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Disaster and Safety: Images from the Archives of Scientific American [Slide Show]

The reports on these disasters also have the ultimate goal of preventing their recurrence
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Disaster as Comedy:

In 1882 a party of English tourists went out for a shooting expedition “on the plains” of the U.S. When a breeze sprang up they found themselves in the path of several giant tumbleweeds (species Cycloloma Platyphyllum ).....[ More ]

Rivers Repaired:

The Mississippi River required and still requires a lot of maintenance to keep it open for river traffic. Here a boat removes a “snag,” a giant dead tree from the water. Large trees such as this one are dangerous to passing boats.....[ More ]

Train Tracks Collapse:

The same storm system that flooded Dayton, Ohio, caused the Mohawk River in New York to flood, washing away the supports to this train track. The speeding train plunged into the river, “the passengers were rescued with difficulty.”....[ More ]

River Floods:

Heavy continuous rain in late March, 1913, caused the river systems around Dayton, Ohio, to overtop their banks and flood the city. Water reached up to 20 feet in the downtown area. In this image several people try to launch a large boat in the hope of reaching people trapped by the rising waters.....[ More ]

Storms Wreak Havoc:

Severe weather across the United States on March 20-23, 1913, gave rise to several tornadoes and violent wind storms across  the Midwestern U.S. The caption for this photo says  “Automobiles were blown down from a viaduct.”....[ More ]

Safety Sells:

An advertisement from 1915 gives a nice roundup of devices invented to battle disaster. Steam gauge, life boat, “safety” match, razor, elevator and pistol. And of course anti-skid tire chains, which in 2013 are mostly not allowed on private vehicles even in the depths of winter as they tear up road surfaces too much.....[ More ]

Bridge Collapses:

During a violent storm on 28 December, 1879, the bridge across the Tay River, Scotland, collapsed while a train was crossing, killing up to 75 people. Our image shows a common result of disasters: crowds of gawkers, gawpers, “rubberneckers” and “looky-loos”—people staring at the scene of the disaster for whatever reason.....[ More ]

Ship Explodes (Mysteriously):

The battleship U.S.S. Maine, anchored in the shallow harbor of Havana, Cuba, was sunk by an explosion on February 15, 1898. 261 sailors died. Our image shows a man standing in the parts of the wreck that were still above water.....[ More ]

Balloon Bursts:

The dangers of the new science of flight. On its first test at Berkeley, Calif., the giant airship built by John A. Morrell fell apart and plummeted to the ground. The 16 passengers were severely injured but nobody died.....[ More ]

Chemicals Explode:

The steamship Cabo Machichaco was in port in Santander, in northern Spain, when a fire broke out on November 3, 1893. The ship’s cargo included 50 tons of dynamite. The explosives went off, obliterating several ships and dockside buildings and killing 500 people, many of whom had gathered to gawp at the fire.....[ More ]

Ship Runs Aground:

The Chiyo Maru provided fast ocean transport for over 1,000 passengers between San Francisco and ports of call in China and Japan. In March 1916, in dense fog, the ship ran aground near Hong Kong. All the passengers got off the ship and nobody died, but the ship was broken in half by the tides and waves.....[ More ]

Tidal Waves Strike:

An earthquake near the northern Japanese provinces of Iwate, Miagi and Aomari sent a giant tidal wave (now called a tsunami) sweeping ashore. The astonishingly destructive force of this rushing water snuffed out 35,000 lives.....[ More ]

Dam Bursts:

Our image shows what is left of the South Fork Dam, Pennsylvania. The dam crumbled on May 31, 1889, and a wall of water killed 2,209 people in Johnstown, Penn. Rain had swollen the lake and the owners of the dam, the exclusive South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club, had been little concerned with paying to keep the dam in good repair.....[ More ]

Thunderbolt Hits:

We have a better understanding of the physics of lightning, but these electrical discharges are still highly dangerous. In May 1892 a company of artillerymen near Bourges, France, were trying to get to shelter during a rainstorm.....[ More ]

Ground Collapses:

Some of the swampy ground around the coal-mining town of Brüx, Bohemia (now called Most, in the Czech Republic), turned to quicksand after a heavy rainstorm on July 19, 1895. Several houses were swallowed up whole, others such as the one in our photograph were wrecked, and 2,000 people were left homeless.....[ More ]

Boilers Explode:

As far as the inquest could figure out, two old, repurposed boilers at the Keystone Rolling Mills in Pittsburgh, Penn., were being used to generate steam at a pressure that was too high. The physics was solid but the boilers were not: they exploded, killing two workmen and smashing their way out of the building.....[ More ]

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