Support the podcast on Patreon

You can help support the podcast on Patreon!

If you’d like to give the podcast some help, I’ve set up a Patreon specifically for “Disaster Area” so that you can throw a few bucks towards its production.

Also, any patron who donates $25 or more can request the subject of an upcoming episode. It can be either a real disaster like the ones featured so far on the podcast or an aspect of the disaster movie genre. But please understand that I do reserve the right to turn down disasters which don’t fit the scheme of the podcast. (For example, yes, I also think “Batman and Robin” was a disaster. I’m still not going to do an episode about it.)

Thanks for anyone who helps support the podcast.I appreciate the help. 🙂

Support the podcast on Patreon

Movie Break: “The Poseidon Adventure”

Time for the fun stuff!

So last night I sat down, had a couple of hard root beers, and recorded the podcast’s first movie break. I decided to talk about “The Poseidon Adventure,” the book it was based on, the sequel, the remake, and the miniseries, not all of which were any good. “The Poseidon Adventure” is probably my favorite movie of all time, although I’ll admit it’s problematic and God knows it’s got its flaws. But it’s also the first of the ’70s disaster movies, and as a result arguably the first truly big disaster movie in the genre.

(Trigger warning for discussion of rape as a plot point in one part of the episode.)

Movie Break: “The Poseidon Adventure”

Episode 4: The Kansas City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse

This episode deals with the Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse which happened in Kansas City, MO, in 1981. On July 18, two walkways supported by 12 1-1/4-inch hanger rods gave way during a 1940s-style tea dance in the hotel’s atrium, killing 114 people and injuring hundreds more.

For this episode, I watched the original news footage as well as the skywalk collapse episodes of Minute by Minute and Seconds From Disaster, both of which can be found with a quick YouTube search if you’d like to watch them as well. There is also a book available through Amazon on the collapse called The Hyatt Regency Disaster : Behind The Front Page, which really seems to deal with the personal experiences of one reporter who arrived in the aftermath, so I will admit I didn’t make much use of it.

I also read the official report from the National Bureau of Standards investigation explaining the timeline and causes of the disaster. It’s a pretty dry read, and I’m not kidding when I say a lot of the time I’ve spent preparing the episode was working out the basics of Structural Engineering 101. But once you can wrap your head around the concepts and phrases used, what actually happened in the atrium that day is a lot easier to understand in detail.

The website for the skywalk memorial in Kansas City is located here, and they are accepting donations if you’d like to help out and support remembering those lost in the disaster.

Episode 4: The Kansas City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse

The first three episodes

  • 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.
  • Episode 109: The journey of the MS St Louis
    What do you do when your home is no longer safe enough to be a home anymore? You try to find a new home, even it means hurrying things along for your own protection. The Jewish refugees on board the MS St Louis in May of 1939 were looking for just such a place. All they found were doors slammed in their faces.
  • Episode 108: The Mont Blanc tunnel fire
    You're driving along on a road trip and your engine starts to smoke. You give it another half mile or so, then pull over. By the time you pop the hood, the smoke has turned into actual flames spewing out of your car somehow. So you back away as far as you can for your own safety. It's terrifying enough if this happens to you while driving down an everyday country road or rural highway. But what if it happens when you're in the middle of one of the longest highway tunnels in the world?
  • Episode 107: The Beverly Hills Supper Club fire
    It was a little slice of Vegas transplanted to a Kentucky hillside just outside of Cincinnati, an elegant showcase for the likes of the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, Liberace, and Frankie Valli. The Beverly Hills Supper Club went from a mafia-run illegal gambling den to the sort of place you could hold your kid's bar mitzvah or the Elk Club awards ceremony. But on Memorial Day weekend in 1977, all of that would end in a terrible fire those in the area would remember for years.
  • Episode 106: The Dyatlov Pass incident
    In late January of 1959, ten hikers left the city of Sverdlovsk heading for an adventure in the wilderness. Only one of them returned alive. So what happened to Igor Dyatlov and the other eight hikers who died at what would later come to be known as Dyatlov Pass? 
  • Episode 105: The 1996 Air Africa disaster
    N'Dolo Airport could not have been any worse of an airport to take off from in 1996 if it tried. Whether it be the pitted runway or the handwaving of appropriate documentation and procedures, flying out of N'Dolo was a nightmare, one which anyone with bad intentions could use to their advantage. This is why so many different factors came together at once to cause a horrific tragedy in the city of Kinshasa in January of 1996, a catastrophe which left hundreds of innocent people dead in its wake. 
  • Episode 104: The Top Storey Club fire
    It was almost like a terribly kept secret. The Top Storey Club sat hidden away on the topmost story of an old warehouse you needed to wander through furniture workshops and storerooms on lower floors to reach, like a princess in a tower. But on May 1, 1961, the combination of a popular nightclub and workrooms cluttered with flammable materials below it would prove a deadly equation.
  • Episode 103: The Halifax explosion
    It was the worst manmade explosion in human history prior to the bombing of Hiroshima. On December 6, 1917, Halifax, Nova Scotia, was one of the busiest ports in the world, with wartime traffic passing through on a daily basis. The French ship, the Mont Blanc, was just another ship in the harbor, but its cargo hold carried a deadly secret which would wipe out thousands of lives in an instant.
  • Episode 102: The Great Yarmouth bridge disaster
    Hear ye, hear ye! Come one, come all, on the evening of May 2, 1845, to see a fantastic sight! Nelson the clown of the Cooke Royal Circus will be performing for you all on the river Bure in Great Yarmouth - floating along on the tide in a wooden washtub pulled by four of the finest geese in the land! Simply head to the suspension bridge over the river with all of your other young friends and wait - and cross your fingers that you know how to swim.
  • Episode 101: The Great Stink of London
    The river was a sewer - almost literally. In 1858 London, the Thames wound through the city carrying everything from fecal matter to slaughterhouse offal. Even worse, that was the city's drinking source. If three separate cholera outbreaks weren't enough to change people's minds about how to handle the problem, adding a heat wave to the mix might do the trick.
  • Episode 100: The attack on Nakatomi Plaza
    For the 100th episode of the podcast, we examine a genuine Christmas miracle, in which the bad guys lose, one man wins, and Twinkies survive an entirely different kind of disaster than we thought they would.
  • Episode 99: United Airlines Flight 629
    If you're afraid of flying, it's usually a more understandable fear - bad weather may bring your plane down, your pilot might screw something up, something on the plane might break. But a much more unlikely fear might be that someone on board might decide that in order to milk out a little insurance money, they're going to blow up the plane you're flying in, either to take themselves out or to get rid of someone they'd much rather do without. On November 1, 1955, just such a bomb knocked United Airlines Flight 629 out of the air. But just who was the culprit? And who was the target?
  • Episode 98: The Hajj pilgrimage of 2015
    Every year, three million Muslims arrive in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to complete the hajj, an important series of rituals which must be undertaken by all physically and financially capable Muslims at least once during their lifetime. But three million people crammed into any place is a magnet for disaster, and over the years Mecca has seen multiple tragedies which left thousands of innocent pilgrims dead - plane crashes, fires, crushing incidents. The hajj season of 2015 was forced to deal with two separate tragedies - a horrific crane collapse at the Grand Mosque which left behind a nightmarish scene, and a crushing incident just before the Jamarat Bridge which ended with nearly 2500 people lying dead on the streets of Mina. 
  • Episode 97: The MGM Grand hotel fire
    The MGM Grand hotel and casino sat in a plum spot right along South Las Vegas Boulevard in the glittering city of - surprise - Las Vegas, Nevada. Hosting Dean Martin roasts and a long-running performance of Jubilee!, the MGM Grand featured the height of 1970s Las Vegas-caliber entertainment in a luxurious hotel anyone would die to stay in. But in the early morning hours of November 21, 1980, a deadly secret smoldered inside one of the hotel's five restaurants.
  • Episode 96: The Janauba massacre
    The Gente Inocente nursery in Janauba, Brasil, was small and poor but filled daily with happy children. Then, on October 5, 2017, a familiar face came to the front gate. It was the night watchman, and he wanted to come inside. But what seemed innocent enough would turn out to be anything but, and would end with a bottle of alcohol and a burst of flames.
  • 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.
  • Episode 94: The sinking of the Wahine
    On April 10, 1968, Cyclone Giselle hit New Zealand at the worst possible - when the ferry TEV Wahine was returning to Wellington with over seven hundred passengers. The Wahine entered Wellington Harbor as the storm raged around it, and for a moment everything seemed no worse than any other stormy day in the city. But then the wind speed doubled, and over the course of the morning the Wahine struggled to remain afloat with the safety of dry land so close, yet so far away.
  • Episode 93: The Women's War
    The women were - to say the very least - incredibly pissed. In recent years, their rights had been whittled away, leaving their status a husk of what it had once been. Their complaints were either ignored by men in power, or not worth sharing with them knowing what the reaction would be. All it took was one confrontation between a man in a position of privilege and a woman who'd had enough, and the straw broke the camel's back. At the end of 1929, the women of southern and eastern Nigeria would show the men of the British colonial government that the women would demand their respect.
  • Episode 92: The Pan Am Building helicopter crash
    All they wanted was a ride to JFK International Airport. But on May 16, 1977, the passengers waiting on the rooftop of the Pan Am Building in midtown Manhattan to get onto a helicopter shuttle to the airport would miss their flight, all due to a single snapped landing gear strut.
  • Episode 91: The Thredbo disaster
    It was quiet in the rural Australian ski village of Thredbo, New South Wales, at 11:30 PM on the night of July 30th, 1997. Then the ground near Bobuck Lane began to tremble. A moment later, the hillside slid downward, taking two ski lodges containing nineteen people with it and crushing them in the chaos. It would be more than two days before rescuers who'd come to believe no one survived the tragedy heard a voice calling for help underneath the rubble. Ski instructor Stuart Diver was still alive - now it was just a matter of getting him out. 
  • Episode 90: The sinking of the Vasa
    Let's go back almost four hundred years to a time when sailing ships steered their way across the oceans of the world, whether it be for travel, exploration, or war. In Sweden, King Gustav II Adolph wanted four new ships be added to the country's navy, including an impressive ship featuring two gun decks - the Vasa. Then she sank twenty minutes into her maiden voyage. Three hundred and thirty years later, however, the Vasa would rise out of the sea once again.
  • Episode 89: The story of Ada Blackjack
    In 1921, a ship dropped four white men, one Alaska Native woman, and one cat off on the desolate shore of Wrangel Island, a strip of land just north of easternmost Siberia. Two years later when a relief ship finally broke through the ice and returned, only two of those beings were still alive.
  • 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.
  • Episode 87: The Leopard of Rudraprayag
    On this International Cat Day, we look back at the story of a leopard whose feeding habits veered away from its normal prey into the human world, and a hunter determined to stop its deadly eight-year spree in northeastern India. 
  • Episode 86: The Iroquois Theater fire
    It was the deadliest building fire in United States history, twice as deadly as the fire which tore through the city three decades earlier. Chicago thought it had seen the worst that fire could do, but then came the afternoon of December 30, 1903. The Iroquois Theater was filled and then some - with children on Christmas break and their parents, with teachers enjoying their own time off, with college students wishing to enjoy a show with their friends. "Mr. Bluebeard" was supposed to be a spectacle, and it was - a terrifying one.
  • 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.
  • Episode 84: The Guadalajara explosions
    During the sweltering Easter holidays in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1992, the Reforma district reeked for days. Everything smelled of gas, but no one could figure out precisely where the source was. Tap water stank. Manhole covers rattled where they sat in the street. On Wednesday, April 22nd, one explosion after another tore through the working-class neighborhood and left the streets a ragged canyon winding through Guadalajara. 
  • Episode 83: Pan Am Flight 73
    Neerja Bhanot was uniquely successful in two fields - as a model, and as a senior purser for international airline Pan Am. But on September 5, 1986, the bravery of Neerja and her cabin staff was tested when a group of armed militants stormed the plane, demanding to be flown to Cyprus. What would happen over the next seventeen hours would be terrifying, chaotic, and in the end a display of the heroism on one incredible cabin crew. 
  • Episode 82: The Joelma Building fire
    It would take the worst terrorist attack in modern times to steal the Joelma Building fire's title as the deadliest high-rise fire. On February 1, 1974, the office building in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, was slowly filling with hundreds of employees starting their work day. Then an air conditioner on the twelfth floor sparked. Within hours, at least 179 people would be dead from the sudden and all-encompassing conflagration.
  • Episode 81: The People Hiding in the Truck
    It was only supposed to last a few hours. All they would have to do was keep quiet, keep their heads down, and wait it out until they reached Houston. But at two AM on the morning of May 14, 2003, the driver of a truck would pull over near a truck stop and open the trailer at the back to a horrifying scene.
  • Episode 80: The Graniteville train crash
    Graniteville, South Carolina, is like a lot of small towns - quiet and filled with hard-working people. It was the quiet that was broken when a moving train struck another train parked on a spur in the early morning hours of January 6, 2005, and it was the hard-working people who suffered when a damaged tanker began leaking deadly chlorine gas into the air. (TW: Discussion of suicide.)
  • Episode 79: The Austin tower shooting
    It was hot that day in August of 1966, so hot you probably could have cracked an egg and cooked it on the sidewalk. Students walking the campus of the University of Texas at Austin did so under the watchful eye of the main building's tower. As noon neared, everyone was looking forward to heading off to lunch. That's when the shooting began. It wouldn't end for another ninety-six minutes.
  • Episode 78: The Moorgate tube crash
    On a busy Friday morning in 1975, the London Underground was packed with people heading off to work at insurance and banking companies. In one six-car train on the Northern Line, driver Leslie Newson was just having a normal workday, with plans to go buy his daughter a car after the day was done. He'd not leave the Underground alive, and neither would forty-two of his passengers.
  • Episode 77: The Pioneer Hotel Fire
    Forty-two years. That's how long one man spent in prison for setting the deadly fire at the Pioneer International Hotel in Tucson, Arizona, just after midnight on December 20, 1970, when the place was packed with holiday tourists and Christmas partygoers. There was just one problem - he may have been innocent the whole time.
  • Episode 76: The Baby In The Well
    Children of the 80s know their pop culture touchstones - when the Challenger exploded, when the Berlin Wall came down, that time everyone was wondering who shot J.R. One particular 80s moment was a story of survival by a Texas toddler, an incident which was not without precedent but had yet to produce a happy ending.
  • Episode 75: Care Teams
    In the aftermath of a disaster, a company's care team may step up to do the things you're not physically, emotionally, or mentally ready to do for yourself.
  • 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.
  • Episode 73: The Lake Peigneur disaster
    What's the worst day at work you've ever had? It probably wasn't nearly as bad as what happened to one Louisiana oil rig's employees in November of 1980.
  • 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.
  • Episode 71: The Rwandan genocide
    In the early 1990s, the country of Rwanda struggled through growing tensions between the local ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus led the government, while the Tutsis were targets of harrassment and discrimination. Over the course of a hundred days in 1994, those tensions would erupt in fear, violence, desperation, and genocide.
  • Episode 70: The 2010 Bandundu crash
    Some plane crashes have possible causes which are so out of the ordinary they stretch the limits of credulity. The accident which happened when a plane fell from the sky while attempting to land in the Democratic Republic on the Congo in 2010 is just such a crash.
  • Episode 69: The Port Chicago explosion
    The black servicemen who loaded munitions onto ships at Port Chicago Naval Magazine knew it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. They were hardly trained, rushed to load ships heading for the Pacific theater in World War II, and feared every day that this might be the day one dropped bomb blew them all to smithereens. On July 17, 1944, Port Chicago's number finally came up. But the tragedy which occurred there was not the end of the story. 
  • Episode 68: The Welding Shop Shooting
    He was a teacher and a veteran. On August 20, 1982, an argument over a badly repaired lawnmower motor from the previous day would result in a massacre which left eight dead.
  • Episode 67: United Airlines Flight 232
    Sometimes when planes crash, it's due to the tiniest hidden flaw which causes incredible amounts of destruction after a series of one mishap after another. One microscopic flaw led to the failure of the tail-mounted engine on a DC-10, and the damage it caused ended with an incredible fiery crash caught on camera.
  • Episode 66: The Battle of May Island
    In wartime, terrible loss of life is expected - but usually not due to a series of ridiculous screw-ups. On January 31, 1918, a fleet from the British Royal Navy left a Scottish port in the Firth of Forth with the intention of leaving for exercises in the North Sea. But among that fleet were multiple K-class submarines, a sub notorious for its flaws, its bad luck, and its short history of deadly accidents.
  • 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.
  • Episode 64: The Oso mudslide
    In most cases, we can trust the ground beneath our feet. We expect it to be solid, to hold firm, and to not move when we stand on it. Some places we can expect earthquakes, but most of the time we don't expect to look out the window and see the very land we've gotten used to outside every day slamming down toward our homes.
  • Episode 63: The Edmond post office shooting
    When someone says a mass shooter was "going postal," the term goes back to a series of workplace shootings in the United States postal service going back to the mid-1980s. The deadliest of those took place in Edmond, Oklahoma, when an unsettling middle-aged man walked into work on August 20, 1986, with three guns in his mailbag.
  • 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.
  • Episode 61: The CTV Building collapse
    Imagine you went to work every day terrified today would be the day the building would fall down around your ears. That was what it was like working in the CTV Building in Christchurch, New Zealand. Then in September of 2010, the earthquakes began. As each aftershock rocked the building, it grew closer and closer to the day when its weakened shell would finally crumble.
  • Episode 60: Aeroflot Flight 593
    Yaroslav Kudrinsky was just taking his two kids on their first international vacation. But there was one notable aspect to their trip - Kudrinsky would be flying the plane. Captain Kudrinsky was part of the flight crew flying one of the company's new Airbus A310s to Hong Kong. What harm could it do to let his kids come into the cockpit and see the new plane their dad would be in charge of flying?
  • Episode 59: The 1993 Milwaukee cryptosporidiosis outbreak
    We all know what it's like when there's a bug going around. More than a few people call in sick from work. Every time you cough someone says, "Oh, my sister just had that." When you go to the pharmacy, all of the medicines you need are sold out. In Milwaukee in 1993, it wasn't a bug that was making the rounds, it was a parasite, once which wrecked havoc to the intestinal tracts of those who caught it.
  • Episode 58: The West Plains dance hall explosion
    It was just supposed to be a fun night of dancing to a jazz orchestra just like every other Friday in West Plains, Missouri. But on a rainy Friday the 13th in April of 1928, a dangerous secret lurked in the garage on the first floor, one which threatened the lives of every happy dancer on the second floor on the building.
  • Episode 57: The sinking of the MV Sewol
    In 2014, one South Korean high school sent its students off on a trip to the resort island of Jeju. The kids could have fun with one another and take a little break. But on the morning they were to arrive in Jeju, one wrong move by the helmsman shoved them into a steadily worsening nightmare.
  • Episode 56: The Haunted Castle Fire
    Who doesn't enjoy a good haunted house? Six Flags Great Adventure had one such haunted house in 1984. The Haunted Castle contained a winding corridor of spooky sights, flashing lights, and costumed actors ready to give you a fright. On May 11, 1984, it added eight more ghosts to its cast.
  • Episode 55: The Rana Plaza disaster
    Most of us have jobs, and whether they be our dream jobs or just something to pay the bills we just hope that when we go to work, we stay safe. But on April 24, 2013, garment workers at factories located in an eight-story building in Bangladesh started their workday nervous. The electricity went out, then the generators kicked in. Not long after that, the building collapsed, trapping thousands inside the debris.
  • Episode 54: The Lake Nyos disaster
    You don't expect a lake to just explode. But in 1986, Lake Nyos in Cameroon did exactly that on a hot August night, sending a jet of water skyward. The water wasn't the problem, however. The real problem was a mysterious something which killed over 1700 people and thousands of head of livestock.
  • Episode 53: The Formosa Fun Coast explosion
    On a hot summer night in 2015, a water park near Taipei hosted a party which drew thousands looking for a good time. But the party included an added ingredient which threatened the lives of hundreds of attendees.
  • Episode 52: The Beslan school hostage crisis
    On September 1, 2004, hundreds of students of all ages arrived with their families at School No. 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia-Alania, Russia for the start of the school year. The first day of school was a celebration punctuated with music, poems, and videos. But this year would be different. This year's Day of Knowledge festivities, however, wouldn't end in the first ringing of the school bell, but with gunshots.
  • Episode 51: The Shiloh Baptist Church stampede
    When the woman cried out, what she said was, "Fight!" But what the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, heard that Friday night in 1902 was, "Fire!" The panicked crowd rushed for the front door, and within ten minutes dozens would die - all because of a misheard word.
  • Episode 50: LANSA Flight 508
    Imagine what you could do when you were seventeen. Would you have been able to handle surviving a plane crash in the middle of nowhere? Or would you have been able to get up after the crash and start walking toward where help will hopefully be, even if it meant walking for ten straight days? One teenage girl did just that, and became the sole survivor of a plane crash over the Peruvian jungle.
  • Episode 49: The sinking of the MV Le Joola
    Fifteen years ago this week, one of the deadliest shipwrecks ever happened just off the coast of western Africa. The MV Le Joola was an integral part of life in Senegal. The ferry regularly traveled along the coastline between the capital of Dakar and the city of Ziguinchor in the southern Casamance region, an area nearly cut off from the rest of Senegal by an ongoing civil war, a lack of riches, and the obstruction that was the long thin strip of the Gambia. When it sank, it took over eighteen hundred people down with it.
  • Episode 48: The Happy Land Social Club fire
    It started with an argument, the kind of argument you might see at any nightclub or bar on any given night. A man tried to get his ex-girlfriend to give him another chance. She told him no. Angry, he made a grab for her. One of the bouncers saw, and the man ended up kicked out on the street. But within a half an hour he'd return -- this time with a gallon jug of gasoline and a pair of matches.
  • Episode 47: The 1947 Texas City Disaster
    Something was burning down by the Texas City waterfront on April 16, 1947. Everyone in the growing town built on the petrochemical industry could see the plumes of smoke billowing upward from whatever was on fire. There was just one strange thing -- the smoke was bright orange. The curious sight drew many people down to the north slip at the docks to what was going on, a site which would soon turn into the most dangerous spot they could be.
  • Episode 46: The AIDS Epidemic, Part Two - Misinformation
    In part two of our AIDS epidemic series, we look at the misinformation and bigotry which negatively impacted the struggle to identify and fight the virus. This includes the misleading story of "Patient Zero," and the Reagan administration's highly problematic view of the disease from the very start.
  • Episode 45: The Galveston Hurricane
    This weekend, Hurricane Harvey struck the east coast of Texas and flooded the city of Houston. A hundred and seventeen years ago this week, a similar storm was headed straight for the nearby city of Galveston, one of the richest cities in the country. What followed was a deadly disaster which surprised Galveston and left thousands dead in its wake.
  • Episode 44: Air New Zealand Flight 901
    Who wouldn't like to go on a sightseeing flight? Have a glass of champagne, mingle with your fellow sightseers, and peer down in wonder at the glorious sights below. But for Air New Zealand Flight 901, the November 28, 1979, flight wouldn't end with a cheery goodbye to Antarctica and a swift turnaround back to Auckland, but in a smoldering pile of wreckage on the slopes of Mount Erebus.
  • Episode 43: The AIDS Epidemic, Part One - Origin
    In this short first entry in our series on the AIDS epidemic, we see the very beginnings of the AIDS virus -- not in the late 1970s, but in a jungle in Cameroon at the turn of the 20th century. We also look at a few early cases of HIV infection prior to the epidemic's explosion.
  • Episode 42: The Bradford City stadium fire
    Most of us have been to a sporting event at one time or another in our lives. In this day and age, we can spot the safety improvements which have been added the stadiums and arenas due to tragedies which struck in the past: fire doors with lit EXIT signs overhead; stadiums made of concrete, steel, and plastic rather than wood; sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers in multiple locations. One of the tragedies which led to more thorough precautions being taken in stadiums in Great Britain started with a dropped cigarette during a football match and ended with 56 dead.
  • Episode 41: The Tri-State Tornado
    It's 1925 and you leave the house on a Wednesday morning three weeks before Easter ready to go to work delivering mail in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. While passing near a rural field in your horse and buggy, you see the telltale swirl of a newly formed tornado touching down. But what you and no one else in the Midwest know is that you just saw the birth of the deadliest tornado in American history.
  • Episode 40: The World Series earthquake
    The San Francisco-Oakland area had baseball fever. Both of their teams -- the Giants and the Athletics respectively -- would go up against one another in Game Three of the "Battle of the Bay" World Series. People across the country tuned in at 5:00 PM local time to watch the pre-game with announcers Al Michaels and Tim McCarver. But four minutes later, the video and audio would both abruptly cut out. Then Al Michaels' voice could be heard saying something which shocked the audience: "Tell you what, I think we're having an earth--"
  • 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.
  • Episode 38: The 1918 Hammond circus train crash
    You're the engineer on an empty troop train in the middle of the night in 1918, headed west to pick up more soldiers meant to head off to the war in Europe. You've had little sleep but you've eaten well and taken some pills for your kidneys. Almost all of the rest of the crew are back in the caboose -- perhaps playing cards or sleeping, with no passengers to tend to. You are alone, and after a while the movement of the train rocks you right to sleep. So you don't see the circus train cars on the tracks in front of you, not until it's too late.
  • Episode 37: Air Florida Flight 90 and the Washington Metro Train Collision
    They say God never gives you more than you can handle. On January 13, 1982, He sure as hell attempted to do so to the city of Washington, DC. Snow cascaded from the sky, making driving home from work to the suburbs a treacherous undertaking. At National Airport, an Air Florida flight with a crew inexperienced in flying under winter conditions waited impatiently for takeoff. And underneath the city, an improperly closed rail switch and a subway train packed to the gills would have a devastating introduction to one another.
  • Episode 36: Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961
    The harrowing video aired on a loop around the world -- a passenger airliner gliding down toward the sea near a tourist-filled beach, then tumbling over and over as it struck the water. What happened in Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 in the hours prior to its crash into the sea near the Comoros Islands required bravery, quick patience, and resourcefulness out of pilot Leul Abate -- and more than a little bit of luck. (My apologies for any audio issues. I had some microphone problems this week.)
  • Episode 35: The Up Stairs Lounge fire
    On the last day of Pride in 1973, the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans felt like it always did. The Sunday beer bust was in full swing, patrons were discussing an upcoming charity event, and the gay bar repeatedly busted out their anthem, "United We Stand." When the downstairs buzzer rang, one of the regulars went to open the door to the stairwell to see who it was. It wasn't a person, though. It was an inferno.
  • Episode 34: Centralia
    The name conjures up images of the bare skeleton of a ghost town, swallowed in smoke and haunted by the spirits of its past. But Centralia was once a normal small Pennsylvania town full of hard-working Americans who just wanted to live safely in their homes. The few who still live there still feel the same way.
  • Episode 33: The Boston Molasses Flood
    It towered over Commercial Street in the North End of Boston, its massive form looming over the elevated train tracks and Engine #31 firehouse. It groaned loudly every time it was filled, its contents leaking in an absurd mockery of bleeding. It wordlessly threatened for years to collapse. Finally, on January 15, 1919, it spilled its contents onto the neighborhood -- 2.3 million gallons of molasses.
  • Episode 32: The 2011 Norway attacks
    Heavy rains soaked the Norwegian Labour Party's youth camp on Utøya that Friday in July of 2011. What might have otherwise been a miserable day was lightened by a visit from former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The campers -- all smart, capable, and eager to change the world -- could deal with a little rain if it meant meeting one of their idols. But after she left the island, they started to receive texts. A bomb had exploded in Oslo. As terrifying as it was, though, they all felt safe on Utøya.
  • Episode 31: The Westwego grain elevator explosion
    Dust seems so harmless most of the time ... annoying, sure, but not deadly. However, on December 22, 1977, dust would lead to the sudden and tragic destruction of a Louisiana grain elevator, taking the lives of 36 people only days before Christmas. However, theirs was not the only facility to suffer an explosion that week, or even that day.
  • Episode 30: The Great Smog of London
    Creeping tendrils of smoke particles and sulfur dioxide wound their way through the fog already blanketing London on the evening of December 5, 1952. When it infiltrated the harmless fog, those dangerous invaders turned the mist into a lethal smog so thick you couldn't see an inch in front of you. Thousands would die before anyone would realize the effects of the smog on Londoners.
  • Episode 29: A Massacre in Wilkes-Barre
    In the vein of My Favorite Murder, this episode features one of Jennifer's hometown murders: a mass shooting which happened at a time when mass shootings were still fairly uncommon. They were an unlikely family: one man, four women, and their children living together in a crowded home in Wilkes-Barre, PA. But one of them was suffering from the effects of a crumbling mind, and on September 25, 1982, that mind disintegrated into violence.(Trigger warning for the deaths of children.)
  • Episode 28: The Gothenburg discotheque fire
    The Halloween party thrown by the Macedonian Association in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1998 was a popular event -- far too popular. Teenagers crammed in shoulder to shoulder with barely enough room to dance. Everyone wanted to get in, but some who couldn't wanted to get back at those who had. What followed sent a horrified shockwave through Sweden.
  • Episode 27: The Carrollton bus collision
    It was a beautiful day to visit Kings Island in Ohio, and church groups poured from buses to enjoy the rides and games. One of those groups, the Radcliff Assembly of God and their friends, would travel home that night on a school bus with a fatal flaw. Everything would come to a head when a drunk driver heading the wrong way down Interstate 71 emerged from the darkness right in front of them.
  • Episode 26: Aeromexico Flight 498
    August 31, 1986, was a beautiful day to fly the skies over the neighborhood of Cerritos in Los Angeles. William Kramer was on his way to Big Bear Lake in his Piper Cherokee with his wife and daughter. Aeromexico Flight 498 was about to land after a morning of stops across Mexico. Neither plane saw what was about to happen -- nor did those readying for a lovely Labor Day weekend below.
  • Episode 25: The story of Marten Hartwell
    Marten Hartwell was a bush pilot in the wilds of northern Canada tasked with an emergency medivac flight to Yellowknife. He and his three passengers never made it. But Hartwell did end up rescued alive from the wilderness a month later, and with a harrowing story to tell.
  • Episode 24: The Schoolhouse Blizzard
    The morning of January 12, 1888, towns across the Great Plains of the United States encountered relatively warm weather for an area experiencing a frigid winter. But the afternoon would bring a nasty surprise at about the same time as children were being let out of school for the day. A ferocious blizzard raced across the plains like a stampeding horse, moving with supernatural speed and swallowing those outside at the time whole before they even knew what was happening.
  • Movie Break: Dante's Peak
    This week, Jennifer found a wine she likes (a first!) so she's taking a break from researching the next episode to watch Dante's Peak, where everything is made up and the facts don't matter. Except for Pierce Brosnan being a gorgeous magical creature. That always matters.
  • 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.
  • Episode 22: Avianca Flight 52
    When LaMia Flight 2933 crashed in Colombia in November, the possible causes echoed a crash which occurred almost twenty-seven years ago in New York. Avianca Flight 52 came down on a slope in Cove Neck, Long Island in comparative silence, not bursting into flames as happens in so many crashes. The reasons why would lead to the industry considering the flaws in communication that can happen between flight crews and air traffic controllers.
  • Episode 21: The Ecole Polytechnique massacre
    On December 6, 1989, a man carrying a dark plastic bag containing a long object walked into the main building of Ecole Polytechnique, a suicide note in his pocket and hate for women in his heart. An hour and a half later he and fourteen women would be dead, inspiring changes in Canadian gun laws.
  • Episode 20: The 2010 Love Parade disaster
    Love Parade was meant to be a celebration of peace, love, and understanding. The German electronic music festival was known for loud techno, colorful costumes, and sexual openness. But in 2010, the enormous event at an old freight station in Duisburg, Germany, ended with 21 people dead in a crushing incident on an entrance ramp.
  • Episode 19: The Aberfan disaster
    This year is the 50th anniversary of the tragic events in the quaint mining town of Aberfan in south Wales. Days of heavy rain and an underground spring combined to turn a hillside tip into a dark sludge which slid down and plowed through the Pantglas Junior School, taking away a generation of the town's children.
  • Movie Break: Airplane vs. Volcano
    On this episode, Jennifer uses the Movie Break she saved up for a special occasion to cap off a ridiculously awful week and watch "Airplane vs. Volcano." Keep liquor and the Internet Movie Database handy. If you can pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano by the end of the episode, you're a better person than Jennifer.
  • Episode 18: The Aggie Bonfire collapse
    Texas A&M's annual bonfire was meant to symbolize their burning desire to beat the hell out of the University of Texas at Austin's football team. But in 1999, Bonfire never burned. Instead it collapsed underneath the feet of several dozen students working to build the stack at the time, putting all of their lives at risk.
  • Episode 17: Japan Airlines Flight 123
    The worst single-plane loss of life in aviation history occurred on August 12, 1985, when a 747 loaded with holiday travelers crashed in the mountains near Mt. Fuji. The reason: A simple repair with a dangerous flaw.
  • 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.
  • Episode 15: The Bath School massacre
    When children die in a disaster, it's the worst of tragedies. When children die due to the diabolical work of a man with dark intentions, it's even worse. May 18, 1927, was a typical spring day in Bath, Michigan, until a pair of explosions broke the day apart. One set the Kehoe farm alight. The other struck the Bath Consolidated School with devastating consequences.
  • Episode 14: The Versailles wedding hall disaster
    Keren and Assaf Dror thought May 24, 2001 would be the happiest day of their lives, and it was -- up until the floor collapsed at the wedding hall where hundreds of friends and family were dancing together in celebration.
  • Episode 13: TACA Flight 110
    Captain Carlos Dardano and his crew performed an exceptional feat of airmanship when their brand-new 737 lost both engines while landing over New Orleans during a violent thunderstorm.
  • Movie Break: The Day After
    For fuck's sake, Jolene. Jennifer revisits the "let's watch a nice educational TV movie about what'll happen when the Russians nuke us" genre by watching "The Day After." You know, the cheerful one.
  • 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.
  • Episode 11: The Goiania Accident
    On September 13, 1987, two thieves in the city of Goiania in Brazil sneaked into what was left of an abandoned clinic and stole what they thought was simply scrap metal they could sell for a few extra bucks. Instead, their theft led to a radioactive disaster the effects of which still impact the people and city of Goiania to this day.
  • Episode 10: The Rhythm Club Fire
    It's one of the biggest American disasters you may never have heard of. On April 23, 1940, over 200 people died when the Rhythm Club caught fire in Natchez, Mississippi. But one of the most lethal fires America's ever seen has slipped through the cracks of history. (TW: This episode also features discussion of the tragic Pulse shooting in Orlando this past weekend.)
  • Episode 9: Pacific Southwest Flight 1771
    When a plane went down in the Santa Clara Mountains in California in December 1987, only the smallest of clues were left behind for the NTSB and FBI to piece together to find out what (or who) killed 43 people.
  • Movie Break: Twister
    This week, Jennifer takes an episode off and stays sober to watch "Twister," because who needs to get drunk when you've got magical tank tops, slightly less creepy than normal clown dolls, and omnipotent cell phones?
  • Episode 8: The Port Arthur Massacre
    The Port Arthur historical site in Tasmania is a beautiful place with a tragic history tied into Australia's founding by shipping convicts into the country. The penal colony at Port Arthur saw suffering, violence, and grief, but over a hundred and fifty years since its inception, that was in its distant past ... at least, until April 28th, 1996.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Movie Break: The Poseidon Adventure
    Jennifer takes a break from the usual podcast to drink a few hard root beers and talk about one of her favorite movies of all time, "The Poseidon Adventure." In this episode, she talks about the plot hole that eats characters in the original book, emergency hot pants in the 1972 film, and Fergie paying the mortgage in the early-2000s remake. (TW: Discussion of rape as a plot point in one part of the episode.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Episode 1: Hartford Circus Fire
    On July 6, 1944, thousands of people arrived at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, CT, to enjoy the festivities. Then the sidewall caught fire.
  • Disaster Area: An Introduction
    Welcome to the first episode of "Disaster Area," a podcast focusing on disasters throughout history. In this initial episode, host Jennifer Matarese introduces herself, shares what she will and won't be discussing in each episode, and gives some idea of which disasters will be analyzed in future episodes.

My apologies for not keeping up with the posting too well since the start of the podcast, but I’ve been getting into the groove of the research needed to get the episodes just right.

The first three episodes are about the Hartford circus fire in 1944, the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, and the SS Eastland sinking in the Chicago River in 1915. I chose all three for different reasons. The Hartford circus fire is such an incongruous image — a joyful public gathering struck suddenly and swiftly by a tremendous tragedy. The Hillsborough disaster is one where the worst part might not even be the death of 96 innocent football fans, but the corruption and lies which followed to cover up the causes behind the disaster. And the SS Eastland disaster resulted in 844 picnickers dying in a shipwreck while the ship was still at the dock itself, within the heart of the city of Chicago.

The next episode will be about the Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse in 1981, so I’m currently doing a bit of a solo quick-and-dirty course in structural engineering. After that episode, we’ll be taking a break from the tragedy and sorrow of real disasters to discuss disaster movies, although I’m still undecided about which movie or aspect of the genre I’ll be touching on.

And please, if you like the podcast share it with your friends. I’m having a great time doing it and I’d love for lots of people to check it out. 🙂

The first three episodes