Whether it’s natural disaster or human error, sometimes it takes seconds before everything changes. The year 2014 has been witness to some of the most deadly devastations in decades — including some catastrophes that defy explanation and might remain a mystery for years to come.
Some disasters, like the Katanga Train Derailment that happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo in April, are due to human error: the DRCs’s rail system is not only poorly maintained but also in a desperate state of disrepair. Other disasters are the direct result of violence.
In either case, 2014 has been witness to some major tragedies. This is includes 10 of the biggest devastations of 2014.
Beheading of American Journalist – August 2014
A video showing the beheading of an American journalist surfaced in August, creating waves around the world. The very short video shows journalist James Wright Foley being held by an al-Qaida group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
In the video, a masked militant holds Foley in place, while the journalist appeals (through an obviously scripted speech) to president Obama to stop airstrikes against Iraq. At the end of the video, a body is shown decapitated lying on the floor. The United States National Security Council has confirmed the video is real.
Foley had been kidnapped in November 2012. Although his captors originally demanded a ransom and a prisoner exchange, negotiations never moved past the initial stage. Foley’s whereabouts were unknown until the video was released, a year and a half after his kidnapping.
Foley’s death could have a huge impact on how the US government and the media handle negotiations and could potentially lead to retaliations against Iraq.
Badakhshan mudslides, Afghanistan — May 2014
The first mudslide happened unexpectedly in early May 2nd, followed within hours by a second one that trapped most of the people working to rescue anybody affected by the first mudslide. Even after, smaller mudslides kept slowing down rescue efforts and making it difficult to assist those injured or lost.
The mudslides happened in the Argo District, where the side of a mountain simply collapsed, burying an entire village (including over 100 houses) under close to 100 feet of mud.
Lack of rescue equipment and fears of subsequent mudslides slowed down the rescue efforts. In the end, the United Nations confirmed 350 deaths, although estimates by local officials and The International Organization for Migration puts the estimate to around 3,700. The search for survivors was abandoned on May 4th.
Serbia floods, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – May 2014
Also known as the “2014 Southeast Europe floods,” this massive low-pressure area started in mid-May and continued on for weeks. With the heaviest rains recorded in over a century and a series of mudslides topping the floods, things quickly escalated to the level of natural disaster.
Most of northern Bosnia was under water after just a few days, with houses and bridges collapsing everywhere. In some areas, it rained more in two days than the average monthly rainfall for the region.
Over 300,000 households lost electricity in Serbia and a large number of farm animals perished during the floods, raising concerns not only about the economical impact but also about diseases caused by the bodies rotting in the local waters. Although the government hasn’t been able to give a final body count yet, the human losses are close to 100 so far.
Soma Mine, Turkey – May 2014
Soma will always be remembered as the site for the worst mine disaster in Turkey’s history. An explosion initially caused a fire and trapped 787 people underground on May 13th, 2014. Despite an ongoing investigation, it hasn’t been possible to determine what caused the fire and whether human error or a mechanic failure was at its root.
It took four days before the fire could be completely put out and the bodies rescued. The final count: 301 dead and 80 injured. Most victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning, not the fire itself.
Huge protests were organized after the disaster, partly as a response to the Prime Minister’s comment that “mine deaths were normal” and partly to request changes to the security measures used to protect miners.
Ferry Disaster, South Korea – April 2014
The sinking of the MV Sewol was the direct result of human error, as the captain made a sudden turn and caused the cargo to shift. This shift destabilized the ferry, causing it to capsize. At the time of the accident, the ferry was carrying three times the limit of 987 tons of cargo — three times the allowed weight.
Of the 476 people on board, 288 died during the sinking. Most of them were high-school students from the local Danwon High School, who were out on a class trip. An additional 16 people are missing but not confirmed yet.
Aside from the boat riders, there were also two additional deaths connected to the accident: a navy sailor and a diver working on the rescue. The principal of Danwon school, who survived the accident, committed suicide just days after. He left behind a note expressing his guilt for surviving while most of his students didn’t.
In an interesting twist, the captain and three of the crew members running the ferry have been charged with murder. All four managed to survive because they abandoned the ship and the passengers right after the accident.
Mount Everest Avalanche, Nepal – April 2014
Every April, Nepalese guides (Sherpas) take to Everest to find and maintain new climbing routes before foreign climbers arrive. This is necessary because ice shifts constantly on Everest, so a path that worked the year before might be inaccessible by the next climbing season.
On the early morning of April 18th, a large block of ice broke off above the climbers — who were in the area between Camp I and Camp II — causing an avalanche that buried 16 of the guides. Only 13 of the bodies were recovered before the search was called off. An additional nine guides who were also there survived the avalanche despite serious injuries.
Sherpas earn $125 per climb once the routes are set up and the foreign climbers arrive. In contrast, the cost of climbing Everest is a minimum of $30,000 per climber ($11,000 of that is the permit fee per person attempting the climb).
Flight 370 Disappearance, Malaysia – March 2014
The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 might become one of the world’s most famous air mysteries.
The basics of the story are simple: on March 8th, a Boeing 777-200ER going from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared along the way with 239 people on board. Despite a massive search and rescue effort, no debris from the plane and no bodies have been recovered.
The only thing investigators know for sure is that the plane abandoned its intended course and took off towards the Indian Ocean. The most logical explanation is that the plane went down somewhere over the water and debris was then carried away by the current. However, conspiracy theories abound, which the most popular being that the plane was hijacked.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Shootdown – July 2014
Malaysia Airlines suffered a second major strike when another one of their planes, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was deliberately shot down by Ukrainian rebels. All 298 people on board (including crew and passengers) died when the plane crashed after being hit by a Buksurface-to-air missile at 12:14 CEST (Central European Time) on July 17th.
While the Ukranian Donbass separatists first claimed responsibility for the crash, they later denied any involvement, claiming the plane had been shot down by Russian forces instead. An international investigation team was dispatched to the area and eventually helped recover the bodies, which had been taken by pro-Russian rebels to a different location.
Ukranian Revolution, Ukraine — February 2014
Back in February 2014, a series of violent events and protests swept through Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. As a result, the president was removed from his duties — the first in a series of events that would lead to the country’s bloody revolution.
Within weeks, protests escalated in the south-eastern provinces, aggravated by a dispute with neighboring Russia over the Crimea zone. Between the clash between militant groups and the military on one side and the deployment of Russian troops to the Crimea area on the other side, there have been 106 confirmed deaths and 1811 injuries. Medical volunteers working in the area estimate there are an additional 780 people dead or missing.
Bentiu massacre, South Sudan — April 2014
The South Sudanese Civil War started in December 2013 and has been ongoing since then. The conflict — between opposition rebels and the government — has left tens of thousands of casualties so far, including a large number of civilians.
The Bentiu Massacre, which occurred on April 15th, was an ethnic massacre led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition Army. It targeted certain ethnic groups residing in Sudan, sparing only those belonging to the Nuer community. Civilians were mostly shot inside Catholic churches, mosques, and hospitals. This included women — who were raped before being killed — and children.
Over 400 people were killed in a matter of hours and their corpses left to rot on the streets for over a week.