is a fascinating tale nonetheless. After Hiroshima and Chernobyl, we all have to wonder if modern man is on the verge of repeating the mistakes of ancient Atlantis.

Any Boomer who remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis is certainly familiar with this theme.  Will man come to his senses and put down his weapons or will we all die in some fiery Apocalypse? 

If it can happen to Atlantis, it can happen to us. 



Like the frightening Chernobyl explosion, Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon serve as further warnings to man's inability to control his own technology.

Massive environmental disasters like oil tankers sinking and oil rigs exploding plus the threat of the "China Syndrome" are painful reminders that human stupidity and carelessness can trump human cleverness a lot more often than we are comfortable with.

Exxon Valdez is the most famous oil spill disaster because it was simultaneously one of the first and one of the worst.

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The tanker was traveling outside the normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. It spilled 11 million gallons of oil (out of a total cargo of 53 million gallons) into the marine environment.  As the oil spread, it impacted more than 1,100 miles of Alaskan coastline.  Until Deepwater Horizon twenty years later in 2009, this would be the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil industry had gotten permission to drill for oil in environmentally sensitive Alaska based on their firm promise to be totally safe.  Nothing would ever go wrong.

Promises, promises.  Considering the spill occurred in a fragile, highly important habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds, the entire world was outraged. 

Three days after the vessel grounded, a storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil on to the rocky shores of many of the beaches in the Knight Island chain.

The images of countless dead fish and helpless birds covered with oil-slick was too much to take for a lot of people.  

Unfortunately, the oil slick proved difficult to contain.  Within two months, the slick had spread 470 miles to the southwest.  Considering pristine, snow-white Alaska was America's symbol for natural beauty, the disgust and loathing was overwhelming.

Slowly but surely the facts of the disaster were revealed.  The captain was confirmed to be asleep when the ship crashed.  At the helm, the third mate was operating without radar.

People asked why the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker's radar had been broken more than a year before the disaster. Exxon knew about the problem.  In Exxon's view, the radar was just too expensive to bother fixing.

With one story of negligence and carelessness after another coming to surface, a venomous torrent of anger was directed at the Exxon oil company.  The company tried hard to pin it all on the Captain, but the story about the radar ended that.

Just when people thought this level of carelessness and stupidity could never possibly be repeated, we had the terrible Deepwater Horizon event. 

In September 2009 at a spot in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 250 miles southeast of Houston, the deepest oil well in history was drilled.  Seven months later on 20 April 2010, an explosion on the rig caused by a blowout killed 11 crewmen and ignited a fireball visible from 35 miles away.

The resulting fire could not be extinguished.  On 22 April 2010, Deepwater Horizon sank, leaving the well gushing at the seabed. This caused the largest offshore oil spill in US history.

Outrage turned to horror when it was learned that the oil spill could not be capped. The very fact that this was the deepest oil well in history made it very difficult to get to. 

Unfortunately, like the Exxon Valdez disaster, this new oil spill took place in an environmentally-sensitive area off the coast of Louisiana.  Ultra-valuable fishing areas off the coast all the Gulf States were being incredibly damaged, but nothing could be done.  People were sick with disgust as the mucky oil continued to flow out of the underwater hole day after day after day. 

Five months later, the well was finally capped.  Finally.

So who was to blame?  A 2011 report stated that the main cause was the defective cement job.  It put most of the fault for the oil spill with British Petroleum, also faulting Deepwater Horizon operator Transocean and contractor Halliburton.

This catastrophic accident raised serious questions about the oil industry's ability to ensure its safety.  Over the past 15 years, oil companies have drilled deeper and farther into the Gulf of Mexico, taking on new risks in the hunt for new deposits of oil.

The experts point out that industry safeguards to prevent or minimize spills have failed to keep pace with the increased dangers of the risky exploration, despite a series of warnings, malfunctions and near-misses over the years. 

Strangely, the worst oil spill in history was not caused by caused by an accident or negligence.  It was deliberately caused by Saddam Hussein of Iraq in the First Gulf War. 

The oil fires of Kuwait were caused by Iraqi military forces setting fire to more than 600 oil wells as part of a scorched earth policy.  The fires started in January and February 1991. The last one was extinguished in November 1991.

People asked why Saddam would deliberately create this terrible environmental disaster.  The conclusion most people reached was that he wanted to continue to punish the Saudis, Kuwatis and the West for foiling his invasion.  The sheer scope of this senseless destruction was difficult to fathom. 

For some reason, we can all understand running a tanker against a reef or doing a sloppy cement job on an oil rig, but to willfully sabotage the Earth out of spite is incomprehensible.  Saddam was surely a madman in every sense of the term. 

Saddam Hussein was clearly a monster of the first magnitude.  His actions raised the question - what was Saddam capable of doing if he got hold of biological weapons or nuclear material?

The Second Gulf War was based on the quite real possibility that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.  This man would have been more than happy to destroy the whole planet if he had the power to do so.  He made that clear with his actions in Kuwait.  If he couldn't win, he would leave a path of destruction to remember him by. 

Nor was Saddam some sort of aberration.  Monsters like Saddam have existed throughout history. For example, Caligula and Nero were the main reasons the Romans feared using the Emperor system.  Hitler deliberately sent millions to their death without any conscience.  Mao, and Stalin allowed millions of their own countrymen to die without concern.

Power corrupts.  Monsters exist. 

Saddam is the perfect example of the insanity we all fear.  There are human beings who are so sick they would destroy the entire Earth if it suited them. 

Evil has existed throughout time.  During the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, these Asian savages would stop at the gates of towns.  They demanded each town surrender immediately or face extermination.  It was no bluff.  If the town resisted, at the end of the day each Mongol soldier was given 20 civilians to personally kill in cold blood. 

Who can possibly guess how many people died during the Mongolian genocide?  Some estimates suggest that half the population of Asia was eradicated. To this day, people blame the ancient Mongol blood for the ruthlessness of Communist regimes in Russia and China.  

None of us understands this level of ruthlessness, but we know it exists.



The Challenger and Hindenburg disasters were man-made disasters caused by man's desire to test his limits in the area of transportation. Apollo 13 came very close to being another terrible disaster along these same lines. 

The Hindenburg and the Titanic share a very close tie. Both the dirigible and the luxury liner were on the cutting edge of transportation technology. These two accidents were tragic outcomes as man struggled to master new forms of technology.

The 1937 Hindenburg Disaster was caused by a sudden fire that started just as the dirigible was landing in New Jersey.

With hundreds of onlookers and newsmen there to greet the massive airliner, the Hindenburg disaster was caught on live film in New Jersey.  There is an amazing one minute video showing men running for their lives from the burning wreck and passengers screaming. If you have never seen the footage, you need to see it - Hindenburg Disaster.  You will get goose bumps just listening to the terror in the announcer's voice.

The incredible footage scared the wits out of everyone.  Thanks to the horror of the live footage, the Hindenburg accident ruined the dirigible industry.  After that, no one would set foot on a dirigible again. After watching the tape, I can't blame them.

To me, Challenger and Apollo 13 are not necessarily examples of human carelessness, but rather risky and quite noble attempts to expand the horizons of our knowledge.

The engineers at NASA were trying as hard as they could to make these space launches safe.  Our astronauts knew they were taking chances.  I always say test pilots are the bravest people on earth - they are willing to fly someone else's experiment knowing full well they might not come back.

Unfortunately, sometimes there are flaws in the design that have to be discovered "the hard way". For example, with 100 years to study the Titanic, engineers have discovered the Titanic had serious vulnerabilities its designers were only vaguely aware of. For example, as I studied the reasons why the Titanic sank so fast, one person said the "16 watertight compartments" that were supposed to be on the cutting edge of safety design were totally ineffective.  New technology always carries risk.

As man strives to explore his horizons, trial and error is unavoidable. However, we usually assume the kinks are worked out ahead of time... certainly not on a luxury liner's maiden voyage or the second season of dirigible flight.

Although it is a shame to see Challenger and Titanic fall to pieces in such a spectacular fashion, it is of some comfort to know that in both cases the engineers made sure to learn how to do it better the next time.  Man refuses to accept defeat.

We fail and we try again.

Man's willingness to use his mind to improve his standard of living is what has put us at the top of the food chain. However, when you look at the wide-spread environmental destruction, the curse of over-population, genocide. and the threat of nuclear winter, you have to wonder if man has the accompanying wisdom to go along with his scientific advances.

Man's pioneering attitude often seems to race ahead of his common sense. Will man's bold desire to conquer all obstacles destroy us all through nuclear weapons or environmental decay?

Or will man's courage allow us to someday fly through space with the same ease that airplanes cross our continents today?

No one knows the answer.  Right now it could go either way.



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