2. Mont Blanc (1917)
Date: December 6, 1917
How many deaths: 2,000 (plus an addition 6,000 injuries)
What happened: What comes to mind when you think of Canada? If you answered, “A land of giant explosions” I would accuse you of wildly exaggerating things…except on one particular day in Nova Scotia’s Halifax Harbor, when a collision between two ships created the largest man-made blast in history (until the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan). It went down like this: as WWI was taking place, a French ship known as the Mont Blanc was heading to Europe filled to the brim with explosives. Unfortunately, it collided with the Imo, a ship on its way to New York to load up on relief supplies to deliver to Belgium. The Mont Blanc caught on fire and a crowd of curious onlookers gathered to watch because, let’s be honest, Netflix was still around 90 years from being invented. Too bad, because about 20 minutes after the collision the fire ignited the nearly 3,000 tons of explosives, instantly vaporizing people, taking out buildings, and setting entire city blocks on fire. More than 9,000 would be left homeless. The blast even triggered a tsunami!
3. The Sultana (1865)
Date: April 27, 1865
How many deaths: 1,700
What happened: sheer stupidity (and, admittedly, some understandable desperation). The American Civil War had just wrapped up and Union soldiers were being released from brutal Confederate POW camps. Weak and malnourished, they really wanted to get back home. The federal government would pay steamboat companies $5 per enlisted soldier and $10 per officer to transport them. Looking to make a ton of extra money, steamboat operators began accepting bribes and ignoring capacity limits. You can see where this is heading, right? The legal maximum capacity of the Sultana was 400, but more than 2,400 people were allowed on board. In the early morning of April 27th as the Sultana was making its way up the Mississippi River, three of the ship’s four boilers blew up, engulfing the boat in flames. Many of the passengers burned to death while the force of the blast sent others plunging into the roaring waters. Additional people jumped into the river to escape from the fire only to drown.