People these days seem to always talk about the end of the world and how and when it’ll occur, be it asteroids, global warming, nuclear war, or, if you’re REALLY creative, zombies. Some even fantasize about a post-apocalypse, citing such credible sources as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Terminator as examples (I prefer Dr. Strangelove myself, but I digress). For the most part though, they seem to act that way when they’re unable to acquire the hot new toy for their kids come Christmas or if they’re two minutes late for a date with this really hot individual that they totally got along with at some college party.
But it may come as a surprise to some people that similar situations have happened already, from hundreds of millions of years ago to as recent as the early 2000s. While some of the events here are not as massive a scale as portrayed in the movies, they serve as a reminder of what could happen if they were.
15 The Chernobyl Disaster
In Pripyat, U.S.S.R. (now the country of Ukraine), good times were abound for the citizens residing within. Not only was it a bustling city where families had everything they needed, they even had their own amusement park for their children. Unfortunately, the workers at the Chernobyl Power Plant decided one day to rush through standard protocol, deliberately shutting off safety systems and virtually ignoring the usual checklist on handling the nuclear cores. What resulted was a series of explosions that spewed massive plumes of radiation and tons of molten graphite blocks into the air.
Firefighters were sent in to contain the fires, not being told of radiation leakage. When few of them survived the exposure, cleanup robots were deployed, only to have their circuits fried soon after entering the plant. Shockingly, citizens near the plant were not informed of the outbreak, no sirens broke through their everyday routine to guide them to safety. It was only until 36 hours after the accident that officials ordered an evacuation within a 30 km radius of Chernobyl, resulting in the removal of over 300,000 people from their homes.
30 years after the disaster, Pripyat is still inhospitable to all forms of life, a ghost city trapped in a prison of radiation. Even the massive concrete “sarcophagus” containing the Chernobyl plant doesn’t have much life in it, as the poison is still eating through its constraints.
14 Port Royal
It isn’t a stretch to say that the town of Port Royal was basically the Jamaican Sodom and Gomorrah; populated mostly by pirates, the town reeked of murder, robbery, rape, prostitution, and even worse acts of debauchery. It was so corrupt that even the local wildlife threw their hat into the ring, consuming vast quantities of alcohol and doing other “things” as well. Ironically, despite the city’s immoral standards, it was also an economic hotspot in the late 17th century, the largest in the Caribbean Sea, actually. As fate would have it, Port Royal also had another thing in common with Sodom and Gomorrah; its total destruction.
Most of the city was built on sand, which is hardly the best foundation when you also include water and large brick buildings into the mix. Oh, and an earthquake too. In 1692, one such disaster occurred in the entire country of Jamaica, though Port Royal had it the worst. When it struck, the quake immediately turned the area into quicksand, swallowing up two-thirds of the city and burying it under the sea within a matter of seconds. With an abundance of corpses littering the area in addition to lack of medicine, disease rampaged through what was left of the town afterwards, taking more than half of the population. And as if nature didn’t make itself subtle enough, it also threw a tsunami at them.
Subsequent efforts to rebuild the town failed, as frequent natural disasters over the centuries prevented any progress.
Accompanied by the subtitle “Atlantis of the Sands,” Ubar was a city resting in the Arabian desert thousands of years ago, where it housed a sprawling commodity center, with Frankincense being the most sought-after. For several millennia, Ubar sat atop others as an economic powerhouse in addition to being the home of a large oasis in the middle of the desert, which made it an even more popular hub. Then, when travelers and caravans went to seek out the famed city, they came back empty-handed and confused; Ubar had suddenly evaporated into thin air.
Or, in more technical and scientific terms, it just fell victim to a gargantuan sinkhole that conveniently covered the entire area of the city, enveloping it whole and eventually crashing through the ceiling of a massive cavern. Archeologists surmise that the collapse happened because of the constant draining of the oasis which was connected to a limestone cave. The more water that was drained, the dryer the limestone became. This made the cave ceiling brittle and fragile, thus leading to the collapse of the city.
12 The Valdivia Earthquake
1960 was a year that South America, Chile most specifically, would never forget. On May 22nd, an earthquake registering at a colossal 9.5 in magnitude tore through the city of Valdivia, rendering nearly 50% of its buildings into splinters. Quickly spreading throughout Chile, the aftershock created multiple tsunamis that pummeled numerous cities, and even split open volcanoes spread throughout.
With more than 6,000 casualties and the destruction of several cities, lakes, and power plants, the Valdivia Earthquake is the most powerful quake ever recorded, with a force equal to 178,000,000,000 tons of TNT. For an even larger idea of its staggering power, of all of the seismic activities that took place in the 20th century, 25% of that energy was focused entirely on Chile.
11 The European Heat Wave of 2003
Heat waves in the U.S. aren’t typically that much of a problem as long as you have air conditioning or a fan. Europe is a different story. Countries in Europe rarely have high temperatures so the need for such items were not necessary; in fact, houses that were built in the past 50 weren’t equipped with them. In 2003, people had more than a rude awakening.
In the late summer of that year, the temperature skyrocketed 104 degrees fahrenheit in France, which took the country by surprise as it and many other countries affected by the scorching heat did not know how to react to this sudden phenomena. Couple this with the fact that most of the housing complexes were mainly built from concrete, brick, or stone, and what you have is practically a massive furnace in the shape of a house or apartment.
In a span of two months, the death toll mounted to roughly 70,000 casualties.
10 The Great Chinese Famine
Emerging in the year 1959, the Famine came to be as a result of General Mao Zedong’s “The Great Leap Forward” campaign, which proposed the idea of rapidly and vastly changing the economic landscape of China via implementing strict policies and radical agricultural ideas. Such plans included the prohibition of private farms to promote collective farming and introducing iron and steel production as a supposed “driving force” for economic growth. They also pushed odd farming techniques like “deep plowing,” where peasants would dig 1-2 feet into the ground and plant seeds and “close planting,” which would theoretically double the amount of crops.
To say that things didn’t go so well would be a massive understatement. Not only did their policies and proposals fail on every single level, they also had bad luck in the form of unrelenting droughts, disastrous weather, deadly floods, and a cavalcade of stunted seed growth. In addition to dismal food production turnout, the distribution of food didn’t make things any better. To get an idea of how horrific it was, Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng documented the following:
“In Xinyang, people starved at the doors of the grain warehouses. As they died, they shouted, ‘Communist Party, Chairman Mao, save us’. If the granaries of Henan and Hebei had been opened, no one need have died. As people were dying in large numbers around them, officials did not think to save them. Their only concern was how to fulfill the delivery of grain.”
Thanks to incompetence, bad ideas, and even bouts of cannibalism according to officials, this miasma of events led to the deaths of roughly 40,000,000 human beings. Yang Jisheng even concluded that the loss of life could be as high as 80,000,000. To put this in perspective, before the famine, the population of Earth was over 3,000,000,000, which decreased by 2.6% afterwards. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that this took place over the course of THREE YEARS?
9 Hiroshima and Nagasaki
There isn’t a single person that has graduated from high school that doesn’t know about World War II and the atrocities that resulted in the deaths of over 60 million people. But do most people ever think of what would’ve happened to Japan had it not surrendered after Nagasaki? The end result would most likely be the complete eradication of an entire country with no chance of re-emerging from the ashes of war. Such was, and is, the insurmountable power of nuclear weapons.
With Japan stubbornly refusing to surrender, the U.S., U.K., and Canada took drastic measures to prevent the death toll from rising by, ironically, bumping it up a notch. After being repeatedly pushed back by Japanese air, land, and naval forces, the Allied forces gave birth to the Manhattan Project, resulting in the finalization of the Atomic bomb. The U.S. prepared for the first mission for the bomb, dubbed “Little Boy,” and sent it plummeting towards the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.
Aided by a brilliant flash of light and the infamous “mushroom cloud,” the blast nearly decimated the entire area, with roughly 5 square miles of the city being leveled instantaneously. The city of Nagasaki followed suit three days after with another bomb, named “Fat Man,” on August 9th. Even though Hiroshima had it much worse than Nagasaki, the latter still experienced devastation on a powerful scale.
The bombs were so immense in power, that the “flash” from the explosion in Hiroshima created permanent “shadows” of people who were unfortunate enough to be within the blast radius, literally imprinting their final moments before vanishing completely. That would’ve been just the beginning for Japan had they not given up; a post-apocalyptic wasteland a soon-to-be reality.
8 The Tunguska Event
The day, June 30th, 1908. The location, Siberia, Russia. The event, hell if anyone knows, but they called it the Tunguska event and they still to this day haven’t figured out what caused it. But they definitely know about the devastation that ensued, when a massive explosion (that was equal to 15-30 megatons of TNT, or more than 1,000 times greater than an atomic bomb) suddenly came out of nowhere and uprooted an estimated 80 million trees, killing an untold amount of animals within a radius of 770 sparsely populated square miles.
According to multiple witnesses (who were more than 40 miles away from the explosion), they saw a dark cloud transform into a “giant pillar of black smoke” that “split open” the sky, raining down fire and causing the earth to “move” violently. It was so powerful that a "hot wind left traces in the ground, like pathways” and flung people several feet from the ground.
Despite the mayhem, no blast crater was ever found and nothing turned up concerning the remains of the mysterious “object.” No humans were reported dead from the incident, but if this event had occurred over a city like Paris or London, an explosion of that magnitude would create an unthinkable and incalculable amount of damage and loss of life.
Greek mythology is so dense with fascinating lore and incredible stories that the Romans, not satisfied with just being the most powerful civilization on Earth in that era, saw fit to steal the Greeks’ entire works as well. Tales of immense tragedy, epic adventures, and wars on an unthinkable scale have captured the interests of countless writers, philosophers, filmmakers, and historians alike over multiple generations. But what’s even more remarkable, as well as completely terrifying, are the numerous events in Greek history that inspired them. Enter Helike.
In 373 B.C., in Achaea, Greece, the citizens of Helike were bewildered when one day all the animals suddenly started flooding out of the city towards another, Keryneia. Not long after, “immense columns of flame” were spotted all over the city. Then, in the blink of an eye, the ground literally liquified, with the sea opening its gaping mouth and devouring the entire city of Helike, burying it under miles of water.
In fact, the collapse of the city was so gargantuan that it created a massive wave that went across the sea, only to then come back as a tsunami and buried Helike again, forming a lagoon that effectively made it disappear without a trace. In fact, it would’ve still remained undiscovered if people hadn’t started to fish there some 150 years after the event, where fishnets kept snagging on the statue of Poseidon.
6 The Dust Bowl
The 1930s wasn’t the most popular decade of the 20th century, what with the Great Depression and World War II standing on top of the heap. Being nicknamed the “Dirty Thirties” probably didn’t give it a great ego boost either. But while it pales in comparison to the Nazis’ rise to infamy in terms of loss of life and destruction, the “Dust Bowl” helped contribute in making the Great Depression even more of a real life hell-on-earth for people across the world, especially in North America.
The sudden collapse of the stock market in October 29, 1929, a.k.a. Black Tuesday, left a massive bruise on the U.S., with unemployment rocketing to 25%, international trade free-falling beyond 50%, and the worldwide GDP plummeting by 15%. The Dust Bowl didn’t just leave another bruise; it took a serrated knife and cut it open and then poured salt into it. Thanks to a severe drought that struck the Great Plains during the same period, loose farm soil turned into dust that formed massive clouds via windstorms. These dust storms, which almost spread across the entire country, were so severe and huge that they literally blacked out the sky, reducing visibility to less than 3 feet.
One of the worst storms came to be in 1934, where a two-day dust storm carried roughly 12 million pounds from South Dakota and dumped them in Chicago, Illinois. That same storm proceeded to cover much of the East Coast, where “red snow” began to fall throughout the winter. When the storms finally disbanded near the decades’ end, more than 75% of farmland in the U.S. were destroyed, 500,000 families were left homeless, and a total of 3,500,000 Americans were forced to move out of the states residing in the Great Plains.
5 The Tambora Eruption
When people think of volcanic disasters, Pompeii or Krakatoa usually comes to mind. But they were peanuts compared to Tambora. Don’t misunderstand, the former examples were bad. Tambora was the worst of them all, as in the most powerful eruption in recorded history, reaching a scale of 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, how about that fact that the force of the eruption was 52,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Got your attention now?
The volcano exploded in south Indonesia in 1815 between April 6th -11th, vomiting ash and molten rock into the air, incinerating any and all plant life and corrupting the water with tons of ash. The volcanic ash was so dense, that it covered the entire planet for 3 years and dropped global temperatures by 1.3 degrees fahrenheit, which was bad news for farmers in the Northern Hemisphere as crops were left mostly inedible.
All of this culminated in the deaths of 92,000 people, setting a record for highest loss of life via volcanic eruption.
4 The Black Death
More subtly known as the “Bubonic Plague,” the disease initially came into fruition in 541 A.D. via fleas transported by rodents that spread throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and peaking between 1343 and 1353. Because of the atrocious standards in the medical field during that period, the plague had no trouble leaving mass graves in its wake. The most notable symptom came in the form of large tumors growing around the armpits, neck, and groin of the victim, which would eventually take the form of gangrene. Vomiting of blood and high fevers were also common traits of the plague.
The Black Death was so unstoppable and so relentless, that at its paramount, over 5,000 people a day were dying in the city of Constantinople. On an even wider scale, the pandemic obliterated 60% of Europe’s total population, a third of the population in the Middle East, and halving countless other cities’ populations in Asia. In this time frame alone, over 100,000,000 people fell to the Death’s clutches. The population of Earth beforehand? 450,000,000. The world would never recover until the 17th century.
3 The Lituya Bay Mega-Tsunami
Everyone knows that tsunamis aren’t fun to be around, as the people on the Weather Channel would usually say. But what about a mega-tsunami? Of course, any natural disaster that has the word “mega” or “hyper” accompanying it doesn’t always register well with most people; just ask the citizens of Lituya Bay, Alaska.
In July of 1958, an earthquake, registering at nearly 8 on the magnitude scale, violently rattled the Fairweather Fault mountainside, shaking off 90 million tons of rocks and glacial ice which fell at the same rate into a small bay below. The enormous impact, which could be heard more than 50 miles away, created the biggest wave on record, reaching an incomparable and unimaginable height of 1,720 feet. To give you a clearer idea, the World Trade Centers were both around 1,300 feet.
A surviving fisherman estimated that it took 2 seconds for the wave to smash into his boat after enveloping a nearby mountain in the same bay area. That would place the speed of the wave at around 600 MPH, according to scientists. Thankfully, it happened in a remote area, where very few casualties were reported. But imagine a tsunami of that size barreling towards a metropolitan city like Los Angeles or Chicago at that speed. Nothing would be left.
2 Spanish Flu
So the Bubonic Plague was bad, that goes without saying. It sliced the Earth’s population by 2.6%, killing 200,000,000 people and took more than three centuries for the world to properly recover. The Spanish Flu pandemic that broke out in 1918 wasn’t even in the same arena; it was much, much worse than that. Its origins have been highly contested throughout the decades, but one thing was inarguable: It spread like wildfire and it killed relentlessly.
How it spread so fast is easy to explain given the period it took place in, namely World War I. Imagine this scenario: You’re huddled in a filthy trench with hundreds of other soldiers cramped besides you and a really ill person sneezes and coughs up a storm. Add to that a very low supply of food, water, and medicine, and you’ve got yourself a few weeks left to live.
After the lifespan of the virus plummeted, estimates say that more than 500,000,000 people around the world died of the infection within the two years that it was active. Yes, where the Black Death took half a millennia to end the lives of 200 million people, it took only two years for the Spanish Flu to nearly triple that amount. Even more frightening is the fact that if this flu pandemic took the bubonic plagues’ place, we would not be having this conversation.
1 The Toba Super-Eruption
Nothing on this list hardly reaches the staggering, terrifying watermark that the Toba event raised and set some 75,000 years ago. The scale of destruction, size, and lasting impact of the disaster has no equal; it is literally the closest that the human race has ever gotten to going extinct once and for all. The cause? A volcanic eruption. One that was 100 times more powerful than Tambora.
Taking place in what is now Indonesia, a massive explosion spewed forth an innumerable amount of ash and molten rock, as volcanos would do. This is where it gets scary: The ashen layer blanketed the entire globe, blotting out the sun so effectively that it created a volcanic winter which nearly lasted a full decade and plummeting global temperatures by 10 degrees. If that doesn’t terrify you, this drop in worldwide temperature caused incalculable amounts of damage to the environment, whittling down the total population of Earth to around ten thousand.
You read that right. 10,000 human beings survived near extinction in the aftermath. The Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor houses roughly 100,000 people in comparison. Sleep well tonight.