Natural disasters colliding with man-made disasters?
December 31, 2007 3:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an instance of a large-scale man made disaster (such as a war) that collided with a large-scale natural disaster (such as a hurricane) in the same territory. Any nation, any era ... as long as it's fact. Thank you for any help you can offer. :-)

This is my first time posting on metafilter; I hope I haven't mis-categorized my question. I had difficulty deciding among "society & culture," "science and nature," and "law & government."
posted by coizero to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Napoleon might have succeeded in capturing Moscow in 1812, if Moscow hadn't burned down.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:52 AM on December 31, 2007

The Tangshan earthquake occurred as China was finally emerging from the man-made chaos of the Cultural Revolution; the prevailing politics of the time greatly exacerbated the death toll.
posted by Abiezer at 4:03 AM on December 31, 2007

Hurricane Katrina started as a natural disaster which became worse due to the government's (lack of) response.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:14 AM on December 31, 2007

Best answer: In 1944, the US Navy was hit by "Halsey's Typhoon".
posted by Zonker at 4:14 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's basically inclement weather that wiped out Kublai Khan's two attempts at invading Japan. Last paragraph here.
posted by juv3nal at 4:22 AM on December 31, 2007

The Protestant Wind which destroyed the Spanish Armada.
posted by happyturtle at 4:32 AM on December 31, 2007

Best answer: The British sacking of Washington during the War of 1812 was interrupted by a hurricane.
posted by stevis23 at 5:00 AM on December 31, 2007

I always associate the Taiping rebellion and various natural disasters like earthquakes and flooding during the late Qing dynasty.
posted by pravit at 5:48 AM on December 31, 2007

Does disease count as a natural disaster?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:05 AM on December 31, 2007

The original kamikaze winds saved Japan from chinese invasion.

This is my first time posting on metafilter; I hope I haven't mis-categorized my question. I had difficulty deciding among "society & culture," "science and nature," and "law & government."
Sorry, we are going to have to dock you two answers. Policy.

posted by shothotbot at 6:12 AM on December 31, 2007

Look up the origins of 'kamikaze'. I believe it had something to do with typhoons wiping out the entire Mongolian fleet, twice, before invading Japan. Hence, kamikaze means "God wind".
posted by Jase_B at 6:14 AM on December 31, 2007

Best answer: In 1944, northen Vietnam suffered both a drought and a flood, damaging crops. At the same period, the Japanese army was occupying the country, hoarding food for themselves, while the US was blockading and bombing the trade routes. Result: 400000 to 2 million Vietnamese died of starvation from October 1944 to May 1945.
posted by elgilito at 6:15 AM on December 31, 2007

If disease counts, the Spanish Flu pandemic and the end of the Great War would be one thing. For a look at disease affecting the course of human history, take a look at William McNeil's Plagues and People. One big example of disease intertwining with war would be the Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs. In this case, the Spanish inadvertently brought a natural disaster with them, in their cocktail of diseases that weren't known in the New World, and this helped their war-making efforts.
posted by chengjih at 6:15 AM on December 31, 2007

Cold weather combined with invasions of Russia? Nailed both Napoleon and Hitler.

Hurricane Katrina started as a natural disaster which became worse due to the government's (lack of) response.

I think you could make a pretty convincing argument that the real crisis was the gutting of the US emergency planning and response capacity (eg by hiring people like Brownie) combined with a couple of hundred years of racist administration and urban development on the Gulf Coast; the hurricane simply exposed these existing structural weaknesses.
posted by Forktine at 6:49 AM on December 31, 2007

Cold weather combined with invasions of Russia? Nailed both Napoleon and Hitler.

This is a bit off-topic, but the effect of the Russian winter is often exaggerated and used as an excuse for the defeat of Napoleon and Hitler. Both were well aware of the dangers of waging war during winter; the resistance of Russian forces and the overstretched supply lines of the invaders is what really nailed them.
posted by pravit at 7:09 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Black Death in 1348 brought the Hundred Years War between England and France to a halt - it only resumed in 1356 when England had recovered somewhat.
posted by WPW at 8:00 AM on December 31, 2007

Best answer: 492 BC
The Persian armada was destroyed by a storm while trying to round Mount Athos. Had that not happened, there may not have later been the battle of Thermopylae (the famous "300")
posted by sandra_s at 8:02 AM on December 31, 2007

The (manmade) Amoco Cadiz foundered in a (natural) storm and spilled thousands of barrels of crude oil in 1978.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:04 AM on December 31, 2007

The Spanish Armada?
posted by notyou at 9:08 AM on December 31, 2007

Napoleon's bid to conquer the Americas was halted because of the decimation of the French forces by yellow fever.
posted by Pants! at 10:06 AM on December 31, 2007

As described in the Hojoki, in 1180 the Japanese Imperial family moved the capital from Heian-Kyo to the seaport in Settsu after a disasterous fire and Typhoon damaged the imperial capital. This event collided with a famine the following year as thousands were left vulnerable after uprooting and moving down river. Approximately 40,000 perished. This was followed 4 years later by a severe earthquake.
posted by Alison at 11:06 AM on December 31, 2007

Best answer: The devastation wrought by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami helped to end the thirty-year rebellion in the Aceh region of Indonesia.
posted by hangashore at 11:10 AM on December 31, 2007

Just on cue Strange Maps posts Minard's glorious statistical graph of Napoleon's Russian campaign. I didn't fully comprehend just how much of a disastrous blunder this was until seeing it.

Oh, and I've requested a history category, but nobody bit. History ask.mes get scattered through the categories. Don't worry, everybody asking history questions stares a bit at the list thinking "none of these are quite right."
posted by Kattullus at 12:48 PM on December 31, 2007

(This is a cool question and you did a fine job asking it as evidenced by the volume and quality of the answers).

I don't have my copy of Flyboys with me at the moment, but I specifically remember a part in there about the Kamikaze winds essentially decimating what remained of the US fleet in the Pacific, I think it happened just after Japan surrendered, but the war might have gone quite differently if they had come a week or two earlier.

The pages specific to WW2 aren't included here, but the bottom of page 19 does talk about the winds repelling the Mongol attacks, as mentioned above.

Also, the Battle of the Bulge in the Euro theater comes to mind - nasty weather for the troops there. I read about it as a kid but was recently reminded by the Band of Brothers series.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:56 PM on December 31, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to all of you for your answers! Diseases are outside the limits of what I'm looking for (however, if half a battalion sprouted malignant tumors during an invasion, I want to know about it!).
posted by coizero at 4:57 PM on December 31, 2007

Tecumseh's war and the New Madrid earthquake?
posted by dilettante at 6:03 PM on December 31, 2007

Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans caused levee failure. Levee failure caused massive flooding in New Orleans. Lack of energy source for pumping out floodwater caused massive breakdown of infrastructure.
posted by JujuB at 8:23 PM on December 31, 2007

Look into the Johnstown Flood of 1889, which resulted when a poorly maintained dam gave way in heavy rains. The dam had formed a huge lake, the centerpiece of a private hunting and fishing club that served as a secret PA retreat for such barons of industry as Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon and Henry Clay Frick. People in Johnstown had expressed concern about the dam but were ignored by the club. When the dam gave way, the wall of mud and water carried animals, buildings etc. into the town and then plowed into the Cambria Iron Works and shoved its rail cars and barbed wire into the mix. About 2200 people died, including some trapped by the barbed wire and crushed against a bridge that still stands today. Others perished in the ensuing fire. One more thing: the Johnstown Flood was the first time the Red Cross deployed a disaster relief operation, which included Clara Barton. It's a great story of a tragic confluence of nature, hubris, haves, and have nots.
posted by carmicha at 8:27 PM on December 31, 2007

Best answer: This could be a derail, but Jared Diamond's book Collapse is basically all about this. For instance, Australia is an arid place utterly unsuited to intensive agriculture, but the British transportees arrived and established themselves during a wet period, distorting expectations for decades. The grasslands used for sheep farming can take years to recover from a year of grazing, instead of rebounding annually as in Britain. Standard irrigation practices used in the rest of the world tend in Australia to leach salt out of the soil and send it trickling downhill. Your farm may not suffer, but your neighbor's will.

In another case, the Vikings successfully established a colony in Greenland, but failed to account for the very limited grassland available to raise animals for meat. Although the colony survived against all odds for a couple of centuries, eventually the Little Ice Age prevented regular ship commerce, and separated from its sources of tools and certain other goods, the society failed.

On a smaller scale, again and again, man-made exploitation of resources ran up against hard limits, and in too many cases societies failed to adapt to a more sustainable path in time. Often, a natural disaster simply exposes the weaknesses in such a society.

One of the dramatic counterexamples, despite Greenland, is Iceland. The place looked like Norway but is geologically quite different. Exploiting it like Norway was a disaster, but the society recovered and turned to sustainable techniques ... in the Middle Ages, no less.
posted by dhartung at 12:11 AM on January 1, 2008

Great Famine of 1315–1317 was brought on by heavy rains which soaked the ground: "The French, under Louis X, tried to invade Flanders, but being in the low country of the Netherlands, the fields were soaked and the army became so bogged down they were forced to retreat."
posted by stbalbach at 7:22 AM on January 3, 2008

There's past and current political issues tied up with the Free Aceh Movement (otherwise known as GAM) in Indonesia and the 2004 tsunami. There were years of war-like activity and tensions between GAM and the formal government of Indonesia; after Aceh's economy and population was devastated in the tsunami, a peace agreement was brokered in 2005. I'm not an expert, and this is a very contentious issue, so I can't tell you how accurate the wikipedia entry on Aceh is, but it should get you started with some background and suggestions for further readings.
posted by holyrood at 12:26 PM on January 3, 2008

« Older HD Favourites   |   How did I hurt myself from sitting? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.