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Disaster Area

A podcast about disasters throughout history - what caused them, how people survived, and how we've responded to keep those disasters from happening again.

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Episode 12: The Sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald

Released in 1976, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot told the tragic story of the sudden loss in a November storm of a freighter hauling iron ore pellets to Detroit. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald went down with a loss of 29 crewmen and left an enduring mystery of what may have really happened in its final moments.

1hr 31mins

7 Aug 2016

Rank #1

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Episode 123: Chernobyl - Part One

Before we get into the story of Chernobyl, we explore a few previous nuclear disasters, learn how radiation and nuclear accidents are measured, and find out just how sick ionizing radiation will make you.

1hr 2mins

31 Oct 2019

Rank #2

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Episode 6: The Station Nightclub fire

Fifteen seconds of sparks given off by pyrotechnic gerbs, two different layers of flammable soundproofing foam, no sprinklers, obstructed exits, and a panicked crowd combined to leave 100 concertgoers dead at the Station Nightclub in West Warwick, RI, on February 20, 2003.

1hr 49mins

3 Apr 2016

Rank #3

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Episode 85: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Four years ago this week, a plane full of innocent people just going about their lives - returning home, heading for vacation in Malaysia, flying to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne - unwillingly became a pawn in a war they played no part in before that day. On July 17, 2014, someone in an Ukrainian war zone looked up and thought they saw enemy military aircraft overhead. So they positioned their Russian-made missile and fired. What happened afterward would be a subject of debate - and a source of international tensions - to this day.

1hr 8mins

20 Jul 2018

Rank #4

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Episode 23: The eruption of Mount St. Helens

Sunday dawned warm and sunny in the Cascade mountain range. Hikers and fishermen savored the beautiful weather that morning, sure they were far from the danger they knew had been rumbling for weeks now. But at 8:32 AM on May 18, 1980, an earthquake shuddered through Mount St. Helens which triggered the massive volcanic eruption which everyone had been waiting for -- and yet, in at least one major way, almost no one saw coming.

1hr 25mins

17 Dec 2016

Rank #5

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Episode 88: The 2013 Moore tornado

Moore, Oklahoma, had the worst luck. Over the course of fifteen years, the Oklahoma City suburb would have five major tornados blow through the area, causing billions of dollars in damage. One in particular which struck on May 20, 2013, caused another tragic kind of damage, heading straight for two of the town's elementary schools.

1hr 5mins

20 Aug 2018

Rank #6

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Episode 2: The Hillsborough Disaster

On April 15, 1989, thousands of British football fans flocked to Sheffield to see the F.A. Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Ninety-six never made it home.

1hr 12mins

20 Jan 2016

Rank #7

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Episode 72: The Twilight Zone disaster

One can only imagine how scary the scene might be for two small children. The village they hid in was being destroyed by explosions and gunfire. A strange man swore he would protect them and carry them to safety. As he attempted to take them away, the enemy's helicopter hovered overhead, men firing off guns from both sides. Luckily, it was all fake. The terrifying scene was a sequence being filmed for "Twilight Zone: The Movie." Everything was perfectly safe ... until it wasn't.

1hr 13mins

8 Apr 2018

Rank #8

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Episode 110: American Airlines Flight 191

There are certain things you don't want to see out the window when you're sitting on a plane that's taking off. Seeing pieces of the plane fall off - like, say, the engine - are pretty high up on the list. Passengers sitting on American Airlines Flight 191 as it took off from O'Hare International Airport on May 25, 1979, were horrified to look out their windows and see exactly that happen to the engine on the left wing. They would only be horrifed for another thirty-one seconds.


12 Apr 2019

Rank #9

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Episode 62: The Tenerife disaster

Until September 11, 2001, one aviation accident between two 747s was the deadliest aircraft crash by far, and only one of the planes just barely managed to make it off the ground. On March 27, 1977, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, one after another, leading to a deadly crash which left one group of prospective vacationers scrambling to escape a burning wreck.

1hr 22mins

26 Nov 2017

Rank #10

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Episode 74: Aloha Airlines Flight 243

Some plane crashes may make you terrified any plane you get one will crash. Only one may scare you into worrying the roof of your airplane may rip right off in midflight.


24 Apr 2018

Rank #11

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Episode 95: The Sunshine Skyway bridge collapse

The Sunshine Skyway bridge was a well-known piece of Florida architecture, carrying vehicles back and forth across Tampa Bay and allowing ships to pass underneath in the bay's busy shipping channel. But on May 9, 1980, a sudden and ferocious storm brought all three - the ships, the bridge, and the cars - to a tragic shared end.

1hr 18mins

30 Oct 2018

Rank #12

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Episode 65: The Piper Alpha disaster

Working on an oil rig in the North Sea has its frustrations, its problems, and its dangers. In July of 1988, employees on the Piper Alpha platform were looking forward to having to work around construction as problem areas in the rig were updated - paint to be applied, sprinkler heads to be unclogged, and a broken safety valve to be fixed and replaced. In the end, a series of lapses and mistakes would lead to the deadliest oil rig disaster in history.

1hr 19mins

31 Dec 2017

Rank #13

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Episode 7: The Jonestown Massacre

Over nine hundred men, women, and children died in 1978 in a small settlement in Guyana established by the People Temple, a church which presented itself as representing the ideals of racial equality, social justice, support of the elderly and children, and other seemingly positive issues. But behind the scenes, the machinations of "Father" Jim Jones led to sexual assault, violence, manipulation, and ultimately mass suicide.

2hr 22mins

28 Apr 2016

Rank #14

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Episode 39: The San Ysidro McDonald's Massacre

It was always busy at the McDonald's restaurant on San Ysidro Boulevard. Kids invaded the play area whether or not they'd eaten in the restaurant, and for people arriving from the Tijuana border crossing only a mile south, the golden arches were like a welcome friends greeting them hello as they arrived in America. But on July 18, 1984, a stranger walked into the restaurant armed to the teeth, ready to finally end the battle in his mind.

1hr 3mins

31 May 2017

Rank #15

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Episode 116: The 1986 Mount Hood incident

It's time for the yearly school trip - no, not to Washington, DC, or the Grand Canyon or New Orleans. In 1986, as every year before it, the kids in the Basecamp program at Oregon Episcopal School participated in a special trip - a climb up Mount Hood in the Cascade mountain range. But when the group left the school late on the night of May 11th, 1986, to head to Mount Hood for the opportunity of a lifetime, they had no idea nine of them would not be coming back alive.

1hr 7mins

27 Jun 2019

Rank #16

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Episode 4: The Kansas City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse

When the Kansas City Hyatt Regency opened in 1980, its beautiful atrium with walkways which appeared to float on air impressed the entire city. But in July of 1981, the skywalk's fine reputation came crashing down - literally.


17 Feb 2016

Rank #17

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Episode 16: The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire

At first, people who wandered over from Washington Square Park thought someone was throwing sack of shirtwaists out of the ninth floor windows of the Asch Building. But it quickly became apparent to the watching New Yorkers that these weren't bags of the Triangle Factory's finished products -- they were women. These young women had no other option, caught between the raging inferno blowing through the factory on March 25, 1911, and the ninth-story drop in front of them.

2hr 7mins

9 Oct 2016

Rank #18

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Episode 5: Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

"Rugby players eat their dead." Spotting this bumper sticker encouraged director Frank Marshall to take on the film version of "Alive," the book by Piers Paul Read about the crash of Flight 571. After the plane went down in the Andes on Friday the 13th of October, 1972, the members and supporters of the Old Christians rugby club who survived faced an impossible choice: whether or not to eat the only food available, the bodies of their dead friends. (TW: Discussion of cannibalism.)

2hr 21mins

16 Mar 2016

Rank #19

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Episode 3: The SS Eastland disaster

Every year, Western Electric contracted excursion boats to take employees to the annual picnic, from Chicago to Michigan City, IN. In July of 1915, one ship would never leave the wharf.

1hr 7mins

31 Jan 2016

Rank #20