Aleppo is a human-made disaster, turning what was a thriving city into a pile of rubble and horror. With rebel forces fighting Syria’s President Assad, he (with the assistance of Russia at the behest of President Putin) struck back in a war that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians.
Aleppo, Syria: The Worst Disaster of 2016
Thousands of those seared with poison gas, shot to death, buried in buildings from aerial bombings and burned were children. The United States President Barack Obama had declared a red line, one which if Syria crossed by using chemical warfare on its own people, the U.S. would then act in defense of those peoples. After gassing and other brutalization, the U.S. did not act in any meaningful way. Left alone to survive, some Syrians took to social media, widely broadcasting nightmarish images of blown apart children and murdered men and women and their hollowed out families left behind. As the government clenched its victory in a pitiless grasp on huddled innocents left in Aleppo, war crimes were committed and continue to be committed at the time of writing this piece. In December of 2016, evacuation negotiations continue to be made and then broken. One more heartbreak for the broken people of Aleppo.
Hurricane Matthew: Death and Destruction in Massive Numbers
Leaving a path of destruction from the Caribbean to the Southeast U.S., Hurricane Matthew became the first Category Five hurricane since Hurricane Stan in 2005. It was estimated that over 1,600 people lost their lives in this incredibly expensive storm, costing damages estimated to be over $10.5 billion.
The United States immediately began urging people to leave; in the past, people have attempted to stay in their homes and wait it out, hoping that the water would not rise further. Florida’s governor issued a plea, “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. Time is running out. We don’t have much time left.” Another danger in more poverty stricken areas from hurricanes of this proportion are the diseases that crop up in the wake, such as cholera.
Kumamoto in Japan: The Earthquakes That Stole Lives and Security
The Japanese Kumamoto disaster is a series of earthquakes, with the main shock earthquake coming in at a 7.0 on April 16. This earth-shattering quake was preceded by a 6.2 shock, which warned of the danger to come.
Burning buildings, enormous gaps in the roads, and death were the disaster’s legacy, leaving the Japanese people uncertain of their safety in the near future; would another quake strike? Around 3,000 people were estimated injured, 50 people killed, and over 44,000 evacuated. To make an already terrifying experience worse, the second quake struck in the dead of night, leaving residents fleeing into the darkness. Bad weather followed complicated rescue efforts.
Flint: The Water That Poisoned Our Children
2016 was the year that the country learned about the water disaster in Flint, Michigan. When Governor Snyder took office in 2011, he pushed a multi-billion dollar tax break passed by the Republican legislature for the wealthy and for corporations. This resulted in less tax revenues, which meant cutting costs. Switching Flint to river water saved $15 million, at the cost of the health of 102,000 people.
Federal law requires that water systems sent through lead pipes must contain an additive which seals the lead into the pipe and prevents it from leaching into the water. The governor refused the anti-corrosive, thereby poisoning the residents of Flint. The resulting severity of the health crisis has been debated, and some scientists have argued that they would not call the levels of lead in most of the citizens’ blood poisoning and that the damage will often be healed over time. Other diseases have sprung up as well, however, such as Legionnaire’s disease, which has increased tenfold since the switch to river water. The state may now pay upwards of $1.5 billion to deal with the water crisis.
Yancheng, China: Tornado of Fear
Eastern China lost close to 100 citizens in the grips of a powerful tornado and severe storms, which ravaged a densely populated area of farms and factories. 800 people were injured in Yancheng, a city in Jiangsu province, south of Beijing.
With winds up to 78 miles per hour, the damage was exacerbated by a hailstorm that assaulted farm buildings and structures, turning them into piles of rubble and dust. Chinese doctors reported that many of the injured retained severe wounds to their head and face. Tornados are much more rare in China than they are in the United States, and the intensity of a tornado cannot be predicted.
African Drought: Relentless Heat Sucks Country Dry
In 2015, South African rainfall was the lowest is has been since records began in 1905, a warning of what was to come: the drought of 2016. The financial cost has been severe; widespread damage to crops and livestock herds has raised the food-price inflation rate to 11.6 percent.
Macharia Kamau, special envoy on El Nino and climate, said of the 18 million affected inhabitants, “For many children, women and the elderly, [this crisis] will be about looking at survival straight in the face,” due to lack of water. Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief, estimated that 1 million children are malnourished due to the crisis.
North Dakota: The Oil Spill Everyone Feared
Activists refused the length of pipes to be run through Native American grounds, concerned about the effect on the environment and possible spills, concerns which were verified in December of 2016. An oil spill of about 130,000 gallons polluted five miles of land in the Ash Coulee Creek in North Dakota.
The pipeline is about 150 miles from where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other environmental groups have been protesting Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access pipeline since April 2016. Even small amounts of oil are dead to the surrounding ecosystem, killing, or contaminating animals and smaller organisms that are essential links in the global food chain.
Israel on Fire: The Calamity of Heat and Smoke
Many arrests have been made in Israel in the wake of a series of fires that claimed lives and property. More than 75,000 residents were evacuated due to multiple fast-spreading and terrifying fires sweeping through Israel.
Russia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Turkey all volunteered desperately-needed planes to drop fire stopping substances along the damaged country, including massive planes from Russia that scoop up 12,000 liters of seawater to quench the flames. Over 10,000 acres of buildings, homes and trees burned to the ground. Upwards of 1,800 homes were damaged, and more than 1,600 Israeli firefighters were called to battle the blaze.
West Virginia Flooding: Washing Away Precious Lives
In June of 2016, West Virginia (and nearby counties) was hit with freezing rain and floods, leaving behind destroyed homes and lives; 23 people died as a result of record rainfall. Eight to ten inches of rain fell in 12 hours, causing the deadly flash flooding.
People were caught unaware in their cars, out camping, or simply residing in their homes, which then filled to the brim with dirty water, filled with large pieces of deadly debris. Rescue workers exhausted themselves in sometimes heartbreakingly futile efforts to save the people trapped in the waters. One 47-year-old West Virginian woman was repeatedly attempted to be rescued from her trapped car before she was washed away and killed.
Amatrice Earthquake: The Horror at Their Feet
The beautiful, historic Italian town of Amatrice was readying itself for a traditional foodie festival when the catastrophe struck in the form of a 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Emergency responders struggled to reach victims due to the town’s isolated location, so unhurt townspeople began digging survivors from the rubble, hearing their cries for help. At least 297 people were killed, including three Brits. And 2,500 people were left without homes. Many of the homes were very old and built of stones that crumbled into piles of dust.The town’s mayor Sergio Pirozzi said, “The town isn’t here anymore.”
The Great Barrier Reef: Thousands of Miles Dead
Scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies released a study showing that the Great Barrier Reef lost more coral to bleaching in 2016 than in any other year on record. A northern region spanning 435 miles at the tip of the reef lost 67 percent of its shallow-water corals.
Thought to be caused at least in part by global warming, the bleaching happens with persistent, overly warm water temperatures. The warm water causes corals to expel the algae zooxanthellae, which feeds the coral and saturates them with color. The corals turn white as they die, but they can be revitalized if they survive predators and disease. This process can take up to fifteen years and necessitates that another bleaching does not occur.
Louisiana Flood: The Water Swept Them Away
Thirteen people lost their lives in the Louisiana floods of 2016, a flood which washed away cars and flooded houses and businesses. 7.1 trillion gallons of water poured onto the area, with devastating results.
The numbers are staggering: 30,000 people were evacuated, 146,000 homes were damaged, and 11,000 were forced to live in state-run shelters. Since most of the flooding occurred in areas not considered high flood risk, most of the home owners did not have flood insurance, leaving them wiped out. Celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Ellen, Britney Spears, Randy Jackson, and Harry Connick Jr. donated large amounts of money to the relief efforts.
Solomon Islands: The Earthquake That Shook Their Lives Apart
In December 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Solomon Islands, which are located close to the “Ring of Fire,” or the circum-Pacific belt, an area frequently inundated by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Close to 90 percent of all the world’s earthquakes and 81 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes take place along the Ring of Fire, geographically in tune with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs and belts and plate movements.
The damages from the quake included the loss of life of one nine-year-old girl. The Solomon Islands government estimated that near 7,000 people were impacted. 191 houses have been destroyed and 114 damaged, while eleven schools and one medical clinic also retained damage.
Arizona Heat Wave: A Cruel Summer
Four people lost their lives in Arizona over the summer of 2016. Phoenix Fire spokesperson Capt. Larry Subervi told the Arizona Republic newspaper, “When we deal with temperatures like this, it can just really be unpredictable how your body is going to respond.”
The heat registered at a blistering 120-degree heat. The record is 122 degrees, from June of 1990. Arizona officials were urging their constituents to show extreme caution when dealing with the heat and to learn the signs of a heat-related illness. Symptoms might include thirst, cramps, heavy sweating, nausea, headache, and dizziness. All of the heat-related deaths from this heat wave occurred with hikers, exposed directly to the sweltering sun.
Indonesia Flood: The Future Taken from Children
No less than 30 villagers were killed after endless rains caused flooding and triggered landslides on the Indonesian island of Java. In the district of Garut, 16 people died, including six children, after two nearby rivers overflowed.
Over 1,000 villagers were evacuated as the waters rose into towns and swept away trees and debris. Hospitals and mosques were covered with thick mud and rocks in landslides and filled with brown water. The timing was unexpected and shocking, as normally floods do not occur at this time of year. Anomalies such as warm sea temperatures and the massive flow of moist air from the Indian Ocean were blamed for the unusual storm.
New Zealand: The Earth Quakes under Their Feet
A state of emergency was declared in New Zealand after a 7.8 earthquake shook the ground like a dog with a toy in its mouth, crumbling homes and business structures to the ground.
Railways were disrupted, roads buckled and ripped apart, buildings split apart, and then New Zealand was hit with a series of powerful aftershocks.The power went out and thousands were stranded without power or water before rescue operations were put into effect. In addition, landslides caused flooding from local rivers, moving muddy water into streets and structures. It was estimated that billions of dollars would be required to restore the area and all affected structures and systems.
U.S. Storm Jonas: Blown Away
Sadly, 48 human beings died in winter Storm Jonas, dropping over 40 inches of snow and causing billions of dollars in damage. Some of the deaths were due to heart attacks while shoveling thickly packed snow. Other deaths were caused by car accidents, while others succumbed inside cars that filled with carbon monoxide after their exhaust pipes were covered by snow.
A quarter of a million customers in the Northeastern United States lost power and hundreds of crashes were reported. One of the highest snowfall readings was in Glengarry, West Virginia, reporting 42 inches of snow. Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia indicated that Storm Jonas looked to be the costliest storm on record for Virginia.
Chile Earthquake: Shaken to Death
A magnitude 8.3 earthquake in Chile killed at least eight people and thrust strong waves into coastal towns. Over a million people left or were evacuated from their homes. The government evacuated citizens, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2010 quake when authorities were slow to warn of a tsunami that eventually killed hundreds of people.
Roads were ripped in half, houses were torn to pieces, and many were left standing in the streets waiting for assistance, without power. The Chilean government also keeps a close eye on local volcanos, which can be agitated by earthquakes of this size.
UK Storm Angus: Stormy Weather Wreaks Havoc
The cyclone of Storm Angus slammed into the UK in November. Strong winds, intense rainfall, and high waves caused flooding and the evacuation of 100 people.
River Devon burst its banks and flooded the surrounded town, prompting evacuations and leaving drowned cars, buildings, and inaccessible roads. Wind gusts up to 84 miles per hour blew debris and trees like toys scattered across roadways. The name of this storm was chosen by the United Kingdom citizens, and drawn from a compiled list. The storm also caused a cargo ship to hit a barge full of rocks in the English Channel. 23 crew members were evacuated from the ship.
Appalachia: The Black Lungs of the United States
Coal miners have always known that they are risking the horrible disease called black lung where coal dust infiltrated the lungs and literally turns them black, rendering it more and more difficult to breathe, until eventually, they cannot breathe at all, and die. But 2016 broke the record: over 1000 cases of advanced black lung disease-including in young miners-was found in a study by NPR.
In NPR, NIOSH epidemiologist Scott Laney said, “The current numbers are unprecedented by any historical standard.” Not only are the numbers unprecedented, but the age of those being diagnosed. NPR interviewed Mackie Branham, only 32 years old, with advanced black lung disease. His only hope is to get a lung transplant which might give him five to ten more years of life. This disaster is unheard of, and not yet understood.
2016 really went out with a tragic bang for one unfortunate factory in Mexico. On December 20, a blast at a Tultepec fireworks market left at least 29 dead.Seventy-two people were injured in the devastating explosion that sent huge plumes of smoke into the sky above the area. Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s President, used Twitter to express his condolences to families of those killed and to wish survivors a quick recovery.
Adding to the tragedy is the fact that this site has experienced disaster before, though not to this scale. A 2005 explosion injured many and caused extensive damage, and a fire the following year also destroyed stands.