The man-made disasters quiz: Modern horror stories

By: Olivia Cantor
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Let's face it, many of us are curious about disasters, since we want to know how the heck they happen. And maybe we want to know if disasters in our neighborhood can be avoided. Take this quiz to find out more about famous man-made disasters.

In 1952, London suffered for five days when what man-made disaster killed about 12,000 people?

The killer fog of London in 1952 happened when air pollution was trapped by freak weather conditions. Thick with sulfur particles, the fog snuffed the lives of children, the weak and the elderly.

Al-Mishraq, in Iraq, had a horrible fire in one of their mines because of what material?

Al-Mishraq had a sulfur mine, and the fire in 2003 released large amounts of poisonous sulfur gas into the air. The really bad part? Investigation suggests that the fire was man-made.

Ukraine in Russia was where one of the big man-made disasters of the Cold War happened. What infamous event was a global wake-up call for safety guidelines?

When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had a sudden power surge in 1986, it ended up releasing large radioactive clouds into the air. People are still affected - or dying - from the exposure.

If you were a fisherman in the Aral Sea in Central Asia, what would be your problem?

The Aral Sea has shrunk dramatically, with most of the sea now turned to dry land. This happened because the rivers leading to it were diverted for agricultural use.

We’ve heard of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, but what is the Exxon Valdez?

The Exxon Valdez was a gigantic oil tanker ship. It struck a reef at Alaska's Prince William Sound and spilled 11 million gallons of oil. It affected 1,000 miles of coastline and killed many animals.

What was the Love Canal near Niagara Falls originally for, before disaster struck?

The Love Canal was a shipping lane and hydroelectric power source. When the Hooker Chemical Company used it for hazardous waste disposal and sold it back to developers after, the toxic effects on residents became a man-made disaster.

Where did a Union Carbide plant have a dangerous chemical leak that killed about 25,000 people?

When the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked pesticides and various poisonous gasses on December 2, 1984, it caught the city with many of its inhabitants asleep, causing many deaths. Later on, children were born with birth defects, because their parents had been exposed to the toxic gasses.

We’ve all heard of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, but do you know in which U.S. state Three Mile Island is located?

The meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, taught us that human error had to be minimized. There were reports of health issues among people and wildlife in the area afterward.

In 1919, a freak disaster struck when a flood of what liquid was unleashed in Boston, Massachusetts?

It’s no surprise that the molasses tank burst: it had been painted brown because there were leaks all over. Warm molasses had been added to the tank days before, and it made the stuff act more watery. Once it hit the winter cold, it quickly became sticky.

In 1954, the Castle Bravo nuclear test took place where?

The thermonuclear device tested at Bikini Atoll made the whole place uninhabitable. The radiation levels are still high enough in 2017 for possible long-term damage across generations of people, plants, and animals, and the people live in exile.

The 1966 Palomares incident was about plutonium contamination, but what vehicle was the main cause of it?

The Palomares incident scattered plutonium all over the southern coast of Spain. A B-52 bomber with nuclear bombs was trying to refuel with an air tanker and failed - the rest is disaster history.

What triggered the Sidoarjo Mudflow in Surabaya, Indonesia?

The Sidoarjo Mudflow was caused by a triggered mud volcano. The cause of the trigger was the drilling of a natural gas well.

Some disasters aren't an instant thing. What happened in Libby, Montana, is an example of what?

The asbestos contamination in Libby has triggered a lung cancer rate 40 to 60 times the national average. At least 200 out of a population of 2,600 have died, and more are getting sick.

In April of 2010, the Macondo oil and gas prospect area suffered a horrible oil spill. What was the name of the oil rig involved?

The Deepwater Horizon was a mobile offshore drilling unit that already had many safety issues. The oil spill affected 1,100 miles of coastline, and animal species in the gulf are still suffering.

In Japan's Minamata Bay, mercury dumped by a factory found its way into people's lives through what?

Mercury built up in living things within Minamata Bay. People who ate seafood from the bay became seriously poisoned. Thousands were affected for life and children were born with birth defects.

Which aircraft had numerous disasters in the '70s, topped by the American Airlines Flight 191 crash?

The Flight 191 accident is still one of the deadliest plane disasters ever, with all 271 people onboard dead. Bad maintenance was reported as the cause of structural failure.

What sort of garbage ends up in Guiyu, China, making the place a continuing man-made disaster?

Guiyu, China, is where electronics thrown in the garbage end up. The health and environmental hazards of separating recyclable materials from electronics make the dioxin level among the highest in the world.

What place in Pennsylvania has been literally smoking since 1962?

The coal seams and strip mines around Centralia have been burning ever since a landfill there was set afire on purpose. The flames found their way into the coal mines, and you can guess what happened next.

What man-made disaster followed an earthquake and a tsunami in 2011?

The Fukushima meltdown wasn't directly caused by the earthquake. The tsunami flooding disabled backup generators and started the disaster chain.

Which environmental disaster, not usually thought of as man-made, affected the central U.S. in the 1930s?

The Dust Bowl drought in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico brought with it dust storms, damaging agricultural production and systems in the affected places. This happened because of unwise farming practices in the years before.

The Picher man-made disaster, which many people don't know about, resulted from waste products created while mining what?

Picher had the problem of many mining towns: lax safety regulations and a can-do attitude. Lead poisoning was one early clue, with children having mental and physical development issues.

The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City suffered what engineering disaster in 1978?

The elevated walkway went through many design changes, ending with one that doubled the weight on small but important parts. People were dancing and standing on it when it collapsed onto the main party event in the lobby. More than a hundred people died.

The Peshtigo Fire of 1871 was supposedly started by what activity in Wisconsin?

Supposedly, the fire that razed Peshtigo was due to brush fires that were intentionally lit, so land could be cleared for railroad and industrial development. In the end, 1.2 million acres were scorched down to the soil.

An American bridge collapsed in 2007 in what city?

The I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed due to defective metal parts. About 111 vehicles dropped into the river. Thankfully, the number of dead and injured were relatively low.

What accident closed the door on what could have been a lifestyle and cultural milestone?

The Hindenburg was the PR darling of lighter-than-air vehicle travel, like what you see in science-fiction movies and TV shows. All it took was one spark to ignite leaking hydrogen, causing an unstoppable fire.

What was the parent company that owned the Titanic?

White Star Line’s Titanic disaster was arguably man-made, thanks to human errors, but most icebergs have their main body underwater. The ice body under the water can still damage ships a long distance from the "shore."

The Halifax accident of 1917 was caused by what kind of cargo on the ship Mont Blanc?

Due to ships being in the wrong lane, the ship Imo hit the Mont Blanc and some of the cargo was set on fire due to sparks. The Mont Blanc exploded shortly after that, killing 1,800 people and injuring 9,000 more.

This man-made disaster in Mexico is one reason why industrial complexes should have many safeties in place. Where did it happen?

The San Juanico storage center held a large amount of liquid petroleum gas. All it took was a leak, the wrong wind direction and a flare pit. The vapor ignited and multiple explosions rocked the countryside, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.

Which fire was so big that a major city had to be rebuilt?

While the cow in the O'Leary barn probably didn't kick a lantern, as the song suggests, the fire did start in that barn in 1871. In the end, 2,000 acres of Chicago were destroyed.

Which man-made New York City disaster marks a turning-point in American history and foreign relations?

More than 2,000 people died in the Twin Tower attacks in New York. The military conflicts and security guidelines that followed the 2001 incident are still being felt on many levels by the whole world today.

The Philippines had their own Titanic-like disaster, with the sinking of what ship?

When the passenger ferry MV Doña Paz hit an oil tanker in 1987, more than 4,000 people died - double of those lost when the Titanic sank. This was due to severe overcrowding.

This air crash in 2000 was the only fatal accident in the history of which type of plane?

The Concorde air crash of 2000 effectively shut down supersonic passenger flight. This man-made disaster left none of the crew or passengers alive.

In 1928, Southern California became the scene of a man-made disaster, thanks to what?

About 12.4 billion gallons of water gushed out when the St. Francis Dam broke, and nearly 500 people lost their lives. Bad construction was blamed for the disaster.

In 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington collapsed for what reason?

The winds in the Tacoma Narrows managed to make the structure vibrate to the point that it shook itself to pieces. It didn't help that it had fairly light construction, and couldn’t handle large up-and-down movements.

During the East Ohio gas explosion of 1944, what particular urban disaster effect happened?

After seeing how the explosion destroyed a large area by going through the sewers, the gas company rebuilt their storage underground, so that liquefied gas would not do that again. Such a big lesson here for Cleveland - and everyone else.

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