Triangle Shirtwaist fire kills 146 in New York City


Year
1911
Month Day
March 25

In one of the darkest moments of America’s industrial history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City burns down, killing 146 workers, on this day in 1911. The tragedy led to the development of a series of laws and regulations that better protected the safety of factory workers.

The Triangle factory, owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, was located in the top three floors of the 10-story Asch Building in downtown Manhattan. It was a sweatshop in every sense of the word: a cramped space lined with work stations and packed with poor immigrant workers, mostly teenaged women who did not speak English. At the time of the fire, there were four elevators with access to the factory floors, but only one was fully operational and it could hold only 12 people at a time. There were two stairways down to the street, but one was locked from the outside to prevent theft by the workers and the other opened inward only. The fire escape, as all would come to see, was shoddily constructed, and could not support the weight of more than a few women at a time.

Blanck and Harris already had a suspicious history of factory fires. The Triangle factory was twice scorched in 1902, while their Diamond Waist Company factory burned twice, in 1907 and in 1910. It seems that Blanck and Harris deliberately torched their workplaces before business hours in order to collect on the large fire-insurance policies they purchased, a not uncommon practice in the early 20th century. While this was not the cause of the 1911 fire, it contributed to the tragedy, as Blanck and Harris refused to install sprinkler systems and take other safety measures in case they needed to burn down their shops again.

READ MORE: How the Horrific Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Led to Workplace Safety Laws

Added to this delinquency were Blanck and Harris’ notorious anti-worker policies. Their employees were paid a mere $15 a week, despite working 12 hours a day, every day. When the International Ladies Garment Workers Union led a strike in 1909 demanding higher pay and shorter and more predictable hours, Blanck and Harris’ company was one of the few manufacturers who resisted, hiring police as thugs to imprison the striking women, and paying off politicians to look the other way.

On March 25, a Saturday afternoon, there were 600 workers at the factory when a fire broke out in a rag bin on the eighth floor. The manager turned the fire hose on it, but the hose was rotted and its valve was rusted shut. Panic ensued as the workers fled to every exit. The elevator broke down after only four trips, and women began jumping down the shaft to their deaths. Those who fled down the wrong set of stairs were trapped inside and burned alive. Other women trapped on the eighth floor began jumping out the windows, which created a problem for the firefighters whose hoses were crushed by falling bodies. Also, the firefighters’ ladders stretched only as high as the seventh floor, and their safety nets were not strong enough to catch the women, who were jumping three at a time.

Blanck and Harris were on the building’s top floor with some workers when the fire broke out. They were able to escape by climbing onto the roof and hopping to an adjoining building.

The fire was out within half an hour, but not before over 140 deaths. The workers’ union organized a march on April 5 to protest the conditions that led to the fire; it was attended by 80,000 people.

Though Blanck and Harris were put on trial for manslaughter, they managed to get off scot-free. Still, the massacre for which they were responsible did finally compel the city to enact reform. In addition to the Sullivan-Hoey Fire Prevention Law passed that October, the New York Democratic set took up the cause of the worker and became known as a reform party.

READ MORE: The Labor Movement: A Timeline

Source

Magnitude 7.8 earthquake kills thousands in Nepal

Year
2015
Month Day
April 25

On April 25, 2015 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake tears through Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 and injuring 16,800. It was the worst such earthquake for the Asian country since 1934.

The earthquake struck shortly before noon, but the devastation continued as several dozen aftershocks caused even more destruction. Overall, Nepal was shaken by hundreds of aftershocks, the largest striking at a 7.3 magnitude on May 12. The quake also induced an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 19 people.

By the time the tremors stopped, more than 800,000 homes were destroyed and more than 298,000 were damaged. The quake also damaged several iconic monuments, like the capital’s Durbar Square. In all, 2.8 million people were displaced, made homeless by the devastation—or by their fear of more tremors. Of these, countless numbers moved into “tent cities,” too afraid to return to their homes. The United Nations estimated 8 million people in total—nearly a third of Nepal’s population—were affected by the quake and its aftershocks.

The Nepalese government declared a state of emergency right after the initial shocks hit, and virtually the entire army took to the streets in a search-and-rescue operation. Dozens of countries, and the United Nations, pitched in with aid and fundraising.

Unfortunately, repair efforts met with many obstacles along the way. Congestion, along with lack of transportation such as trucks and helicopters, made reaching remote villages very challenging. Political squabbles and a lack of supplies slowed rebuilding efforts as well. 

Source

Mudslide in Washington state kills more than 40 people


Year
2014
Month Day
March 22

On March 22, 2014, 43 people die when a portion of a hill suddenly collapses and buries a neighborhood in the small community of Oso, Washington, some 55 miles northeast of Seattle. It was one of the deadliest mudslides in U.S. history.

The collapse occurred shortly after 10:30 a.m., when, following weeks of rain, a massive, fast-moving wall of mud and debris crashed down the hillside, destroying 49 homes and killing entire families. One recovery worker said the force of the mudslide caused cars to be “compacted down to about the size of a refrigerator, just smashed to the point where you can hardly tell it was a vehicle,” according to a Reuters report. The debris field from the slide covered a square mile and was estimated to be 80 feet deep in some places. In July 2014, search and rescue workers discovered what was believed to be the last body of the 43 victims killed in the disaster.

Investigators indicated heavy rainfall in the weeks prior to March 22 helped trigger the slide, although they did not blame the disaster on one specific factor. The Oso area has long been prone to mudslides, some dating back thousands of years. Prior to the 2014 incident, a significant slide took place at the same site in 2006, although efforts later were made to reinforce the area.

Mudslides, also known as mudflows, are a common type of landslide. Each year in the United States, more than 25 people on average die due to landslides, while thousands more are killed elsewhere around the world. In 1969, Hurricane Camille created flash floods and mudslides that killed an estimated 150 people in Nelson Country, Virginia. In 1985, a landslide set off by heavy rains in Puerto Rico killed some 130 people. In 2013, some 5,700 people in northern India perished as a result of landslides and flash floods caused by monsoon rains.

Source

Massive oil spill begins in Gulf of Mexico

Year
2010
Month Day
April 20

April 20, 2010: An explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, kills 11 people and triggers the largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been in the final phases of drilling an exploratory well for BP, the British oil giant. By the time the well was capped three months later, an estimated 4.9 million barrels (or around 206 million gallons) of crude oil had poured into the Gulf.

The disaster began when a surge of natural gas from the well shot up a riser pipe to the rig’s platform, where it set off a series of explosions and a massive blaze. Of the 126 people on board the nearly 400-foot-long Deepwater Horizon, 11 workers perished and 17 others were seriously injured. The fire burned for more than a day before the Deepwater Horizon, constructed for $350 million in 2001, sank on April 22 in some 5,000 feet of water.

Before evacuating the Deepwater Horizon, crew members tried unsuccessfully to activate a safety device called a blowout preventer, which was designed to shut off the flow of oil from the well in an emergency. Over the next three months, a variety of techniques were tried in an effort to plug the hemorrhaging well, which was spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf each day. Finally, on July 15, BP announced the well had been temporarily capped, and on September 19, after cement was injected into the well to permanently seal it, the federal government declared the well dead. By that point, however, oil from the spill had reached coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where it would inflict a heavy toll on the region’s economy, particularly the fishing and tourism industries, and wildlife. Scientists say the full extent of the environmental damage could take decades to assess.

In January 2011, a national investigative commission released a report concluding the Deepwater Horizon disaster was “foreseeable and preventable” and the result of “human error, engineering mistakes and management failures,” along with ineffective government regulation. In November 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges brought against it by the U.S. Justice Department, and pay $4.5 billion in fines. Additionally, the Justice Department charged two BP managers who supervised testing on the well with manslaughter, and another company executive with making false statements about the size of the spill. In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines. 

PLUS: Listen to Obama on the BP Oil Spill 

Source

Massive earthquake strikes Haiti


Year
2010
Month Day
January 12

On January 12, 2010, Haiti is devastated by a massive earthquake. It drew an outpouring of support from around the globe but the small nation has yet to fully recover.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, due largely to its history of colonization, occupation and exploitation by Spain, France and the United States. It also has a history of seismic activity—devastating earthquakes were recorded there in 1751, 1770, 1842 and 1946. The island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, lies mostly between two large tectonic plates, the North American and the Caribbean. The Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince practically straddles this fault-line. Despite this knowledge and warnings from seismologists that another earthquake was likely in the near future, the country’s poverty meant that infrastructure and emergency services were not prepared to handle the effects of a natural disaster.

The 2010 earthquake struck just before 4pm. The tremor was felt as far away as Cuba and Venezuela, but the epicenter of the 7.0-magnitude quake was just 16 miles away from Port-au-Prince. Eight aftershocks followed the same day, and at least 52 were recorded over the next two weeks. The effects were catastrophic. All of the capital’s hospitals, as well as three facilities run by Doctors Without Borders, sustained serious damage, as did Port-au-Prince’s airport and its seaport, which was rendered inoperable. Telecoms services were greatly affected, major roads were rendered impassible and close to 300,000 buildings, most of which were residences, were damaged beyond repair. The National Assembly building and Port-au-Prince Cathedral were also destroyed.

The human toll was horrific and remains incalculable. Some estimates put the number of deaths around 40-50,000, while the Haitian government estimated that over 316,000 died, but all authorities acknowledge that the death toll is impossible to truly count. Something approaching 1 million people were displaced.

News and images of the quake, including photos of the heavily-damaged National Palace, quickly activated a massive humanitarian response. The Dominican Republic and Dominican Red Cross responded immediately with emergency supplies and airlifts to Dominican hospitals. Nations from every continent contributed money, supplies, and manpower. Port-au-Prince’s airport operated around the clock but could not accommodate all the arrivals. Foreign air forces, including those of the United States and Great Britain, airlifted survivors to hospital ships off the coast, and some supplies were dropped to the island by parachute. The “Hope for Haiti” telethon on January 22nd broke records by raising $58 million in one day.

Though the humanitarian response was immediate and overwhelming, Haiti’s crippled infrastructure made the delivery of aid difficult. The situation was still classified as an emergency six months after the earthquake. A million people on the island lived in tents, and a cholera epidemic that began in October claimed over 3,300 more lives. Whether or not Haiti has yet recovered is a matter of debate, but the effects of the earthquake were palpable for the next decade. 

Source

Titanic sinks

Year
1912
Month Day
April 15

At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the British ocean liner Titanic sinks into the North Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. The massive ship, which carried 2,200 passengers and crew, had struck an iceberg two and half hours before.

READ MORE: The Titanic: Sinking & Facts

On April 10, the RMS Titanic, one of the largest and most luxurious ocean liners ever built, departed Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic was designed by the Irish shipbuilder William Pirrie and built in Belfast, and was thought to be the world’s fastest ship. It spanned 883 feet from stern to bow, and its hull was divided into 16 compartments that were presumed to be watertight. Because four of these compartments could be flooded without causing a critical loss of buoyancy, the Titanic was considered unsinkable. While leaving port, the ship came within a couple of feet of the steamer New York but passed safely by, causing a general sigh of relief from the passengers massed on the Titanic‘s decks. On its first journey across the highly competitive Atlantic ferry route, the ship carried some 2,200 passengers and crew.

READ MORE: The Titanic: Before and After Photos 

After stopping at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, to pick up some final passengers, the massive vessel set out at full speed for New York City. However, just before midnight on April 14, the RMS Titanic failed to divert its course from an iceberg and ruptured at least five of its hull compartments. These compartments filled with water and pulled down the bow of the ship. Because the Titanic‘s compartments were not capped at the top, water from the ruptured compartments filled each succeeding compartment, causing the bow to sink and the stern to be raised up to an almost vertical position above the water. Then the Titanic broke in half, and, at about 2:20 a.m. on April 15, stern and bow sank to the ocean floor.

Because of a shortage of lifeboats and the lack of satisfactory emergency procedures, more than 1,500 people went down in the sinking ship or froze to death in the icy North Atlantic waters. Most of the 700 or so survivors were women and children. A number of notable American and British citizens died in the tragedy, including the noted British journalist William Thomas Stead and heirs to the Straus, Astor, and Guggenheim fortunes.

READ MORE: Why Did the Titanic Sink? 

One hour and 20 minutes after Titanic went down, the Cunard liner Carpathia arrived. The survivors in the lifeboats were brought aboard, and a handful of others were pulled out of the water. It was later discovered that the Leyland liner Californian had been less than 20 miles away at the time of the accident but had failed to hear the Titanic‘s distress signals because its radio operator was off duty.

Announcement of details of the tragedy led to outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. In the disaster’s aftermath, the first International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea was held in 1913. Rules were adopted requiring that every ship have lifeboat space for each person on board, and that lifeboat drills be held. An International Ice Patrol was established to monitor icebergs in the North Atlantic shipping lanes. It was also required that ships maintain a 24-hour radio watch.

On September 1, 1985, a joint U.S.-French expedition located the wreck of the Titanic lying on the ocean floor at a depth of about 13,000 feet. The ship was explored by manned and unmanned submersibles, which shed new light on the details of its sinking.

READ MORE: The Craziest Titanic Conspiracy Theories, Explained

Source

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” die in a plane crash


Year
1959
Month Day
February 03

Rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with “That’ll Be the Day.”

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly’s band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.

Holly, born Charles Holley in Lubbock, Texas, and just 22 when he died, began singing country music with high school friends before switching to rock and roll after opening for various performers, including Elvis Presley. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and toured internationally, playing hits like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning.” Holly wrote all his own songs, many of which were released after his death and influenced such artists as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

Another crash victim, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, started out as a disk jockey in Texas and later began writing songs. Richardson’s most famous recording was the rockabilly “Chantilly Lace,” which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, “The Big Bopper.”

The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela in a suburb of Los  Angeles, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba,” an upbeat number based on a traditional Mexican wedding song (though Valens barely spoke Spanish). In 1987, Valens’ life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a No. 1 hit. Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit “American Pie,” which refers to February 3, 1959 as “the day the music died.”

Source

The Tri-State Tornado


Year
1925
Month Day
March 18

The worst tornado in U.S. history passes through eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana, killing 695 people, injuring some 13,000 people, and causing $17 million in property damage. Known as the “Tri-State Tornado,” the deadly twister began its northeast track in Ellington, Missouri, but southern Illinois was the hardest hit. More than 500 of the total 695 people who perished were killed in southern Illinois, including 234 in Murphysboro and 127 in West Frankfort.

A tornado is a dark, funnel-shaped cloud containing violently rotating air that develops in climate conditions that, in the United States, are generally unique to the central and southern plains and the Gulf states. The rotating winds of tornadoes can attain velocities of 300 mph, and its diameter can vary from a few feet to a mile. A tornado generally travels in a northeasterly distance at speeds of 20 to 40 mph and usually covers anywhere between one and more than 100 miles.

The Tri-State Tornado of 1925 traveled 219 miles, spent more than three hours on the ground, devastated 164 square miles, had a diameter of more than a mile and traveled at speeds in excess of 70 mph.

Source

Worst European earthquake ever recorded


Updated:
Original:
Year
1908
Month Day
December 28

At dawn, the most destructive earthquake in recorded European history strikes the Straits of Messina in southern Italy, leveling the cities of Messina in Sicily and Reggio di Calabria on the Italian mainland. The earthquake and tsunami it caused killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Sicily and Calabria are known as la terra ballerina–“the dancing land”–for the periodic seismic activity that strikes the region. In 1693, 60,000 people were killed in southern Sicily by an earthquake, and in 1783 most of the Tyrrenian coast of Calabria was razed by a massive earthquake that killed 50,000. The quake of 1908 was particularly costly in terms of human life because it struck at 5:20 a.m. without warning, catching most people at home in bed rather than in the relative safety of the streets or fields.

The main shock, registering an estimated 7.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, caused a devastating tsunami with 40-foot waves that washed over coastal towns and cities. The two major cities on either side of the Messina Straits–Messina and Reggio di Calabria–had some 90 percent of their buildings destroyed. Telegraph lines were cut and railway lines were damaged, hampering relief efforts. To make matters worse, the major quake on the 28th was followed by hundreds of smaller tremors over subsequent days, bringing down many of the remaining buildings and injuring or killing rescuers. On December 30, King Victor Emmanuel III arrived aboard the battleship Napoli to inspect the devastation.

Meanwhile, a steady rain fell on the ruined cities, forcing the dazed and injured survivors, clad only in their nightclothes, to take shelter in caves, grottoes, and impromptu shacks built out of materials salvaged from the collapsed buildings. Veteran sailors could barely recognize the shoreline because long stretches of the coast had sunk several feet into the Messina Strait.

Source

U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, killed in plane crash

Year
1996
Month Day
April 03

Ronald H. Brown, the U.S. secretary of commerce, is killed along with 32 other Americans when their U.S. Air Force plane crashes into a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Brown was leading a delegation of business executives to the former Yugoslavia to explore business opportunities that might help rebuild the war-torn region.

Brown, born in Washington, D.C., in 1941, grew up in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, where he worked as a welfare caseworker before joining the U.S. Army. After holding positions in the National Urban League, an advocacy group for the renewal of inner cities, he became a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar and served as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 1989, he was elected chairman of the Democratic Party National Committee, becoming the first African American to hold the top position in a major political party in the United States. As chairman, Brown played a pivotal role in securing the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president in 12 years. In 1993, Clinton appointed Brown to be the first African American secretary of commerce, a position he held until his death in 1996.

Source