When It Hits the Fan/Specific Calamities/Historical events

Events sorted chronologically


This section of the book lists disastrous events until the last century. We have intentionally not listed more recent events because they may be still under active dispute, badly attributed, too painful and in general still open to distinct interpretation and requiring further analysis.

20th century

  • 1985 Nevado del Ruiz Lahar disaster - The 'Volcán del Ruiz', had been for more than a century a dormant giant, which travelers in the Bogotá-Cali flights had the pleasure to observe, covered with a large snow cap.
At 5,389 m (17,780 ft), Nevado del Ruiz is the highest of the Colombian volcanoes in the Central Range of the Colombian Andes.
Although this volcano had caused lahars in 1595 and 1845, causing hundreds of deaths, the rich valley of Armero under the peak was excellent agricultural land. The town of Armero grew for more than a century, without anyone remembering the old disasters.
Late in 1984, geologists began to notice small earthquakes and steam eruptions in the volcano. Although a network of monitoring devices was set up on the summit of the volcano, nothing would predict the terrible events that followed a year later.
In November 1985 the smoke from the summit of Nevado del Ruiz, was plainly visible, but both authorities and scientists alike didn't believe these were the preliminaries of a plynian pyroclastic eruption.
Despite the warnings, local authorities in Armero and state officials keep saying no eruption would follow, although a risk map was in place.
On the night of November 13, 1985, at around 3:00 pm there was an explosion and ashes fell over the region, but even then local authorities and priests in Armero asked the people to remain calm in their houses. However at 9:30 pm the volcano, covered with storm clouds, erupted with rock ejection and pyroclastic discharges which melted the snow cap. Melted water and pyroclastic ashes and rocks mixed and produced a series of lahars, mud and rock slides along the rivers.
Just half an hour short of midnight on November 13, 1985, a massive lahar caused by the eruption of the volcano ran down the Lagunillas river, in central Colombia, and jumped in a 200-high wave of rocks, mud and debris over the town of Armero, 28,000 inhabitants. In the next 10 minutes close to 80% of Armero was destroyed. The toll of both the lahar that hit Armero and other lahars was estimated at 21,000 deaths.
  • 1932 - Ukraine - Black Famine - A Man-Made Famine raged through Ukraine, the ethnic-Ukrainian region of northern Caucasus, and the lower Volga River region in 1932-33. Between 7 and 10 million people, mainly Ukrainians, starved to death.
Planned by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the main goal of this artificial famine was to break the spirit of the Ukrainian peasant farmer and to force them into collectivization. In 1932, the Soviets increased the grain procurement quota for Ukraine by 44%. Soviet law was quite clear - no grain could be given to feed the peasants until the quota was met, aware that this extraordinary high quota would result in a grain shortage leaving Ukrainian peasant unable to feed themselves.
When some peasants attempted to hide grain from the Soviet Government, Communist party officials with the aid of military troops and NKVD secret police units moved into the area. To insure Ukrainian peasants could not travel in search of food, an internal passport system was implemented to restrict movements.
While Ukrainians were starving, Ukrainian grain was collected and stored in grain elevators that were guarded by military units & NKVD secret police units.
  • 1913 - Great Lakes, USA & Canada - Great Lakes storm
  • 1912 - Atlantic Ocean - Sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic a Olympic-class passenger liner owned by the White Star Line and built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. On the night of 14 April 1912, during her maiden voyage, Titanic struck an iceberg at a spot around four hundred miles south of Newfoundland, and sank two hours and forty minutes later in early 15 April 1912. There was no long gash in the ship as expected from the iceberg collision but many tiny gashes that led to the flood of the water. Her fireman compared the sound of the impact to "the tearing of calico, nothing more." However, the collision was fatal and the icy water soon poured through the ship. It became obvious that many would not find safety in a lifeboat. Each passenger was issued a life jacket but life expectancy would be short when exposed to water four degrees below freezing. The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 people, ranking it as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the most infamous. The Titanic used some of the most advanced technology available. It was one of the most luxurious and largest steamships at the time and was popularly believed to be “unsinkable” - indeed, in a 1910 White Star Line brochure advertising the Titanic, claiming that it was "designed to be unsinkable". It was a great shock to many that despite the advanced technology and experienced crew, the Titanic still sank with a great loss of life. The media frenzy about Titanic's famous victims, the legends about what happened on board the ship, the resulting changes to maritime law, and the discovery of the wreck in 1985 by an American and French team, led by Robert Ballard have made Titanic persistently famous in the years since.
Firefighters working to extinguish the General Slocum

19th century


18th century

This 1755 copper engraving shows the ruins of Lisbon in flames and a tsunami overwhelming the ships in the harbor.
  • 1755 Lisbon, Portugal earthquake - Took place on November 1, 1755, at 9:20 in the morning. It was one of the most destructive and deadly earthquakes in history, killing well over 70,000 people. The quake was followed by a tsunami and fire, resulting in the near total destruction of Lisbon.
The earthquake accentuated political tensions in Portugal and profoundly disrupted the country's 18th century colonial ambitions. The event was widely discussed by European Enlightenment philosophers, and inspired major developments in theodicy and in the philosophy of the sublime. The first to be studied scientifically for its effects over a large area, the quake signaled the birth of modern seismology. Geologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake approached magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 km west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent.
The geological causes of this earthquake and the seismic activity in the region continue to be discussed and debated by contemporary scientists. Some geologists have suggested that the earthquake may indicate the early development of an Atlantic subduction zone, and the beginning of the closure of the Atlantic ocean.

17th century


16th century


15th century


When the fifteenth century began, the tumultuous times that had caused such destruction and calamity in the previous centuries had not ended. Disasters, as with human evolution, marched on-wards throughout each decade of the new century. Beginning with the first European pandemic of the 15th Century, due to the previous centuries international exploration of foreign lands, and subsequent trade with the indigenous people - in 1506, London was rife with the various fruits and goods acquired from new far-flung lands. One of the cheapest, and therefore, most attainable tastes from these warmer climates came from the influx of Peanuts from South America - the original trade route brought peanuts from Brazil, Chile, Hondolloma (later Peru) all through the Western sea-based silk road, from the South of America, across the Atlantic to South Africa, through the Northernmost tip of Caracas, via tribes and groups of both willing and un-willing natives.

14th century

  • Bubonic Plague The black death occurred in almost all of Europe, killing one third of the population. It was caused by a disease carried by fleas (and spread by rats) and transmitted to humans

1st Century

  • 79 Destruction of Pompeii & Herculaneum by eruption of Mount Vesuvius