Natural disasters have claimed countless human lives throughout history, with their unexpected waves of destruction. But there's still something uniquely terrifying and heart-breaking about an industrial disaster, when our best precautions fail and our achievements turn deadly. Here are the worst industrial catastrophes ever.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Fukushima, Japan, March 11, 2011

The largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdown and releases of radioactive materials shortly after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.


Nobody died, but there were 37 people with physical injuries, and two workers taken to hospital with radiation burns.

Two years after the disaster:

(via Agrocosmopolitan and Joseph Shepherd)

The Pemberton Mill Collapse, Lawrence, Massachusetts, January 10, 1860

The five story building was only seven years old when it buckled and then collapsed without warning.

145 workers were killed and 166 injured.

(via Merrimack Valley Magazine)

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, New York, March 25, 1911

The deadliest industrial disaster of New York caused the deaths of 146 garment workers and injuries of 71 people. The factory was on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the 10-story Asch Building, and produced women's blouses.

(via Wikimedia Commons)

Oppau Explosion, Oppau, ( now Ludwigshafen), Germany, September 21, 1921

A tower silo storing 4,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and ammonium sulfate exploded at a BASF plant. The explosion was estimated to be about 1-2 kilotonnes TNT equivalent, and the pressure wave ripped roofs off and destroyed windows up to 18 miles (30 km) away.

About 80 percent of all buildings in Oppau were destroyed, killing 500-600 people, injuring 2000 and leaving 6,500 homeless.

(via strategie-zone, Wikimedia Commons and Bartko Reher Antiques 1 - 2 - 3)

Minamata disease, Minamata Bay, Japan, 1932-1968

Local residents had been suffering from variety of symptoms including ataxia, general muscle weakness, numbness in the hands and feet, narrowing of the field of vision, damage to speech and hearing, paralysis, insanity and coma. A congenital form of the disease also affected fetuses in the womb. And this horrible illness turned out to be caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from a nearby chemical factory over a period of 36 years.

The toxic chemicals made contact with fish, dogs, pigs, and in turn poisoned the local inhabitants. As of March 2001, 1784 people had died and 500 more victims had been officially recognised.

(via Charles Schwartz Photography)

Bhopal gas tragedy, Bhopal, India, 2-3 December 1984

On the night of 2-3 December 1984, over half a million people were exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other dangerous chemicals. The government of Madya Pradesh region confirmed 558,125 injuries and a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.

(via AP Photo/Peter Kemp)

Reactor meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Chernobyl, Ukraine, April 26, 1986

31 deaths are directly attributed to the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers, but the UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) found that, as of 2005, some 6,000 thyroid cancers and 15 thyroid cancer deaths are attributable to the accident.

(via Union of Concerned Scientists, Met Office News and AP Photo/ Volodymyr Repik)

The Philips Disaster, Pasadena, Texas, October 23, 1989

This chemical complex experienced a chemical release from its polyethylene plant. A flammable vapour cloud formed, which started a massive vapor cloud explosion with the force of 2.4 tons of TNT. Ten to fifteen minutes later, that was followed by the explosion of the 20,000-US-gallon (76,000 liter) isobutane store tank, and other smaller explosions. The conflagrataion took ten hours to bring under control. Twenty three people were killed, and 314 injured.

(via Wikimedia Commons)

The Savar building collapse, Savar Upazila, Dhaka District, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013

An eight-story commercial building, the Rana Plaza collapsed three weeks ago. The building contained a bank, some shops and apartments that were closed and evacuated after cracks were discovered on the walls — but the clothing factories that were on the higher floors weren't. At least 2,500 people were rescued, but at least 1,127 more were dead. (according to AP, as of 13 May 2013)

(via Wikimedia Commons)