The 6 Greatest Engineering Disasters of All Time


Building at a large scale has always been mankind’s goal. But from a bold idea and a project on the drawing board to actually building the massive construction there’s a long way to go. Sometimes, the expectations are nowhere near the actual result because infallible and great engineering genius go hand in hand when it comes to our civilization.

Panama Canal

One of the deadliest engineering projects of the 20th century, the Panama Canal took 30,000 lives. Constructions at the sea level canal began back in 1880, but were abandoned in 1890 due to high costs and the unstable terrain, improper weather conditions, malaria, and yellow fever which killed 22,000 workers. The project was later revived, and the Panama Canal was completed in 1914, two years before the target date. Still, the price paid for the canal was one of the highest in history: another 6,000 workers died between 1904 and 1914, the death toll reaching more than 30,000.

White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal

While the Panama Canal was designed for ocean-going vessels, the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal designed for light traffic is Stalinist Russia’s greatest engineering disaster. It was built using convict labor from Gulag camps. Constructions lasted between 1931 and 1933, when the 141 miles of canal were dug by hand. Throughout these two years, the death toll reaches tens of thousands of Gulag prisoners.

Road of Bones

Another one of Soviet Russia’s deadly engineering projects, the M56 Kolyma Highway connecting Magadan and Ykutsky in the Russian Far East is also known as the Road of Bones. In the 1930s, the highway was built using convict labor from the Sevvostlag camp. During Stalin, Gulag prisoners worked, too. With no safety or health precautions, workers dropped one by one. The thousands of bodies of workers were buried either underneath the highway itself, or along the road.

Hawks Nest Tunnel

One of the United States’ worst engineering disasters, Hawks Nest Tunnel in West Virginia was built between 1930 and 1932. During the excavations, workers found mineral silica and were asked to mine it. With no safety equipment, the workers were exposed to silica dust, developing a chronic lung disease called silicosis. At the time, the official death toll was 109 deaths. But he actual number was close to 2,000.

Karakorum Highway

Connecting China and Pakistan, the Karakorum Highway crosses the treacherous Karakorum Mountains. Also known as the Friendship Highway, it is the highest paved road in the world, often looked at as the ninth wonder of the world. But building a highway at an altitude of over 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) was not easy and between 1959 and 1978, 892 workers lost their lives due to landslides.

Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Explosion

The greatest nuclear power plant disaster in history and the only level 7 explosion on the International Nuclear Event Scale, Chernobyl is without any doubt one of the deadliest constructions/engineering projects in history. It is yet another one of the Soviet Union’s failed projects, near Prypat in Ukraine. At 01:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986, reactor number four yielded. It was later discovered that the reactor had been structurally unsound. Other reactors were affected, too, and a chain of explosions commenced. A thick radioactive cloud was propelled into the atmosphere and was scattered along a huge geographical area. No less than 336,000 people had to be evacuated due to the disaster at Chernobyl. Two workers died on the spot, but the radioactive wave caused far more victims, as people suffering from cancer caused by radioactive poisoning are still reported today.

Author Byline: Davis L. Rock is a constructions expert and also a blogger. He’s also part of Doobek’s team, home remodelling and general contractors company that is based in Los Angeles.


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