Things That Kill, Not All from China – WIF Lists

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Urban Hazards

That Could

Kill You

The urban environment can be scary. While the dangers of the outdoors and wilderness survival are well publicized, city planners, businesses and the public alike struggle with how to mitigate the dangers with which the urban environment is fraught. Let us now explore the chilling survival dangers that may face us vulnerable humans in the wild, wild world that is the city. Eerily, some of the worst hazards come from attempts at charity, efficiency, or green innovation.

10. Monster Icicles

It is less well known than it should be that urban environments juxtapose walking areas for pedestrians with perfect places for icicles to drop from great heights. This can be deadly. In cities with cold winter climates, sufficient precipitation and the presence of tall buildings, such as St. Petersburg, Russia or New York, USA, a perfect storm exists that has, tragically, caused numerous injuries and in some cities, repeated fatalities. Environmental sustainability measures centered on making buildings more energy efficient have perversely created increased danger to the public in certain cases.

A 2010 article in the International Journal on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat describes how buildings built to be energy efficient (or renovated to be energy efficient) release less heat, saving energy but dramatically increasing the accumulation of potentially dangerous ice formations on the outside of skyscrapers. When temperatures rise, ice chunks fall to the city streets below. Icicles forming as water drips down the edges of buildings has caused tragic deaths, most notably in St. Petersburg, Russia where in a single year (2010) a shocking five people died and 150 were injured after being hit by huge falling icicles or ice chunks. Senseless carnage! Novosibirsk, the third most populated city in Russia, also saw a cold tragedy toward winter’s end in 2015 when a 20-year-old woman was killed by ice falling 14 stories from a canopy. Blame has been placed on officials for failing to ensure dangerous ice was removed.

9. Killer Dumpsters

Dumpster diving is a popular activity for the homeless, those trying to save a few dollars, or certain “freegans” trying to make a political or economic statement about thrown away food. Yet another kind of dumpster diving (for dumpster contents that are not garbage) have claimed several lives, prompting calls for a ban. These are the clothing donation bins that have caused seven deaths Canada-wide since 2015. The complicated mechanism of these bins, designed to prevent theft can crush people between metal plates aided by their own body weight as they reach into the bins in an attempt to retrieve clothing.

The problem is worst in Canada, for reasons still in question, but deaths have occurred elsewhere globally but in fewer numbers. People have been found dead in clothing donation bins, while in other cases, screams were heard but the victim died of crushing and suffocation before they could be helped. For example, help came too late to save one woman whose vehicle was still running beside a bin that she entered at night, only to get caught up and be left hanging from broken limbs. Efforts to curb the deaths include outright bans or voluntary removals of bins in certain jurisdictions, along with engineering team efforts to design a safer system.

8. Stray Bullet Strikes

Stray bullets can arise from surprising sources and travel in the strangest trajectories, killing people in cities who had nothing to do with either celebrations, gang violence, or warfare. Bullets travel farther than people commonly understand, less accurately than often believed, and can ricochet or achieve a lethal potential falling in an arc after being fired into the air. A growing number of people in the United States have lost their lives when a bullet entered their home or hit them in the street. Just one Baltimore street saw a three-year-old killed and then a nine-year-old girl injured by stray bullets in two separate incidents. These cases of accidental urban shootings are examples of a growing problem. Between March 2008 and February 2009, over 300 people were hit by stray bullets in the United States.

A variety of demographics were represented in an analysis of those hit, and those who were identified as responsible in stray bullet cases. Shockingly, children formed 30 percent of the victims. The urban threat is not primarily a street issue, as 68 percent of victims were struck indoors, including 40 percent being accidentally shot in their own homes. There is also an urgent need to stop the celebratory firing of live rounds at events such as New Years around the world. Senseless fatalities, such as the 2014 deaths of two children in the Philippines when bullets fired to celebrate New Years struck them in their home, serve as an example.

7. Airplane Crashes

Urban airplane crashes kill more people than you would think. Look out: the sky is not falling, but its contents just might. We might think of aircraft travel as safe, but when accidents happen, they are notably catastrophic a lot of the time. Furthermore, those on the ground are at risk, especially in cities. Tall buildings present easily struck obstacles, while lower buildings and roads may be hit if a runway is missed. Global aviation disaster records show around 200 crashes that caused fatalities on the ground. The single worst ground fatality event in aviation history resulting from an accident was the crash of an Air Africa Antonov-An-32B into a street market in the Democratic Republic of Congo that killed at least 225 and injured.

In 1992, a notable disaster took place when approximately 100 people in an apartment building in Amsterdam lost their lives as an airliner flew into the building, causing an immense fireball. Terrorism caused the most serious incidents, the 9/11 terrorist attacks killing more than 2,500 people on the ground. Large aircraft are also known to shed heavy parts, but a more common danger comes from small planes crashing in suburbs, such as one recent case in Southern California where four people in a house died when an 8-seater Cessna broke up in mid-air and caused the house to explode into a fiery mass upon impact.

6. Accidental Drug Exposures

The use of illegal “recreational” drugs presents significant risks to users. However, as prohibited street drugs get more potent and deadly, the potential for collateral damage in urban areas to non-users rises. The appearance of fentanyl as an illegal substance often used to cut less potent drugs poses an extreme threat to law enforcement and the public. An increasingly abused substance on the streets that is of medical origin, fentanyl often comes in a fine powder. If inhaled, even a tiny amount of this drug (that is around 50 times stronger than most forms of heroin) may dangerously inhibit respiratory function, easily causing death. In one case, first responders assisting an overdose victim themselves experienced symptoms of an overdose, prompting emergency management authorities to highlight the risks of accidental exposure.

If this was not enough, another substance originating from fentanyl, carfentanil, is around 100 times more potent than regular fentanyl. Terrifying! In addition to the growing threat caused by these rogue opioids proliferating in world cities, drug use poses other threats. Discarded needles are becoming ubiquitous, showing up in garbage cans, at bus stops, and in playgrounds, parks, and even townhouse common grounds. Accidental sticking with discarded needles may lead to exposure to bloodborne diseases if accidentally touched in a way that the skin of the unwitting handler is broken. Means of exposure include handling garbage, walking in grass, or picking up clothing in which a needle is present.

5. Extreme Smog

Major urban centres like Los Angeles, Beijing, and London continue to provoke health conditions and contain significant quantities of toxic smog. Extreme incidents involving smog have marked some of the low points of urban history, the London Killer Fog of 1952 being one of the most notorious examples.  The fog only lasted five days, but the chemical reaction between sulfur dioxide, natural fog, and nitrogen dioxide, creating highly corrosive sulfuric acid fumes in the city. Poisoned badly, 12,000 people died, while 150,000 were so sick they required hospitalization. By 1956, the Clean Air Act was passed to get control of the deadly risks of urban coal burning.

Despite the improvements, London today still has air that has become comparable to New Delhi or Beijing, two large cities known for their frequent air quality advisories. London’s problem with nitrogen dioxide continues, exacerbated by sunlight, which produces ozone pollution. Cities such as New Delhi, however, suffer from worse particulate pollution, yet the levels of potentially life-shortening nitrogen dioxide in London are significantly worse than conditions in a city as large as New York, putting a strain on health services. Air pollution in China causes around 1.1 million premature deaths annually, part of a constellation of problems that prompted Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang to declare “war on pollution” in China, with the intention of “making our skies blue again.” Efforts are focused on reducing steel production and coal-fired energy generation, which are key polluters.

4. Freak Urban Floods

Cities are often built in low-lying areas, while the removal of vegetation and construction beside watercourses in urban areas exacerbates flooding. Urban floods are especially dangerous due to the presence of electrical wires, with electrocution a noteworthy result of certain urban floods. Even in areas that might be thought of as being more dry, flash floods can pose an extraordinary risk in urban locales. In the large Saudi Arabian city Jeddah, 2009 and 2011 saw floods roar through the desert city, killing over 100 people. A lack of proper drainage and flood absorbing vegetation presents a challenge that must be addressed through better installation of natural infrastructure such as constructed wetlands and drains to slow and absorb floodwaters.

Furthermore, urban industry poses the threat of some very strange floods. Eight deaths resulted when thousands of gallons of beer were accidentally released into the streets in the “London Beer Flood” of 1814, while the “Great Boston Molasses Flood” in the United States in 1919 killed 21 people and injured 150, when a huge tank full of molasses broke and let out a wave of molasses 15 feet tall that rushed through streets and buildings, creating a half mile long swathe of destruction and death as people were trapped and drowned in the sticky substance.

3. Infrastructure Failures

We typically trust bridges, power pylons, overpasses, and roads to be well constructed. But a surprising number of deaths take place in cities around the world when the stress of everyday use does not match up to engineering projections and design provisions. Infrastructure collapses in developing countries or political jurisdictions without sufficient engineering codes are expected, but it may surprise people how many disasters have occurred in jurisdictions where infrastructure is thought to be quality and safe.

Between 1989 and 2000, more than 500 bridge failure disasters occurred in the United States! It is often not the result of an earthquakes, but floods or the negligence of a single motorist colliding with critical bridge support structures that sets off a collapse. Other times, engineering mistakes fail to take into account the enormous cumulative load from traffic, settling, and torsion or settling forces, leading to gradual failure or a sudden, catastrophic collapse. Collapses of overpasses above traffic are also some of the worst types of infrastructure collapse risks in cities. So, when you are traveling on a bridge, or below underpasses, you might want to think about the merits of not getting stuck under an overpass or on a bridge that possibly leads nowhere.

2. Asbestos Exposure

Urban exploring, where enthusiasts often illicitly traverse old factories, office towers, and tunnels, enjoys popularity but it can be very risky due to the chance of encountering asbestos. Asbestos, once welcomed as a problem solving “wonder material” with its fireproof insulator properties, is proof that the worst hazards are not always man-made, but natural in origin. Massive quantities of asbestos were once incorporated into urban structures of all kinds. Asbestos formed of minute, dangerous fibers can get into the lungs, where they cause serious inflammation and, eventually, lung cancer.

In the urban environment, almost any older building could be a dangerous storehouse of asbestos fibers. Even careful acts of urban exploration may cause ceilings, walls, stairwells, or old insulation panels to give way, releasing asbestos. No wonder asbestos exposure constitutes the number one threat to the urban explorer, according to Jason Robinson, who founded the Ohio Exploration Society. Not only urban explorers, but renovators and construction workers are confounded by the asbestos threat. Many urban construction projects have the potential to unleash massive quantities of asbestos when past construction work is disturbed. Dealing with asbestos is a liability but also a significant business activity, with workers suiting up until they resemble astronauts in a bid to get rid of the danger.

1. Gas Leaks & Carbon Monoxide

Colorless, odorless, and hard to notice, carbon monoxide remains an insidious and quick killer responsible for numerous deaths from small and large scale equipment failures and also installation mistakes. The substance is a dangerous, but formed of two completely harmless substances that make up your food, your body, and the air around you, albeit in a different molecular order. One molecule of carbon binds to one molecule of oxygen in a byproduct of certain combustion reactions, but the danger is much greater than the sum of the parts. Carbon monoxide is capable of physically replacing the oxygen in your bloodstream.

While taking the place of oxygen, this impostor chemical fails to provide the life sustaining support that oxygen lends. Eerily, the chemical has no taste, smell or color and is often not detected until death results, particularly if the victim is asleep. Many deaths have resulted from blocked chimneys, use of fuel burning machines indoors, or leaving a car running in an enclosed space. A number of deaths result every year, while lower levels of poisoning that cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness — or even seizures — may be misdiagnosed. Maintenance of equipment and avoidance of unsafe practices, followed by installation of monitors, are key ways to avoid fatal incidents.


Things That Kill,

Not All from China

WIF Lists

Fire, Floods, Famine, Lava and Shakers – WIF Bad Things Go Happen

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Epic Natural Disasters

Throughout History

Natural disasters have existed as long as humanity, and in fact a lot longer. This means that pretty much every century in recorded history has been forced to endure one or more incredibly destructive attacks of nature’s strongest powers. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest natural disasters in history, and how they affected the people of that era.

10. Peshtigo Fire

Most people are familiar with the Great Chicago Fire, with its “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow tipped over a lantern” backstory and hundreds of dead. However, it’s far from the most destructive fire in American history. It’s not even the most destructive one that started on October 8, 1871. That dubious honor goes to the Peshtigo Fire of Wisconsin — the most destructive forest fire in America’s history, which caused around 1,200 deaths, burned an incredible 1.2 million acres and burned through 16 different towns, in 11 counties. At one point, it even “skipped over” Green Bay to burn sections of two counties on the other side. It even made the same amount of damage as the much more urban Chicago fire — roughly $169 million.

Where the Great Chicago Fire was a disaster, the Peshtigo fire was hell, plain and simple. The fire was likely started by careless railroad workers who caused a brush fire which the dry summer and unfortunate winds soon whipped up into a superfast wall of flame that some say moved almost like a tornado. The flames “convulsed” and moved in strange ways, eating up all the oxygen and bursting fleeing people ablaze. It looked like the end of the world, and for many, it was. There were heroics, and tragic losses, and desperate survival stories. One heroic man reportedly carried a woman all the way to safety, thinking it was his wife, and when he found it was a stranger he immediately went insane. A young girl spent all night in the river to escape the inferno, holding on to a cow’s horn to stay moored.

The worst damage was done to the fire’s namesake, the town of Peshtigo. 800 of the fire’s 1,200 victims were from there, and the entire place was “gone in an hour.”

9. Ch’ing-yang event

There have been many times when meteors and meteorites have graced our planet with their presence, but arguably the one with the biggest death toll is the Ch’ing-yang event in 1490. Seeing as this meteor shower event in China happened well over five centuries ago, actual details about the event are unfortunately somewhat fuzzy. Accounts of the era report that “stones falling like rain” killed up to 10,000 people on the Ch’ing-Yang area of the Shaanxi Province.

Modern experts have expressed doubt over that exact figure — after all, it is the only meteor shower case with such a giant death toll. However, pretty much everyone agrees that a “dramatic event” happened at the reported time and place, and it’s speculated that a breakup of an asteroid may indeed have resulted in a deadly rain of celestial hail.

8. Calcutta cyclone

The Ganges River delta area is no stranger to tropical storms, but the Calcutta cyclone of 1737, also known as the Hoogly River cyclone, ranks among the absolute worst. It struck on an early autumn morning just south of the city of Calcutta, tearing 200 miles inlands before finally calling it a day. The cyclone brought with it a 30 to 40-foot storm surge (a sudden rise of water level in Ganges), along with 15 inches of rain over just six hours.

The combination of these elemental attacks was catastrophic. Most of the city of Calcutta, built largely of mud huts and brick buildings, was utterly demolished. The city suffered 3,000 casualties, but the cyclone’s overall damage was over a hundred times worse; The disaster is estimated to have killed up to 350,000 people and destroyed around 20,000 boats, ships and canoes of all shapes and sizes.

7. Dadu River dam landslide

On June 1, 1976, a huge earthquake shook the Kangding-Luding area of southwest China, causing all the problems that a major 7.75 magnitude quake can cause. What happened next was worse. A landslide dam (debris from the landslide blocking the water flow of the river), and as is so often the case in impromptu dams, it unfortunately wasn’t built to last.

After building a nice reservoir behind it for 10 days, the landslide dam eventually breached. The water cascaded downstream as a catastrophic wall of death, flooding the areas it encountered to the tune of 100,000 deaths. Experts think that this was likely the most destructive event of this particular nature in history.

6. Coringa cyclones

Coringa was a large and prosperous Indian port city at the mouth of river Godavari. These days, it’s still there, but only as a mere small village. This is because the former busy city went through some of the worst cyclones in history.

In 1789, Coringa received a massive blow when a nasty cyclone tore through the area, leaving around 20,000 people dead. The shaken city was nevertheless able to resume its functions, but unbeknownst to its residents, their terrors had only begun. On November 25, 1839, another, much worse cyclone came, bringing a 40-foot storm surge and punishing winds with it. Once the roar of the storm died down, Coringa’s entire port was destroyed. The death count of the cyclone was an estimated 300,000 people, which along with the 20,000 boats that were also destroyed by the storm marked the end of Coringa’s glory days.

5. Krakatoa volcanic eruption of 1883

What the Krakatoa volcano’s eruption in August 1883 lacked in death toll (it killed “only” 36,000 people), it delivered in pure, deadly spectacle. The volcano, which was on a 3-by-5.5 mile island between Sumatra and Java, started giving signs of upcoming trouble months before the incident, starting with massive ash clouds, “thundering” noises and strange “natural fireworks” that lit the sky. Unaware of the impeding doom, the people living on nearby islands took to celebrating the show — only to be rudely interrupted when Krakatoa started a very different, deadly party.

On August 26, the first blast threw debris and a gas cloud a good 15 miles in the air. The next morning, the area was shaken by four explosions that equaled the strength of 200 megatons of TNT (the Hiroshima bomb was around 0,01% of that) and could be heard from 2,800 miles away. Super-heated steam, hot gases and volcanic matter scorched the surrounding 25 miles at speeds over 62 miles-per-hour.

The eruption claimed its first victims via thermal injuries from its mighty blasts, and the rest fell victim to the 120-foot tsunami that came when the volcano collapsed into an undersea caldera. Even after its initial terrors were over, Krakatoa wouldn’t stop wrecking humanity’s day. The eruption was so strong that it actually changed the climate and dropped temperatures all over the world.

4. Shaanxi earthquake

In 1556, the Shaanxi province of China had the extreme misfortune of hosting what is thought to be the deadliest earthquake in recorded history. The quake was around 8 on the Richter scale, meaning it was a “great” earthquake that is totally capable of leveling communities near the epicenter. The Shaanxi quake wasn’t content with just communities, either; Chinese annals report that it lasted mere seconds, but was so incredibly strong that it destroyed buildings, remodeled rivers, caused floods, ignited massive fires and even “leveled mountains.”

As you can probably expect, such a massive disaster was bad news for any and all humans who happened on its way. The Shaanxi earthquake had an estimated 830,000 casualties, and it actually cut the population of the area by a ridiculous 60 percent. Oddly, it also managed to affect the architectural trends of the area: Because many people had been killed by falling stone buildings, the rebuilding process saw the adaptation of wood, bamboo and other more earthquake-resistant materials.

3. Yellow River floods of China

Between 1887 and 1938, China’s famed Huang He (Yellow River) went through the top three most destructive floods in recorded history. The 3,395-mile river is extremely silted, which makes especially the North China Plain’s flatlands to be in constant risk of flooding: Since the 2nd century BCE, it has flooded an estimated 1,500 times, and no one can even begin to calculate the death and destruction these floods have brought in total.

We do, however, know unpleasantly well the havoc these three ultra-destructive floods brought on the ill-prepared China. In the flood that happened over September and October of 1887 (and the famine and diseases it brought to the survivors) the death toll is estimated somewhere between 900,000 and two million people. An even more destructive one in August 1931 covered 34,000 square miles of land in water, and “partially” flooded a further 8,000. Up to 4 million people were killed by the flood and its aftermath, and a devastating 80 million people were left homeless. This particular flood is often considered the most deadly natural disaster in recorded history.

The last of the three mega-floods came in June 1938, and it was actually completely man-made. Thanks to the military’s destruction of dikes near Kaifeng in an effort to stop the approaching Japanese forces in the Sino-Japanese war, up to 900,000 people died.

2. The great European famine

If even honest men can do terrible things when they’re desperate, and the best way to make a person desperate is to make them terribly hungry, imagine what would happen if you’d make a whole continent starve. Actually, you don’t need to, because that exact thing happened in 14th century Europe.

The Great European Famine happened when bad weather conditions caused crops to fail all over Europe from 1315 to the summer harvest of 1317. The results were nothing short of cataclysmic. The few years of hunger single-handedly stopped a centuries-long time of wealth and growth, and plunged the continent into a pandemonium of disease, death, crime, and even the indescribable horrors of infanticide and cannibalism. Millions of people died, and it took until 1922 for Europe to recover from the terror. In fact, the effects of the disaster can still be felt today: Reportedly, certain parts of France are still more sparsely populated than they were just before the Great Famine hit.

1. Plague of Justitian

Disclaimer: this one has a death toll that goes right through the roof, though technically it’s not a natural disaster in the “earth rises to devour us all” sense, but rather an outbreak of disease. A massive, massive outbreak of disease.

Imagine being an all-powerful emperor trying to cement your legacy, only to find that the main thing history books remember about you is that a bunch of rodents managed to kill countless thousands of people during your reign … and then giving the ensuing epidemic. Such was the fate of Byzantine’s emperor Justitian I, who became the namesake of the Plague of Justitian (or Justitian’s plague, because why bother giving it just one version of the guy’s name?) just because he happened to be in charge when it struck.

Justitian’s plague, which was basically a nasty cellar band version of the Black Plague before it went mainstream, had formed in China and/or India, and its tours eventually took it to Egypt and assorted trade routes. it got its big break in the year 542, when the rodents bearing the disease finally reached the mighty city of Constantinople. Reports indicate that the city was struck with pretty much all forms of plague at once: Apart from the Black Death classic bubonic plague, pneumonic and septicemic types were also present. As such, citizens started keeling over by the thousand. Tens of thousands of people died in an extremely short span of time, and matters weren’t helped by the fact that authorities were unable to dispose of the masses of dead, diseased bodies in a timely manner.

After the plague was done with Justitian’s Constantinople, it turned its attention to the Mediterranian and later Persia. Its active career lasted for an estimated half a century, though some indicate that the plague continued its Mediterranean tour for a good 225 years. Ultimately, it’s estimated that the Plague of Justitian killed up to 40% of Constantinople’s residents, and the entire Byzantine empire lost somewhere between 25 and 50 million people. Nice legacy, Justitian.


Fire, Floods, Famine, Lava and Shakers

WIF Bad Things Go Happen

Comings and Goings

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Comings and Goings

It’s our turn fellow Midwesteners. 

“Have you ever wondered why mid-America is generally spared the worst of what Mother Nature has to give out?” Gwenny’s college major was meteorology, despite ditching the field for Science Fiction.

Sure we get snow and cold, in a string of months appropriately named winter. We grudgingly anticipate it, readying our shovels, blowers, salt, and mittens. If you take away the occasional crippling blizzard, we can deal with the rest of it.

  • Floods are rare

  • Tornadoes are hit a miss

  • Heat waves……get used to them

Earthquakes,….pashaw?, Hurricanes….hardly?, Sandstorms….what desert?, Typhoons…try & burst our balloon.

“So as go to Grandma’s or to that holiday party and family/friends come by to share the promise of a new year, please drive carefully, drink & eat in moderation, and be thankful for our underrated climate.”

Gwenny Hoff for Sixty Minutes Lite.