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Top 10 Deadly Accidents & Disasters


Natural disasters are one of the most deadly occurrences in the world.  Earthquakes,
tornados, hurricanes, natural floods, mudslides, and avalanches routinely cause mass
destruction and death.  Some other common disasters include explosions, structural
fires, unnatural floods, and coal mining accidents.  This list will be examining the most
deadly accidents of the 20th century.  It is
organized by death toll. 

10. Sverdlovsk Anthrax Leak (1979)

Most Deadly Biological Accident

105 Confirmed Casualties


The closed city of Sverdlovsk, located 1450 km east of Moscow, has been a major
production center of the Soviet military-industrial complex since World War II.  In
1958, a
major nuclear accident occurred in this region.  A military reactor was damaged,
resulting in the release of radioactive dust.  The contamination covered an area of
1,000 square kilometers.
The biological weapons facility in Sverdlovsk was built after World War II, using
documentation captured from the Japanese germ warfare program.  The strain of anthrax
produced in Military Compound 19 near Sverdlovsk was the most powerful in the
Soviet arsenal (Anthrax 836).  During the production of the anthrax, a culture has to be
dried, which produces a fine powder.  This way the lethal powder can be used as an
aerosol.  Large filters over the exhaust pipes were the only barriers between the anthrax
dust and the outside environment. 


On the last Friday of March 1979, a technician working in the plant removed a clogged
filter in one of the drying machines.  He left a written notice, but did not add the
information in the logbook.  The supervisor of the next shift did not find anything
unusual and turned the machines on.  Workers eventually realized that the filter was
missing and reinstalled it, but the damage had been done.  All workers of a ceramic plant
located across the street from the facility fell ill during the next few days.  Within a
week most were dead.  The death toll from the leak was at least 105, but the exact
number is unknown as evidence was destroyed by the KGB.  The military facility
remains closed to inspection.  Many journalists have deemed the accident a "biological
Immediatley following the outbreak of deaths the Soviet Union released a statement
which blamed the casulaties on intestinal exposure due to the consumption of tainted
meat from the area.  All medical records of the victims have been removed in order to
avoid revelations of serious violations of the Biological Weapons Convention.  The
true impact of the Sverdlovsk Anthrax Leak remains unknown. 

9. Tenerife airport disaster (1977)

Most Deadly Aviation Disaster

583 Fatalities


The Tenerife airport is located on the Spanish island of Tenerife, which is one of the
Canary Islands.  On March 27, 1977 two Boeing 747 airliners were maneuvering
around the Tenerife airport.  The airport had one single runway.  It was an extremely
foggy day, which compromised the visual ability of the pilots and the air traffic control
center.  Air traffic control directed Pan Am Flight 1736 to backtax across the runway at
the same time KLM Flight 4805 was taking off.  The KLM Flight stuck the top end of
the Pan Am flight at high speed.  In fact it was briefly air born.  Both airplanes were


All 234 passengers and 14 crew members in the KLM plane died, while 326 passengers
and 9 crew members aboard the Pan Am flight were also killed, marking a total of 583
fatalities.  The large death toll was primarily due to the fire and explosions resulting
from the fuel spilled in the impact, also rescue crews were unaware for over 20 minutes
that the Pan Am aircraft was involved in the accident, due to the heavy fog and the
separation of the crippled aircraft following the collision.  56 passengers and 5 crew
members aboard the Pan Am aircraft survived, including the captain, first officer, and
flight engineer.   The subsequent investigation concluded that the fundamental cause of
the accident was that the KLM captain took off without a takeoff clearance.  The
Tenerife airport disaster remains the deadliest accident in aviation history.    

8. Xinjiang Theatre Fire (1977)

Most Deadly Structural Fire

694 Fatalities

Satellite View of Xinjiang

Xinjiang is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, which is also
claimed by the territory of the Republic of China.  In February of 1977 the area was
celebrating the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, which is the most important of the
traditional Chinese holidays.  It is often called the Lunar New Year.  On this day,
undreds of children loaded a theatre in Xinjiang to watch an afternoon show.  During
the production a fire started in the lobby.  It rapidly spread and engulfed the exits
trapping hundreds of people.  In total 694 people were killed that day, with 597 of them
being children.
The poor construction of theatre played a role in the disaster.  It did not contain the
proper number of exits.  The Xinjiang fire of 1977 is the 6th most deadly structural fire
in history, the top 5 coming in the 1800’s.  I really had a hard time finding information
surrounding this fire and its events.  

7. Modane Train Disaster (1917)

800-1000 Casualties

In the middle of the 19th century the government of the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont)
began building a railway through the valley of Susa, with the hope of building a tunnel
through the Alps.  The line from Turin to Susa was inaugurated on May 22, 1854.
Work on the tunnel began on August 31, 1857 and it was completed in September of
1871.  The line was originally a single track, but was doubled in 1908 between many
other locations.  In 1917, the Fréjus railway line was the scene of one of the world’s
most deadly train accidents.  The horrible accident began when between 800-1000
French soldiers loaded the train in hopes of returning home after fighting in North East


During World War I there was a shortage of locomotives able to run in the area, so the
decision was made to couple two trains, consisting of nineteen coaches attached to a
single 4-6-0 engine.  The first three coaches had air brakes, while the remaining coaches
only had hand brakes or no brakes at all.  The driver initially refused to run the engine
with such an overloaded train, which was four times the safety limit, but he was
threatened with military discipline and the train continued.  On its approach to Modane
the train descended into a deep valley, the driver applied the brakes without effect due to
the heavy load.  After continuing with excessive speeds into the valley for nearly 4 miles
at an estimated 75 mph the first coach derailed causing a pile-up that resulted in an
enormous fire.  The train cars were made mainly of wood.  Between 800-1000 French
soldiers were killed in the accident.

The Queen of the Sea rail disaster is the most deadly in history.  It is not detailed on this
list, as it was directly caused by a natural disaster, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
tsunami.  An overcrowded passenger train was destroyed on a coastal railway in Sri
Lanka by the tsunami.  It is estimated that approximately 2,000 people lost their lives.

6. Courrières Mine Disaster (1906)

1,099 Fatalities


Courrières is an area of France, which is located in the department of Pas-de-Calais and
the region Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  On the morning of March 10, 1906 a large explosion
was heard coming from the Courrières mine.  First responders quickly discovered that
the area was completely devastated.  An elevator cage at Shaft 3 was thrown to the
surface, many pit-head workings were damaged, windows and roofs were blown out.
Like most coal mine disasters during this time in history.  It was thought that the
majority of the destruction was caused by an explosion of coal dust which swept through
the mine.
It remains unclear to this day what caused the dust cloud to ignite and explode.  Two
main hypotheses exist.  One is that the event occurred after a worker made a deadly
mistake while handing mining explosives.  The other involves the accidental ignition of
methane by the naked flame of a miner's lamp, which would have caused a gas
explosion.  The
Courrières mine disaster is Europe's worst mining accident.  It caused
the death of 1,099 individuals.  Most of the victims were instantly killed by the blast. 


The Courrières mine disaster is the second most deadly in history and was surpassed by
the Benxihu Colliery accident which occurred in China on
April 26, 1942.  It killed
1,549 miners, which was 34% of the miners working that day.  The cause of the Benxihu
Colliery mining accident was also a gas and coal-dust explosion.


5. Al-Ma'aisim Tunnel Stampede (1990)

Most Deadly Peacetime Stampede and Human Crush

1,426 Fatalities


In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a long journey or search of great moral
significance.  Buddhism offers four sites of pilgrimage: the Buddha's birthplace at
Lumbini, the site where he attained Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, where he first
preached at Sarnath, and where he achieved Parinirvana at Kusinagara.  The Holy Land
acts as a focal point for the pilgrimages of the Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism,
Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith.  Throughout history there have been many
serious incidents during the Hajj, which is the Muslim pilgrimage to the city of Mecca.
There are an estimated 1.3 billion Muslims living today, each of whom is expected to
visit Mecca during the Hajj at least once. 


During the month of the Hajj, Mecca must cope with as many as four million pilgrims.
City officials have to provide food, shelter, and sanitation for millions.  Sometimes the
surging crowds, trekking from one station of the pilgrimage to the next can cause a
stampede.  If an individual falls or gets pushed over a domino effect can lead to mass and
unpreventable chaos.  Panic spreads, pilgrims jostle to avoid being trampled, and
hundreds of deaths can result.  On July 2, 1990, a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel
(Al-Ma'aisim tunnel) leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat led
to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims.  Making it the most deadly human crush in modern
history.  In 1998, 118 individuals were trambled to death, 35 in 2001, 14 in 2003, 251
in 2004, and 346 in 2006.

The most deadly human crush in world history occurred during 1941 and was part of the
Imperial Japanese Army terror bombing operations on the Chinese provisional capital of
Chongqing, which occurred from 1938-1943.  A conservative estimate places the
number of bombing runs at more than 5,000, with more than 11,500 bombs dropped,
mainly incendiary bombs.  The targets were usually residential areas, business areas,
schools, and hospitals.  Two months after the first attack, the United States embargoed
the export of airplane parts to Japan, thus imposing its first economic sanction against
Japan.  On June 5, 1941 the Japanese flew more than 20 sorties, bombing the city for 3
hours.  Thousands of residents attepted to avoid the fires and chemicals by hiding in a
tunnel.  The numbers continued to rise with no room left in the tunnel, approximetaly
4,000 people were asphyxiated in a human crush. 

4. Halifax Explosion (1917)

Most Deadly Accidental Explosion

1,950 Fatalities


In 1917 the SS Mont-Blanc was chartered by the French government to carry munitions
to Europe, around the same time the Norwegian ship Imo was chartered by the
Commission for Relief in Belgium to carry relief supplies. On the morning of December
6, 1917 the two ships met in Halifax Harbour, which is a large natural harbour on the
Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, Canada.  It should have been a casual pass by, but as
accidents go the two ships had a mass collision causing major damage to the SS Mont
Blanc.  Immediate attention was paid to the threat of fire, but ten minutes after the crash
the vessel was engulfed in flames. 


After burning for 25 minutes the SS Mont-Blanc exploded with incredible force,
equivalent to roughly 3 kilotons of TNT.  The ship was instantly destroyed in the giant
fireball that rose over 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi) into the air, forming a large mushroom
cloud.  All of the buildings and structures covering nearly 2 square kilometres (500
acres) along the adjacent shore were obliterated, including those in the neighboring
communities of Richmond and Dartmouth.  The explosion caused a 18 metres (60 ft)
tall tsunami in the harbour and a pressure wave of air that snapped trees, bent iron rails,
demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and carried fragments of the
Mont-Blanc for
Approximately 1,950 people were killed by the debris, fires, and collapsed buildings.  It
is estimated that over 9,000 individuals were injured.  Most of the members of the Imo
were killed in the tsunami.  A black rain of unconsumed carbon from the Mont-Blanc
fell over the city for about 10 minutes after the blast, coating survivors and structural
debris with soot.  It is the world's largest man-made accidental explosion in history.  

3. MV Doña Paz (1987)

Most Deadly Peacetime Ship Disaster  

4,375 Fatalities


The MV Doña Paz was a Philippine-registered passenger ferry.  On December 20, 1987,
the Doña Paz disembarked from Tacloban City, Leyte for the Philippine capital of
Manila with a stopover at Catbalogan City, Samar.  The ferry was traveling along the
Tablas Strait, near Marinduque when it collided with the MT Vector, an oil tanker en
route from Bataan to Masbate.  The Vector was carrying 8,800 barrels of gasoline and
other petroleum products.  The weather that night was clear but the sea was choppy.
During the accident most of the passengers were asleep.  Upon the collision, the
Vector's cargo ignited and caused a fire that spread onto the Doña Paz.  Flames quickly
engulfed the ferry.  There were no life vests on the Doña Paz.  It was later said that the
life jacket lockers had been locked.


The Doña Paz sank within two hours of the collision, while the Vector sank within four
hours.  Both ships sank in about 545 meters of water in the shark-infested Tablas Strait.
It reportedly took eight hours before Philippine maritime authorities learned of the
accident, and another eight hours to organize search and rescue operations.  Originally
the official death toll was released at 1,565 people, although reports would claim that
the ferry was grossly overcrowded and that the true loss of life was over 4,000
individuals.  The ships would later put the death toll from this accident at 4,375 people,
only 26 survivors were retrieved from the seas.  The collision resulted in the deadliest
ferry accident in history and is widely cited as the worst peacetime maritime disaster. 

2. Bhopal disaster (1984)

Most Deadly Industrial Accident in History

25,000+ Fatalities


Bhopal is the capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.  It houses the Union Carbide
pesticide plant.  During the evening of December 3, 1984, a large amount of water
entered a tank containing 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate, which is an intermediate
chemical in the production of carbamate pesticides.  The chemical reaction increased the
tanks temperature to over 200°C, subsequently releasing a large amount of toxic gases
on the city.  Many citizens awoke with an intense burning sensation in their lungs and
they began to choke to death.  Panic ensued on the streets of Bhopal with many people
being trampled.  More then half a million people were exposed to the toxic gases. 


It is estimated that 10,000 people died within 72 hours of the accident.  25,000 have
since died from different gas-related diseases.  The means by which the water entered the
chemical tank has yet to be fully understood.  The Bhopal disaster is often referred to as
the world’s worst industrial tragedy.  It is truly one of the most devastating accidents in
modern history.  The Indian government has learned much from the incident and has
implemented strict rule changes and formed numerous training programs.

1. Chernobyl Disaster (1986)

Most Deadly Nuclear Reactor Accident

Millions Affected


The incredible expansion of nuclear weapons and power in the last 70 years has
created dangers. Of course the possibility of a rogue country starting a nuclear war
exists, but some of the most direct danger exists in the hudreds of nuclear
processing and storage facilites in the world.  Nuclear energy is a productive form
of energy and and nuclear accidents are limited, but the threat of human error
always exists.  There is no single event that would be more devastating to a nation
then having a nuclear explosion or accident expose its own people to a nuclear
fallout.  This was made abundantly clear in 1986 with the Chernobyl disaster.  The
Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear reactor accident that occurred on April 26, 1986,
at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, which was then part of the
Soviet Union.  After a massive power excursion, reactor number four at the
Chernobyl plant, near Pripyat, exploded. 


The nuclear chain reaction grew out of control, similar to the initial stage in the
detonation of a nuclear weapon.  Further explosions and the resulting fire sent a plume
of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical
area.  Four hundred times more fallout was released than had been by the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima.  It was equivelant to a barrage of nuclear bombs being dropped
on the area.  The plume drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern
Europe, Western Europe, and Northern Europe, with some nuclear rain falling as far
away as Ireland.  Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated,
resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people.  According to
official post-Soviet data, about 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus.

The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry as
well as nuclear power in general.  It is difficult to accurately quantify the number of
deaths caused by the events at Chernobyl.  The World Health Organization attributed 56
direct deaths, which is a joke.  Millions of people’s health was affected by this incident.
The Chernobyl disaster is considered to be the worst nuclear accident in history and the
only level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.  The Soviet Union's
collapse into independent nations began early in 1985.  The Chernobyl incident greatly
impacted the Soviet government. 

More Horrible Accidents

Hillsborough Disaster (1989)

96 Casualties


The Hillsborough Disaster was a human crush that occurred on April 15, 1989, at
Hillsborough, a football stadium and home of Sheffield Wednesday F.C. in Sheffield,
England.  The match was an FA Cup semi-final clash between Liverpool and
Nottingham Forest.  At the time, most United Kingdom football stadiums had high steel
fencing between the spectators and the pitch or playing surface, in response to
hooliganism, which had plagued the sport for several years.  Because of these security
standards, English stadiums had a history of crushes since the 1960s.  Hillsborough was
segregated between opposing fans.  The police chose to put the Nottingham Forest fans
in the end of the stadium that had a capacity of 21,000.  The Liverpool supporters were
assigned to a section that could hold only 14,600 fans. 


On their way to the stadium many Liverpool fans had been delayed by unannounced road
work on the M62 motorway, thus creating a massive collection of thousands of people
trying to enter the stadium as the match was beginning.  To avoid a crush outside the
turnstiles officials opened extra gates for entry.  This created an influx of many
thousands of fans in a narrow tunnel at the rear of the terrace flowing into the two
already overcrowded central pens.  It caused a huge crush at the front of the terrace.
People were being pressed up against the fencing by the weight of the crowd behind
them.  After fans started climbing the fence to avoid the crush the match was stopped.
Fans were packed so tightly in the pens that many died standing up of compressive
asphyxia.  In all 96 people lost their lives, with 766 other fans being injured and around
300 being taken to hospital.  All of the victims were fans of Liverpool F.C.  The
incident remains the deadliest stadium-related disaster in British history and the second
worse in international sporting history.

The most deadly sports related event was the
Upper tier collapse of the Circus Maximus
in ancient Rome, which killed 1,112 individuals.  Corralejas stadium collapse was
another deadly event.  Corralejas stadium is located in Sincelejo, Columbia and is a bull
fighting arena, which collapsed in 1980 killing at least 200 people, but more like 700 to
a 1000 individuals.

Sampoong Department Store Collapse (1995)

Most Deadly Structural Collapse

502 Casualties


The Sampoong Group began construction of the Sampoong Department Store in 1987
over a tract of land previously used as a landfill.  Originally designed as an office
building with four floors, Lee Joon, the future chairman of the building, redesigned the
building as a large department store during its construction.  This involved cutting away
a number of support columns in order to permit the installation of escalators.  The
group was advised that the structure would not support another floor.  In addition, the
building's air conditioning unit was installed on the roof, creating a load of four times
the design limit.
Sampoong Department Store opened to the public on
July 7, 1990, attracting an
estimated 40,000 people per day during the building's five years in service.  In April
1995, cracks began to appear in the ceiling of the south wing's fifth floor.  During this
period, the only response carried out by Lee and his management involved moving
merchandise from the top floor to the basement.  The store management failed to shut
the building down or issue formal evacuation orders.  On the morning of June 29,
number of cracks in the area increased dramatically, prompting managers to close the top
floor and shut the air conditioning off. 


Five hours before the collapse, the first of several loud bangs was emitted from the top
floors.  Soon the fourth floor ceiling began to sink, resulting in store workers blocking
customer access to the fourth floor.  When the building started to produce serious
cracking sounds at about 5:50 p.m., workers began to sound alarm bells and evacuate all
customers.  Two minutes later the roof gave way, and the air conditioning unit crashed
into the already-overloaded fifth floor.  The building's south wing pancaked into the
basement.  Within 20 seconds, all of the building's columns in the south wing gave way,
trapping more than 1,500 people and killing 502.  Rescue crews were on the scene
within minutes of the disaster, but the following day the search was called off for many
days due to the danger that the unstable remains of the store would come down on the

Two days after the collapse, city officials released a statement claiming that anybody
remaining in the building must have already died, which outraged family members of the
deceased.  The human body is extremely resiliant, which was demonstrated when the last
survivor, 19-year-old Park Seung Hyun was pulled from the wreckage 17 days after the
collapse with a few scratches.  She said that she heard the sounds of survivors drowning
in the fire department's deflation water.  The collapse is the largest peacetime disaster in
South Korean history.

Looking back in history, In 27 AD, a wooden amphitheatre collapsed in Fidenae
resulting in by far the worst stadium disaster and structural collapse in history with as
many as 20,000 dead and wounded out of the total audience of 50,000. 


Five - March 22, 2010 

Nilay - May 26, 2010

I must say its outstanding info.  I am impressed.

Kristin - September 13, 2010
Neat list, but you've missed M/S Estonia 852 casualties.

Piyush - October 30, 2010

It is very danger accident I have seen....and better don't have like accident to any
one and we must be careful and we must check everything and do....and we must
be alert and safe.  If anybody have experience they will say that don't give accident

Copyright The List Blog- Top 10, All Rights Reserved, Posted October 7, 2009