The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern HistoryIndustrial disasters. Bad design, lack of maintenance, human error, mother nature, bad luck, or some combination thereof. Here are the ten worst in recent history.


10.) The Chicago flood, 1992.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

You've got to be careful when digging holes under a river!

According to this source and confirmed by Wikipedia:

On April 13, 1992, adjacent construction tore a 20-foot-long hole through the wall of a tunnel 20 feet beneath the bed of the Chicago River, some 50 feet beneath downtown Chicago. Over 200 million gallons of water surged through an extensive series of underground tunnels, affecting more than 30 major buildings, including City Hall and the financial markets. Lower levels of major office high-rises held up to 40 feet of water, and the city center was evacuated out of fear that electrical or utility connection failures could endanger lives.

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9.) I-35W Mississippi River bridge, 2007.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

It was bad design and maintenance that led to the death of 13 people while injuring another 145. You might remember how the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in the forties, or how the Silver Bridge in Ohio gave up in 1967, but this happened only six years ago, a time when 3D simulations and much more advanced construction technologies were available to prevent something like this.

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8.) Blackouts in India, 2012.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

620 million people were affected. That's 9% of the world's population. Dark red is where they didn't have electricity for two days, lighter is where they could fix it more or less after one.

And you thought the Northeast blackout of 2003 was bad...

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7.) Guadalajara explosions, 1992.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

According to Wikipedia:

Four days before the explosion, residents started complaining of a strong gasoline-like smell coming from the sewers which became progressively more pungent over the course of those days. Some residents even found gasoline coming out of their water pipes. City workers were dispatched to check the sewers and found dangerously high levels of gasoline fumes. However, the city mayor did not feel it was necessary to evacuate the city because he felt that there was no risk of an explosion.

Numerous gasoline explosions in the sewer system over four hours destroyed 5 miles of streets. Officially, 252 people were killed, nearly 500 injured and 15,000 were left homeless.

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6.) BP's Deepwater Horizon, 2010.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

We have seen terrible oil spills before, but BP's ultra-deepwater rig was something new in the sense that they couldn't contain the leak at all for a long time. They're still cleaning it up, but TexasSooner says it's better than we think:

Being a Petroleum Engineering student with an emphasis in off-shore drilling, this event did have momentary significance, but the fact that it was a single rig drilling into several small deposits, it really did not have much of a major impact. The clean-up was simple and affects were only temporary.

The facts behind what caused this incident are still pretty speculative, but with oil and water you have to keep in mind that even though the well blew its cap deep under the surface, the oil that leaked out from the well-bore almost immediately began to float to the surface and spread. Now, I know that that sounds bad at first, but because of the density differences between oil and water it was a fairly simple clean-up due to the fact that all of the leaked oil spread out over a large area and was only sitting on the surface of the water. Once the size of the affected areas had been determined, BP was able to dispatch clean-up crews and make it right.

A common misconception with this incident is that so many people believe that it took a major toll on the underwater life in the Gulf of Mexico and that is why it affected so many people. The truth behind that is the fact that the clean-up did not take long because of the information above and that the people that were affected were mostly just fisherman due to the fact that if they dropped their nets and brought the sea-life to the surface, they would become contaminated. The second part to this is also that said fisherman are not still being affected like people would like to believe because of how ill-informed the media makes the general public.

YES... the fisherman ARE still being affected, but in the way that in the short time that they were not able to work, they got way behind on quotas, lost quite a bit of money, and now they are just having to get caught back up, but it is not because the sea-life is still contaminated, nor were they really ever in any real danger. The top-water sea-life were the only creatures that were truly affected (seagulls, pelicans, etc...), but honestly.... they are kind of a nuisance anyways. Heck... I buy shrimp and fresh fish from the Gulf whenever I get the opportunity to be in the area because I trust that it is still good.

Ultimately, the point that I am trying to make is that companies like BP are very good at what they do and when they do have an incident like this one, they do have contingency plans set in place so that they can properly correct the problem.

And YES, I do recognize that the rig blew up, but within a short amount of time the fires were put out and crews were in the water immediately following so that they could place another well-cap.

None of this is meant to insult you or anyone else involved in the discussion, but I see the need for more people to be better informed on the truth behind situations like this one and the industry that drives our great country's economy because it is no where close to as bad for the environment as many would like to believe.

Well, tell that to those who live there.

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5.) The levee in New Orleans, 2005.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

Proper maintenance? Nope. Serious catastrophe? Yes.

Suggested By: Brian, The Life of, Photo Credit: AP Images


4.) Bhopal gas tragedy, 1984.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

Look at this picture. This is how they tried to get rid of the gas (methyl isocyanate) in the air that killed thousands, caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries, many among who were children.

Basically, Union Carbide built a factory in India producing toxic chemicals next to a residential area, then handed over the keys to people who didn't know how to maintain it at all. That's how you kill or handicap thousands of innocent people far away from home.

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3.) Banqiao dam, 1975.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

This is Chinese president Jiang Zemin pointing at the territory which later got flooded for a dam construction in 1994. At least that was planned.

There is no official photo of the 1975 dam disaster, but it killed 171,000 people and made 11 million people homeless. The Banqiao dam got rebuilt later on.

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2.) Fukushima, 2011.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

Radioactive water is still leaking into the ocean...

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1.) Chernobyl, 1986.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

You can argue whether this or Fukushima was the worst major nuclear catastrophe, but my vote goes to Chernobyl because of the secrecy coming from the Soviet side.

The sign says: "We will fulfill the government's order!" in summer of 1986 next to the uncompleted construction.

They are most likely all dead by now.

The Ten Greatest Infrastructure Failures In Modern History

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