The sudden, often violent, extinguishing of human life or our works by accident, malice or the capricious forces of nature is not only tragic but is in some way incomprehensible to victims and survivors alike. The havoc that can be wrought on our social fabric and our carefully constructed mechanical systems is a cause for much emotion, too, as we contemplate the speed and violence with which these things can be suddenly and completely shredded by uncaring nature, human stupidity or hostility.
Yet within every disaster is a seed of knowledge, about how to prevent it from happening again and accompanied by the desire to do so. We strive and learn, examine causes and results, improve our designs, take better care of our dangerous substances, prepare ways to resist nature or warn of natural dangers.
Some of these disasters, and some of the recipes for guarding against them, you can see in these images collected from the archives of Scientific American.