The Disasters That Changed The Way We Live

The BP Oil Spill

Also known as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the BP oil spill is considered to be one of the worst oil leakages the world has ever seen. Due to an explosion in April 2010, an oil gusher found on the seafloor flowed for a continuous 87 days along the Gulf of Mexico, until it was finally capped 3 months later. With the disaster resulting in 11 deaths, of which the bodies were never found, the amount of damage that was also done to the environment and the surrounding wildlife was indescribable. As oil slicks formed on top of the water, the damage was also destroying the bottom, washing ashore the collected masses. With pelicans, turtles, seabirds and coral among the worst affected, the company instantly became the number one most hated cooperation in the world. 5 years later after a lengthy clean up and an even longer settlement, it was finally announced that all future oil companies would be required to use stronger cemented well casings and blowout preventers, in which investigators cited as the initial failure. With tougher rules on the companies and an increase in inspectors and major advances in technology, it is hopeful that something like this will never be seen again.

The Hindenburg Disaster

With aviation alive and kicking during the 1930s, the German-made Hindenburg airships were certainly no exception. Known as the world’s first airline, with the world’s first flight attendant, the Hindenburg was then the fastest way to cross the Atlantic. Considered to be the future of air travel, the ships themselves were the last ever built in terms of size and length. With elegant meals, live music, comfortable sleeping quarters and even a smoking room, the Hindenburg was the quintessential traveling must have for the rich and famous. However, in 1937 disaster stuck, bringing an end to the glamorous era of air innovation. Catching fire, the flames spread rapidly, imploding the ship almost instantly. As the aircraft moved towards the ground, the disaster killed 35 passengers as well as one member of the ground crew. After more than 30 years in flight passenger travel and over 2,000 flights all over the world, the commercial airliner zeppelin was instantly shut down, kick starting a more economical brand of aviation still going to this day.


As the world was rocked by the worst terrorist attack the western world had ever seen in 2001, the way in which we traveled changed almost instantly. As questions were raised in how the terrorists managed to board the planes without incident, airport security was given an extreme makeover. For example, before 2001, passengers were allowed to bring pen knives, scissors and box cutters on board, seen with the 9/11 hijackers, who were all stopped by metal detectors but still allowed to pass through. With bulletproof and locked cockpit doors also introduced, as well as intense security checks for domestic flights and full body scanners, pilots were even allowed to hold pistols on board, albeit with security checks themselves. However, in 2015 when a German wings pilot committed suicide by crashing the plane into the ground as he locked the pilot door, the security makeover was called into question and criticized heavily. With terrorism as prominent now as it was then, we can only expect even tougher security precautions in the near future.


When a fire broke out at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, the incident went down in history as one of the biggest nuclear accidents in the history of nuclear power. Located in the then Soviet Union in the city of Pripyat, Ukraine, the explosion released a huge amount of radioactive particles, forcing the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding areas to flee almost instantly. As well as the Ukraine, the radiation also reached countries as far as Sweden, resulting in 31 initial fatalities and horrific long term effects and deaths that are still going on to this day. Following the incident, questions were raised about the future of nuclear plants and how they were going to be handled if managed at all. As other countries started phasing out nuclear power plants, the ones that stayed were given brand new rules and regulations, issuing safety as the number one priority. However, with a similar catastrophe occurring in 2011 due to an earthquake at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, the notion of safety with regards to nuclear power is still a very relevant issue.

New York Blizzard

Known as one of the worst blizzards ever recorded in the history of the United States, the snow storm, often referred to as the ‘Great White Hurricane’, annihilated the East Coast of America, especially New Jersey and New York in 1888. With severe winds as well as inches and inches of snow, the temperature often plummeted to 8F (-14C) for a duration of one month. As rail roads shut down and roads were unusable, the blizzard brought into question the safety of the cities transport network. With over 400 deaths, people trapped inside for days, and the stock exchange closed for two days, the idea of an underground subway was raised. Following the storm, the proposed plan was put into action as well as placing its telegraph and telephone infrastructure underground to prevent destruction from future weather catastrophes. Although blizzards are still a common occurrence to this day, the decision to move everything underground has seemingly worked in its favor.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Remembered as one of the worst fire-related incidents in American history, the New York Triangle Shirtwaist Company disaster in 1911, drastically changed the conditions in which workers were subjected to in factories and sweatshops across the world. Located on the top three floors of a large building in the middle of Manhattan, the sweatshop in question was famed for only employing young immigrant women. Working in cramped spaces, and unsanitary working conditions, nearly all of the women were teenagers who were unable to speak much English. Working 12 hour shifts every day, the young women were paid a minuscule amount, resulting in barely enough money to live on let alone survive. As a fire broke out one Saturday afternoon, the manager at the time tried to extinguish it, however the hose was broken as the valve had been rusted shut. With the fire growing quickly, the women began to flee, but as 3 out of the four elevators were broken, many of girls began jumping to their deaths down the elevator shafts. Running towards the stairs instead, many of the girls were burned alive due to a locked door and a fire escape that only opened inwards. As fire fighters began to arrive, they realized there ladders were not long enough to reach the top floor, resulting in more deaths from women throwing themselves from the highest windows. Within minutes, 145 people had been killed, either by fire, smoke or jumping to their deaths. Outraged by the lack of safety regulations, a workers’ union march was immediately set up, with over 80,000 people attending. Shockingly, despite obvious amounts of evidence pointing to the fault of the owners and the management, a jury found them not guilty, however a law was passed preventing similar disasters from ever happening again. With fire escapes crucially modified and fire equipment updated, the horrors of that fateful day certainly changed the then standard way of working.

The Black Death

Notorious for being one of the worst pandemics in human history, the Black Death was thought to have killed around 200 million people worldwide. Originating in central Asia during the early 1340s, the plague wiped out a third of China’s population before the rest of the world even had an inkling to what was going on. Reaching Italy through a fleet of ships, whose sailors had already died, the disease peaked, estimating to have killed as many as 30-60% of Europe’s entire population. With the ships’ arrival, credited as bringing the plague to the continent, new safety laws were put into place, designed to stop the spread of future bubonic diseases. Issuing quarantine for incoming ships, the trading laws of imports, exports and future travel was also taken into affect. Not only were safety regulations issued but also the treatment of the working class was pulled apart, with peasants revolting across Europe as the middle class tried to ‘go back to normal’ as the plague began disappearing. Angry at how the poor were treated during the outbreak, the lower class began campaigning for better pay and living conditions. Thankfully with the plague remaining dormant for a number of years with only a few cases noted down, we can only hope that such a pandemic will never be seen again.


First sold in West Germany in 1957, Thalidomide was orginally marketed to help battle with anxiety, insomnia and stress. As it became more and more popular throughout the world, the drug then started being sold over the counter, advertised as helping to cure morning sickness in pregnant women. However, not long after the drug became prevalent, it was then revealed that between 5,000 and 7,000 babies had been born with phocomelia, a disease that affected the limbs of new born babies. With only 40% of these children surviving, the drug was immediately called into question, as other side effects such as deformed eyes and hearts were also being recorded. Estimated to have killed around 2,000 children worldwide, with over 10,000 children reported to have gained serious birth defects, the drug led to a stricter approach on how drug use and the development of such medicine was controlled and tested. Interestingly the drug also highlighted the use of animal testing, as it was originally used on animals and rodents to no effect, putting forward to the argument that animal testing was in fact useless and outdated.

Sewol Sinking

On the morning of 16 April 2014, a medium sized ferry carrying 476 people, capsized on its way from Incheon to Jeju in South Korea. Killing over 300 passengers, most of which were secondary school students, the incident received widespread attention due to the way in which the disaster was handled. With most of the blame going to the captain of the ship and the crew at hand, the rescue team, the government and even the media also came under severe scrutiny. As passengers were initially told to stay in the cabins, the crew and the captain were the first to be rescued, abandoning the ship and leaving all other passenger. In addition, it was also revealed that the ship had been twice over the legal limit of cargo carried on board, pushing the safety regulations far out of the water. With inspectors often ignoring protection issues, and lax regulations a common issue, experts now claim that important changes have been made, especially with concerns towards weight. However, as relatives of the deceased continue to beg for answers, it is likely to be a long road ahead for the South Korean maritime shipping industry.

Hurricane Katrina 

On August 29th 2005, one of the most destructive hurricanes the modern world had ever seen, struck the Gulf Coast of the USA. As the hurricane approached land, winds reached 100-140 miles per hour, annihilating every single object in its path. With states such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama hit hardest, it was the aftermath that really showed the world the horrifying outcome of hurricane Karina. As the hurricane subsided, officials such as the US government and even the President himself George W. Bush all seemed unaware of just how bad it really was, ignoring pleas of stranded homeowners and damaged businesses. With no real plan on how to deal with such a disaster, the poor were beginning to get desperate, leaving the lower class citizens even more vulnerable than they were before. Killing over 2,000 people, recovery is still continuing to this day, with buildings and families attempting to rebuild themselves. However, with constant criticism over how the government initially handled the situation, prompting rapper Kanye West to publicly declare that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’, great measures have been brought into practice to ensure such a thing will never happen again.

Rana Plaza

When an eight-story building collapsed into a pile of dust in Bangladesh in 2013, questions were raised over the conditions in which factory workers were subjected to in this day and age. With over 2,500 people injured and a death toll of over 1,000, the tragedy is now considered to be the deadliest clothing factory incident in history, surpassing that of the triangle shirtwaist incident in New York. As well as containing a clothing factory, the building was also home to a bank, a number of shops and housing apartments, all which housed several people on the day of the collapse. Closed a day before, after cracks were discovered in the building, the property was kept open the next day, with the building’s owners ignoring warnings to avoid using the selected businesses inside. As the workers returned the next morning, the rush of the employers and apartment owners caused the cracks to enlarge, with the building collapsing within minutes, leaving only the ground floor intact. With the causes attributed to a number of things, from an addition of 4 floors above the original permit and a substandard use of materials, the questions of safety regulations were promptly investigated. With riots across the country directed at garment-owned factories, the arrest of the owners of the buildings was put into place as well as the suspension of seven inspectors for negligence. Highlighting the issue of slave labor and unsafe working conditions, the rules and regulations have now been updated, however at a horrible and disgusting price.

King’s Cross Underground Fire

Recently celebrating its 150 year old birthday, the London underground has surprisingly seen only a few major incidents in its time as the instigator of modern public transport. However, on 18 November 1987, the engineering marvel played witness to one of the most disastrous events of the undergrounds history, changing the way future stations would be built. When a fire was reported to have broken out just under one of the main escalators leading into the station, the fire brigade arrived accordingly, hastily putting the flames out. However, with the fire fighters unable to reach the fire, the decision to evacuate the station was quickly made. But as the station was being evacuated the flames began to spread, producing a superheated gas which became absorbed through the stations repainted ceilings. With the paint recorded as a fire hazard some time before the fire, the suggestion was ignored, leaving the pain to be repainted several times over. As the ticket hall became inflamed with an intense heat and thick black smoke, the fire had begun to trap a number of people underground. With a death count of over 30 people, the disaster prompted new safety regulations to be instantly put into place. Stating the cause of the fire to be that of a lit match dropped down the cracks of the escalators, all smoking was immediately banned on the underground as well as the replacements of wooden to metal escalators.

Grand Canyon Mid Air Collision

As we are constantly reminded that modern aviation is the safest it has ever been, it has taken a number of disasters to have ensured its top spot as the least dangerous form of traveling, with the Grand Canyon Collision one of the most prominent crashes. In 1956, during the midst of summer, a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 crashed straight into a Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, over the Grand Canyon. Killing all those on board instantly, the crash led to some immediate changes in how air traffic control was to be issued in the future. With the controller publicly blamed for the incident by the media and both airlines, he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. However the incident did increase the fear factor, with the public becoming more and more scared due to the number of incidents over the years that lead up to the crash and that continued to follow. It has also been suggested that the disaster prompted black box flight recorders to be compulsory on all aircrafts, due to the missing information vital to the exact cause of the collision itself.


Not only did it change British football forever, but the tragic events of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 became a standout moment in the decisive decade of British politics during the 1980s. During an FA cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989, a human crush occurred in the standing pens of the Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield, injuring 766 people and killing 96. With the disaster prompting a number of safety improvements among larger football grounds, the regulations saw an elimination of fenced standing areas and in flux of all seated stadiums. In order to cover up the lack of safety awareness and improper police conduct during the crush itself, the media concocted a number of false stories accusing the Liverpool fans of bringing it upon themselves. Going on for a number of years, an apology was finally given to the people of Liverpool in 2012, in which Britain’s then prime minister David Cameron apologized over the ‘double injustice’ that each family had suffered over the last few decades.

The Titanic

Probably one of the most famous disasters in the history of the world, the sinking of the titanic was one of the biggest global tragedies of all time, with deaths from all over the planet. Much like 9/11, the Titanic captured the hearts of the world, changing the way in which we traveled in the future. Dubbed the unsinkable ship, unsinkable it wasn’t, killing over 1,500 people as the boat struck an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. However, as an investigation took place, inspecting the actual events of what exactly happened, the results were as shocking as they were devastating. With the number of life boats only half to that of the actual people on board, it was the attitude towards the different classes that really left a sour taste in the mouths of many, with those in 3rd class left to die. Forcing those of power to act quickly, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was established, which still runs today. With lifeboats, life jackets and the safety and regulations of each and every passenger pushed into the forefront, the U.S. even sent the Navy to look for icebergs and broadcast their findings. Since then the safety on board ships and boats has improved dramatically, sadly at the cost of many.

The Disasters That Changed The Way We Live The Disasters That Changed The Way We Live Reviewed by Milan Tosic on 9:22 AM Rating: 5

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