40 Horrifying Facts about History’s Greatest Tragedies

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1Victoria Hall stampede

In 1883, gifts were distributed after a show in Victoria Hall. Many of the estimated 1100 children surged downstairs, but the door opened inward and had been bolted so only one could pass at a time. Those in front were crushed by those behind them. 183 children between the ages of 3 and 14 died.


2. In 1928, USA threatened Colombia with military invasion if it didn’t end the ongoing Chiquita workers’ strike. In the massacre that ensued, which was aptly named the “Banana Massacre,” the Colombian army fired on unarmed protesters, men, women, and children, killing somewhere between 800 and 3,000.


3. It is almost certain that the astronauts survived the initial Challenger explosion, and died on impact with the water. At least three of the crew's emergency oxygen tanks were manually switched on after the crew's capsule broke apart from the rest of the shuttle.


4. On October 2, 1937, massacre of thousands of Haitians living on the border with the Dominican Republic began. Dominican soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley and those who could not pronounce the Spanish word “perejil” properly were slaughtered. Few bullets were used during this “Parsley Massacre.” 17000-35000 Haitians were instead bludgeoned and bayonetted, then herded into the sea, where sharks finished what the soldiers had begun.


5. Bhopal gas disaster was the worst industrial disaster ever, killing close to 4000 people in roughly two weeks. At least 25,000 people are estimated to have died in the years after the disaster and a total of 558,125 injured. On the morning of December 3, 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India due to negligence. The American CEO of the company was arrested, let out on $2100 bail and never came back to India to face charges.


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6Columbine High School massacre

During the Columbine High School massacre, two 9.8 kilogram propane bombs were planted in the school cafeteria right before lunch. Had the bombs not fail to detonate, it is estimated that 488 students in the cafeteria at the time would have been killed or severely injured as a result.


7. During the Rwandan genocide, a priest named Athanase Seromba lured around 2000 Tutsis into his church under the promise of protection, then ordered the church with all those inside bulldozed and shot the survivors.


8. The "London Beer Flood" of 1814 spilled 323,000 imperial gallons of beer into the streets of London; killing eight people and destroying two homes. The 1500 cubic meter flood was ruled as an "Act of God" and nobody was held responsible.


9. The heat from the Vesuvius eruption was so intense, the skulls of those caught in it literally exploded by the pressure of vaporizing brain tissue and boiling blood.


10. Palawan massacre occurred on 14 December 1944, during World War II, near the city of Puerto Princesa in the Philippine province of Palawan. Allied soldiers, imprisoned near the city, were killed by Imperial Japanese soldiers. American soldiers were lit on fire by sounding an air raid siren that led them to a trench filled with gasoline instead of an air-raid shelter. Of the 150 American POWs, only 11 survived and escaped to American lines.


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11RMS Lusitania

Before the sinking of RMS Lusitania, the German Embassy in New York opted to put a warning in 50 newspapers advising passengers not to board the ship. They went anyway and 1198 people died. The ship was carrying undeclared ammunition as cargo, making it a legitimate military target just as the Germans had claimed. This incident was the deciding factor for USA to enter World War 1.


12. The Elixir Tragedy spurred Congress to empower the US Food and Drug Administration to monitor drug safety. 71 adults and 34 children died in the fall of 1937 after taking a drug called Elixir Sulfanilamide to treat a variety of ailments, from gonorrhea to sore throat.


13. Just a handful of people survived the mass suicide at Jonestown in 1978 where over 900 people took their lives, including a hearing-impaired man that didn’t hear the announcements over the loudspeaker, and an elderly woman who slept through the whole thing.


14. During the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, at least 300 people lost their lives because the doors opened inwards. This prompted the regulation that all doors in a public building must open outwards.


15. The Ocoee massacre was a white mob attack on African-American residents in northern Ocoee, Florida, which occurred in 1920 on the day of the U.S. presidential election. Over 50 to 60 African Americans were killed when one African American man attempted to vote.


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16Galveston Hurricane

After the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, there were too many bodies to bury so the corpses were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly thereafter the bodies began to wash back onshore and survivors constructed funeral pyres to burn the corpses. The fires burned day and night for weeks.


17. During the Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903 over 602 people died. It gained a lot of attention as the victims were mainly women and children from an upper-middle-class background. The theatre had been falsely billed as “absolutely fireproof”, but lacked basic safety infrastructure. Public outrage caused lawsuits to be filed against the owners of the theatre and of the Mayor. In the end, the only person convicted was a tavern keeper charged with grave robbing.


18. Many who survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 were subsequently eaten by sharks as they bobbed in open waters for four days. Navy intelligence had ignored a message from the sub that had torpedoed it, thinking it was a trick to lure American rescue boats into an ambush.


19. Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place on in 1919, when Acting Brigadier-General Dyer ordered troops of the British Indian Army to fire their rifles into a crowd of unarmed Indian civilians, killing at least 379 people. It was a decisive step towards the end of British rule in India.


20. The Guatemalan government carried out a genocide in the 1980s known as the Silent Holocaust against the Mayan people. Throughout it, the US government under Ronald Reagan gave Guatemala military aid, helping the genocidaires commit their atrocities.


21Banqiao Dam disaster

In 1975, a “once-in-2000-years” flood caused the failure of the Banqiao Dam in China, which killed 171,000 people and made nearly 6 million buildings collapse. This is the “largest known dam disaster in human history” and in spite of the devastation it caused, this disaster was hidden from the world until 2005.


22. In the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, a gang of Mormons banded up to attack a wagon train full of families in Southern Utah. The aggressors pretended to be Native Americans. When they feared discovery by the victims, they murdered about 120 people to avoid leaving witnesses to testify.


23. The 1902 Saint-Pierre Volcanic eruption killed all 35,000 people in the town except one man (Ludger Sylbaris) who survived because he was the worst prisoner on the island and therefore lived in a solitary confinement cell.


24. In 1769, the Bastion of San Nazaro in Brescia, Italy was struck by lightning. The resulting fire ignited 90 tonnes of gunpowder being stored there, and the subsequent explosion destroyed one-sixth of the city and killed 3,000 people.


25. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots, also known as the 1984 Sikh Massacre, was a series of organized pogroms against Sikhs in India following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The ruling Indian National Congress had been inactively complicit with the mob, as to the organization of the riots. Government estimates project that about 2,800 Sikhs were killed in Delhi and 3,350 nationwide, whilst independent sources estimate the number of deaths at about 8,000–17,000.

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