Dog Fall Kills Three Passers-by, 1988

When a poodle fell off a high rise balcony in Buenos Aires, it is hard to understand how it could result in the deaths of three pedestrians below. Read here to find out how it happened.

Cachi’s beady eyes were locked on to the tennis ball the Montoya family’s youngest boy bounced, so engrossed his head nodded up and down to its rebound.

The ball! The furry, squeezy round thing, fast and agile, and to his prehistoric instincts, his prey. Did he want the ball, his 4ft human friend asked? He certainly did.

The breeze cooled the family lounge that wafted through the open balcony doorway. In the background could be heard a cartoon on the TV and the dull, gentle thud of the ceiling fan.

Cachi’s sinews were trip-wire taut in anticipation. Finally the boy released the ball with a lob and it arched over the white family poodle. Cachi launched himself after his quarry.

The ball bounced too far however, bounding out onto the balcony and through the ornate railings to the street below.

Cachi’s frantic bid to gain traction on the smooth clay red ceramic tiles was in vain. With paws flailing, Cachi sadly dropped off the side after it. It was to his demise the apartment was on the most unlucky floor in the building.

To the agonised, lung-busting screech of his best friend ringing in his ears the red-rimmed hat below rushed up at him before he could eve…

Cachi the poodle’s 13 floor fall (bestoftruecrime.com)

A small, delicate lady named Señorita Espina halted her slow walk along the Buenos Aires pavement in just the wrong spot. She turned to admire a lush carpet in a shop window; she admired it for its vivid colours as much as the fact her fading eyesight made it hard to enjoy the sight of anything much further away.

A sharp canine yelp made her jerk her head up. A heavy thump and moan caused other pedestrians to jerk their heads around in turn.

Catchi left his cherished human boy without a chance for even a farewell head pat. His journey to the next life abruptly commenced, now at the heel of his new grey-haired companion.

A woman named Edith Sola, with streaks of grey coming through her long, glossy dark hair, peered across Rivadavia Avenue. Her mouth hung slack-jawed and her brown eyes twinkled in curiosity at the scene.

She craned her head up to see the source of a child’s loud blubbering on a balcony thirteen stories up. Down at street level a crowd had gathered around directly below the balcony looking at… what, she wondered? Her curiosity took over.

The bus driver was making good time moving up the gears along Rivadavia Avenue, too good.

He had about two seconds to react to a woman stepping out into the road obliviously. In vain he stamped the brake pedal as far down into the footwell as it would go and tugged on the steering wheel. The bus screeched; an ugly thump; a crack of bones and Sola’s body was hurled into the air sideways before slapping to the tarmac, motionless.

Yet the catastrophic ripple effect of that bouncing ball wasn’t over. A gentleman had stepped out of a pharmacy in time to witness the small poodle slam into the elderly woman, killing both instantly.

He gasped in dismay, his feet rooted to the spot. He held his head and a silent prayer streamed from his trembling lips.

To turn to see the bus swerve wildly and another person die in front of his very eyes was too much. He suddenly wished desperately to be away from the lights, the babbling onlookers and oncoming blare of sirens. He started to pant, was then stricken with a sharp pain in the chest and his silent prayers were now audible.

His condition had turned to a full-blown heart attack by the time he was placed in an ambulance, and he too sadly perished.

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HMS Curacoa Tragedy, 1942

The story of the light cruiser that was sliced in half by the colossal Queen Mary transatlantic liner.

It was late 1942 and the Battle of the Atlantic – the struggle to ferry millions of tonnes of equipment, war materials and men through a deadly gauntlet of U-Boat submarines – was in full flow.

When 10,000 men of the US 29th Division were needed across the Atlantic it was the RMS Queen Mary (QM) that was chosen for the task – a huge ship but also the fastest passenger liner of its age, holding the record for fastest Atlantic crossing from 1946 to 1952.

If that ship were to be torpedoed and sunk, the loss of all those men would be an absolute catastrophe, so the Queen Mary’s orders were to sail full speed ahead and in a ‘Zig-Zag’ formation to make it extremely hard for any submarine to sink her. This wasn’t just an operating procedure, naval regulations forbade her to slow down under any circumstances.

On the 2nd of October, she rendezvoused with an escort, HMS Curacoa, off the Irish coast and there a calamitous misunderstanding occurred. Each captain had different interpretations of ‘The Rule of the Road’, believing his ship had the right of way.

As the QM continued to zig-zag her officer of the watch saw that she and the Curacoa were getting too close for comfort and took evasive action. Yet the QM’s captain then intervened; disastrously he told his officer to: “Carry on with the zig-zag. These chaps are used to escorting; they will keep out of your way and won’t interfere with you.

QM started to turn starboard; Curacoa’s captain saw what was happening but by then it was too late; QM struck Curacoa amidships at full speed and sliced the cruiser in two ‘like a piece of butter, straight through the six-inch (15.2cm) armoured plating’.

The fatal moment of impact (news.daily.com)

The rear end sank almost immediately, but the rest of the ship stayed on the surface a few minutes longer. 

To imagine the mood on the QM’s bridge in the minutes after; the captain’s dismay and taut figures at station.

Acting under orders not to stop due to the risk of U-boat attacks, QM steamed onward with a damaged bow. She radioed the other warships of her escort and reported the collision.

101 survivors, including the captain, were eventually picked up yet 239 officers and men went down with their ship.

London Beer Flood, 1814

What occurred to cause a tidal-wave of beer to slosh down the slums of London? Read on to find out the devastation caused.

If we’ve all got to meet the reaper some day or other, some folks might say that drowning in beer isn’t the worst way to go.

It was 1814 and the Meux Brewery was one of the largest in London, UK, and its owner, Henry Meux Jr, had built a huge wooden vessel at the Horse Shoe Brewery 6.7m (22 feet) tall in order to store porter, a dark beer that was London’s most popular drink.

This giant vat was held together by no less than eighty tonnes of iron hoops, but on the afternoon of 17 October it was noticed that one of these hoops had slipped. This happened occasionally and when the storehouse clerk reported it, he was told “that no harm whatever would ensue” and that it would be fixed later.

Yet the vat was almost full and, an hour after the hoop slipped down, the vessel burst asunder without warning.

Some of the massive beer vats of London’s breweries (history.com)

The force of the liquid’s release damaged a neighbouring vat and several hogsheads of porter were also destroyed, and their contents all added to a terrific flood. Between 3600 and 9000 imperial barrels (600,000l to 1,500,000l or 150,000 to 390,000 US Gallons) were released.

The resultant tsunami of beer 4.6m (15 feet) high destroyed the rear wall of the brewery and swept into a street in St Giles Rookery.

Slum-dwellers were crushed or smashed by a violent mass of liquid and masonry. Others were drowned as the wave destroyed two houses and badly damaged others.

In the second destroyed house, a wake was being held by an Irish family for a two-year-old boy; Anne Saville, the boy’s mother, and four other mourners were tragically killed.

Furthermore, the land around the brewery, being low-lying and flat and with insufficient drainage, the beer flowed into many inhabited cellars.

A total of eight adults and children sadly perished.

Several hundred spectators came to view the scene, and stories later arose of hundreds of people collecting the beer and getting so drunk that one person died from alcohol poisoning.

Derrick Bird and the Cumbrian Massacre

Why a friendly, sociable local killed 12 people was a mystery to most. Here, his life is scrutinised to expose how it unravelled before its fatal climax

A puzzling episode of Cumbrian history that bewilders locals to this very day. After an angry confrontation with some colleagues, a man named Derrick Bird shot dead his twin brother, his solicitor, then 10 mostly random victims as he sped 45 miles (72km) around West Cumbria before finally killing himself.

Yet, ‘Birdy’ as many affectionately referred to him, was well-liked, sociable and friendly up until that fateful day. Then something inside him snapped and his hidden demons took hold.

The Shooting Rampage

The route of Derrick Bird’s shooting slalom (murderpedia.org)

It was in West Cumbria this horror story played out. Sandwiched between the Irish Sea to the west and the Lake District to the east, West Cumbria is a tight-knit and quaint rural region. It was the kind of place with few strangers.

It was the last weekend of May in 2010 and Derrick was in the pub, as was his way, for a pint and joke or two before he headed off home. ‘Birdy’ was unusually drunk both that Friday and Saturday, however. One onlooker recalled that Derrick was “bouncing off the walls” and “that wasn’t Derrick”.

The next week on the 1st of June a low-level feud between Derrick and a few other taxi drivers, which many dismissed as banter, flared up when someone crossed a line in something they said to Birdy. A witness said Bird “shook his colleagues by the hands to say his goodbyes and said there’s going to be a rampage in this town tomorrow. They just laughed and didn’t take him seriously.

In the early hours of the next day, Bird drove to his twin-brother, David Bird’s, house, let himself in through the unlocked back door, crept upstairs and shot him 11 times with his rifle. Yet, someone recalled that just the week before Derrick and David had enjoyed a day at a scramble track “laughing their heads off like you’d expect warm brothers to do.”

By sunrise, he was seen washing his Citroen Picasso outside his house.

Then at 10:13am Derrick drove to his solicitor’s house. Attempting to leave home in his car, 60-year-old Kevin Commons found his driveway blocked by Bird’s car. Bird fired his shotgun at Commons and hit him in the shoulder. As he then staggered back up his drive, Bird shot him in the head.

From the ‘targeted phase’ of the shootings, what began now was the ‘rampage phase’ in which Derrick — armed with a 12-bore sawn-off shotgun and rifle — shot dead 10 more people.

Bird would call victims over to his car to ask the time before shooting them or he’d take potshots from distance, shooting a total of 21 people. With little rhyme nor reason, Bird cut down friend, foe and stranger alike

As an example, Bird returned to the taxi rank and executed one of his main antagonists, Darren Rewcastle, at point-blank range. Yet, Bird also shot three other drivers, including his good friend Paul Wilson whose cheek he grazed. Fortunately, the three survived.

Other locals came eyeball-to-eyeball with Bird but he let them be, such as Barry Moss, a cyclist who came face to face with Bird as he stood by the side of his taxi, having just murdered Susan Hughes as she walked home with her shopping.

He remembered “He just stared at me, and just had a very blank expression… he didn’t say or do anything really… Then he scurried into his car and drove off.

On Bird went, randomly shooting, killing and injuring some whilst letting others be.

The end came soon after midday; Bird’s car was running out of fuel as the Lake District’s fells (hills) and forest loomed up around him. Trying to pass another car, Bird skimmed a wall and damaged his tire.

This forced him to a stop and he abandoned the Picasso. Bird then headed into woodland with his rifle to kill himself in solitude.

Derrick Bird’s 12 victims, including David Bird, centre-left (bbc.com)

The Enigma

Make no mistake this crime ultimately showed Derrick Bird for what he was — a malicious and deranged gunman.

Yet, he was also an enigma.

A friendly man, Derrick was referred affectionately to as ‘Birdy’ (mirror.co.uk)

52-years-old and fair-haired, ‘Birdy’ was ‘quiet’ ‘friendly’ ‘sociable’, and time and time again referred to with warmth, even after his horrific crime.

This was a man who would pay his local greengrocer a pound for the 85p milk carton and would go out of his way to rustle up a couple of quid for the local church collection.

Derrick also had good reason to be content, having just become a new granddad by one of his two sons with whom he had a good relationship.

He was a taxi driver who worked hard through the Christmas period to pay for scuba-diving holidays in Thailand, he enjoyed motorsports and was very much a regular local.

And yes, he owned a twin-barrel shotgun and rifle, though gun ownership was not uncommon in this rugged corner of Britain.

He was so well regarded, people in the community when later interviewed almost refused to associate the Derrick they knew with the one who went haywire and attacked dozens of innocent people.

So, why did this innocuous member of the community blow up the way he did?

An examination of a number of events and developments in this 52-year-old’s life reveals a man who was actually grudgeful, highly anxious, depressed and who’d grown paranoid also.

Let’s look at what led to this horrific massacre.

Sellafield Job Resignation

The first nail in the coffin was hammered back in 1990.

Derrick had worked as a Joiner at the nearby Sellafield Nuclear Facility but resigned after he was accused of stealing wood from the powerplant.

Bird was subsequently convicted and given a twelve-month suspended sentence.

It’s funny that the idiom to ‘have a chip on one’s shoulder’ originates from 18th Century working practices in the British Royal Dockyards where shipwrights were allowed to remove surplus timber (chips) on their shoulders for firewood or building material, and this was a substantial perk of the job for the dock workers.

A later rule change made it only what they could carry under one arm which limited the amount of timber they could carry, so the shipwrights went on strike.

Ironically, this was the first of Derrick’s own chips on his shoulder for trying to remove timber, in turn.

His long-term partner at the time went on to recall how Derrick had also been really apprehensive about the prospect of going to prison, which was unfounded but would have ramifications later.

Assaulted by Fare Dodgers

18 years later, Derrick was brutally assaulted when he tried to stop some fare dodgers from doing a runner.. They knocked him to the ground, kicked his teeth in and cracked his head on the pavement.

People saw a change in Derrick after this traumatic episode. He became more anxious and started drinking more.

Taxman a-Knockin’

Derrick had committed tax evasion for a few years and his fears of a prison sentence came back to haunt him.

He consulted his solicitor, Kevin Commons, about the issue and Commons informed him that Bird had more than enough savings to cover the five-figure bill from the Inland Revenue, and that should’ve allayed his fears.

Yet, Derrick wasn’t convinced, despite repeated reassurances.

Even more strangely Derrick somehow got it into his head that Commons and his brother were in cahoots in a bizarre plot to bring him down.

Derrick’s Brother David

Regarding Derrick’s relationship with his twin brother David, family members were adamant that there was never a problem between the two, but David had once borrowed £25,000 from their now-deceased father which he never paid back.

Since then David had become considerably more financially successful than Derrick and, with his tax problems having emerged, Derrick, it seems, felt his brother owed him some of that £25,000 he’d have otherwise partly inherited. The presumption is there was some disagreement over this and the twins had argued fiercely the week previous to June the 2nd.

Ailing Mother

Derrick also lived and cared for his ailing mother whose health was now deteriorating, making her son depressed that she wasn’t long for this world.

Taxi Rank Tensions

Finally, taxicab competition had been increasing while the number of customers wasn’t, and Derrick was getting quietly irked that some of his colleagues sometimes jumped the queue and didn’t wait their turn for the next customer.

Banter is a big part of many work environments in a country famed for its humour, especially among men.

When there is mutual respect banter is fun, endearing and helps the workday pass less drudgingly. When the respect isn’t there, though, banter can be unpleasant if you’re not thick-skinned.

Although Birdy had many friends amongst the other taxi drivers of the area, jokes were made, and pranks were played, and Derrick, with his mounting insecurities, was increasingly on the wrong end of them.

Not long before that Summer, Derrick had sent £1000 to a Thai lady he met on one of his scuba diving holidays but the woman ended contact with him shortly after.

Derrick felt he had been made a fool out of and it’s not hard to imagine he got a lot of ‘flak’ for that from the other drivers.

One of deranged Derrick’s many victims (murderpedia.org)

Derrick and His Hidden Demons

Here then was the story of a man who hadn’t aged well.

Derrick Bird’s worries and grievances had been allowed to quietly fester among a stoic, thick-skinned rural community, typical of the English North.

Reading between the lines it seems Derrick felt his life had been on an inescapable slide for some time and his mother’s death plus the legal consequences of his tax-dodging were going to send it plunging.

Was he guilty of being an ‘entitled white male’? The fact Derrick failed to take responsibility for a number of his life choices, instead, projecting them as the fault of others, suggests that argument holds water.

Ultimately, Derrick lacked the empathy for his fellow humans to keep his inner demons in check. For that, one’s empathy for him should be kept firmly in check.

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Chris Foster, The Millionaire in So Much Debt, He Committed Familicide

The story of Chris Foster, the man who committed familicide rather than face the bailiffs

One of the most unsettling crimes you’ll ever read about; on the 26th of August 2008, Chris Foster murdered his wife and teenage daughter and set his house on fire before killing himself.

What went so wrong for the once-successful millionaire that he killed his family? Was he evil, or is our obsession with money the true root of this sad saga?

It was in Maesbrook village this tale unfolded, a tranquil, richly green locale in England where city slickers who make their fortunes on the mean streets of Birmingham retreat to enjoy the fruits of their labours. Expensive cars and grand houses are everywhere in this well-to-do Shropshire village, as a result.

Into this environment Chris Foster, with his wife Jill and daughter Kirstie, fitted right in.

Ulvashield – Chris’s Eureka Invention

Chris had been an ordinary salesman from Burnley until he had a eureka moment in 1988.

Inspired by the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion of that year, Chris seized upon an idea to invent a new oil rig sealant. By 1996 he had invented and patented a product he called ‘Ulvashield’ complete with a five-star safety rating.

Orders began pouring in and the fortunes of Chris’s newly formed company skyrocketed. Flush with success, it wasn’t long before he started living and dressing like the millionaire he’d become.

Millionaire Businessman

And he was clearly a very materialistic man. Chris dressed well and liked nice holidays. Soon after moving his family into the village, a fleet of cars came through the gateway of his new home, Osbaston House — Porcshes, an Aston Martin, and a 4X4 for Jill.

He bought horses for Kirstie and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on a gun collection which he loved to shoot as an avid member of the local shooting club.

He always looked the part; a flash, successful millionaire.

But that was the first nail in his coffin; Chris spent money like it would never run out… Except soon it did.

Although the man was clearly smart in that he had invented a great product, that didn’t make him a great businessman. A judge later described Christopher as “bereft of the basic instincts of commercial morality” and “not to be trusted”.

Chris’s Downfall

Despite appearances, Chris couldn’t afford his lavish lifestyle and his financial struggles were causing untold stress (caledoniankitty.co.uk)

By 2005, Chris’s extravagant lifestyle had outstripped his earnings and he had racked up debts of £2.8 million.

To maintain his non-stop splurging Chris was happy to cut a few corners; he breached the contract he had with the suppliers of Ulvashield by finding a new, cheaper supplier. But the manufacturers took legal action against him for damages, and the wheels of his downfall were set in motion.

By 2007, his company was liquidated.

It’s unclear how much his family knew about their circumstances now that Chris had no income, but friends remained completely in the dark whilst the man kept up a façade of affluence, continuing with social gatherings and bragging to friends that he had a multi-million-pound business deal in the pipeline.

Behind Chris’s big smile and warm handshake, however, his mind entered a dark, dark place. Now that he had no business to attend to only his 15-acre property could occupy his time. Chris pottered around, keeping the grounds of his house immaculate, even moving his tractor from spot to spot such was his restlessness.

As he tinkered away, his thoughts dwelled increasingly on his predicament and his fears of the unbearable shame that would come once the stark truth of his failings was exposed. The Summer of 2008 had been exceptionally wet and grey. One imagines it did nothing to keep the dark clouds off his mind.

It’s likely Chris started to plan his end, and that of his wife and daughter’s, as that bleak Summer waned with the coming of August. Chris by now had no less than 20 bank accounts overdrawn and didn’t even own his home anymore.

Then the day came he’d been dreading; the housekeeper he still employed found a letter attached to the gate. It was from the bailiffs informing him that they were coming to repossess all his possessions within a week. She later recalled how Chris had looked distressed but said nothing.

The Murders

Relaxed and smiling: Chris, Jill and Kirstie on their last day alive (telegraph.co.uk)

On the day this sad saga ended the Fosters were invited to a friend’s barbeque and clay pigeon shoot. Chris spent his last day on earth enjoying the hobby he loved.

It’s chilling to note that none of the guests that night noticed any red flags with Chris, who seemed in particularly good spirits. It is a paradox that a suicidal person can be the happiest they have been in a long time knowing the end is nigh. A photo of the family shows all three smiling at the camera and looking relaxed.

One can only wonder what the mood amongst the Fosters was like that night, on the drive home, and getting ready for bed.

Was Chris quiet or chatty? Did Jill and Kirsty detect an air that something was off? Was there an air of foreboding?

Around 11.30pm Chris told his daughter to go to bed.

Around 3am Chris, 50 years old, shot his wife Jill, 49, in the back of the head. He then went into his daughter’s room and shot Kirstie, 15, in the back of the head too.

He went on to kill all the family pets; the four dogs, three horses; even the ducks and chickens.

Chris then doused the house, the stables and his cars in heating oil to set them alight.

He also made sure to block the driveway with a horsebox and shoot out the tires in order to prevent first responders from quickly extinguishing the fire. The man was so bitter he wanted his creditors, the people who’d supposedly put him in this predicament, to get absolutely nothing out of him.

As the fire took hold, it filled the house with smoke and Chris went to rejoin his wife. He succumbed to smoke inhalation.

It took three days for firefighters to extinguish the fire and allow the investigators to begin their grim task of sifting through the mangled wreckage of Chris Foster’s life.

Is ‘Money Evil’ …or Was Chris?

The chilling tragedy shocked the nation and commentators inevitably tried to make sense of what had happened.

A once successful man was so ashamed of his business failings, he destroyed everything he loved and owned before ending his life. Why?

In the days after, amongst the cards and flowers left by the gateway was a note saying ‘Money is the root to all evil.’

It seemed to sum up the sentiments of many bereaved. Here was an average man who achieved something special; he invented something so great it made him a millionaire, and he shouldn’t have had to worry about money ever again.

Yet instead, it hooked him onto the vice-like trappings of materialism and vanity. Marketing and media make us covet fast cars, swanky clothes and everything else in between, so once Chris got a taste of the good life he was addicted like a heroin addict no matter how much debt he got into, until his creditors hounded him into a corner he couldn’t escape.

Chris appeared to be a loving father and husband, and one friend described him as ‘down to earth’, ‘open’ and ‘warm’. Yet, was he such a nice guy?

Many described Chris as ‘warm’ and ‘friendly’. Yet, others who knew him better called him a ‘narcissist’ and ‘highly controlling’ (mirror.co.uk)

Well, Chris was described by others variously as a ‘schoolboy bully’ a ‘narcissist’ and ‘highly controlling’ who was known to have hit his wife at least once. Some commentators suggested Chris’s murder spree was the last act of control over his family, to deny them a future free of his domination.

Whatever the truth, the sad Foster family saga is testament to Capitalism’s fickle fortunes and reminds us of the maxim: ‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall’.

Chris Foster, the big man with a big smile, fell very hard indeed.

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10 Little-Known British Natural Disasters

Read about the worst that Mother Nature has thrown at Britain

When Mother Nature gets angry the effects can be both spectacular and catastrophic. You’ll rarely hear stories of homes getting obliterated by violent winds, buildings rocking on their foundations or tornadoes tearing across the land emanate from Great Britain, however.

The UK has, it seems, a very droll climate, yet you’d be surprised by the extreme weather events and natural disasters that have actually occurred on this supposedly green and pleasant land.

Hurricane

Between a tree and a hard place; two of Britain’s iconic telephone boxes sandwiched by one of the 15 million trees uprooted that night (alamy.com)

The Hurricane of 1987 was an event immortalized in the annals of British pop culture by preeminent BBC weatherman Michael Fish denying on live TV that a hurricane was on its way, only to eat his words hours later.

On the night of 15th/16th of October, the great storm ploughed into the English south coast and gave the country a thorough battering before coming out the other side again at The Wash.

With the highest gusts measuring 135mph (217km/h), 15 million trees were felled, blocking roads and crushing cars.

Roofs and windows were smashed and several hundred thousand people were left without power, not fully restored until more than two weeks later. At sea, one ferry capsized.

18 people perished and the damage totalled over two billion pounds.

Heatwave

1st August 1911: Men sleeping on the sands at Westcliff, Essex during the 1911 heatwave (notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com)

For a country known for its rain and mild climate, the UK has endured some pretty brutal heatwaves over the decades.

The worst of them was the heatwave of 1911. For over two months, temperature records were smashed, with a high of 36.7 °C (98.1 °F).

It got so hot rural workers in Lancashire had to adopt a ‘siesta’ workday where they would quit the mid-afternoon swelter to return to their labours in the evening. Whilst on the London Docks thousands of workers went on strike in desperation to escape toiling in the merciless heat.

2500-4000 souls, including over 600 babies, succumbed to the punishing heat before it abated.

Tsunami

“So violent and swift were the outragiouse waves…” (volcanocafe.com)

You might find it hard to believe, but some evidence suggests a tsunami devastated the coastline of the Bristol Channel in 1607AD.

It drowned thousands of people, swept away houses and villages and destroyed whole flocks of cattle.

A contemporary account of the event described the disaster: “… so violent and swift were the outragiouse waves, that pursued one an other, with such vehemencie, and the Waters multiplying so much in so short a time, that… most part of those cuntreys (and especially the places which lay lowe) were all over flowen, and many hundreds of people both men women, and children were then quite devoured, by these outragious waters, such was the furie of the waves, of the Seas, the one of them dryving the other forwardes with such force and swiftnes.

Tornado

Tornado or terrorism? Carnage aftermath of 2005 Birmingham Tornado (BBC.com)

The UK actually gets about 35 twisters each year, though admittedly, quite weak ones.

In Birmingham 2005, however, a tornado tore through the city, briefly reaching F3 status on the Fujita scale.

It picked up cars and flung them around, ripped the tower off a primary school and uprooted 1100 trees, among other damage caused. 19 people were injured and 40 million pounds of damage was caused.

In 1981 the UK was hit by an outbreak of over 100 tornadoes in the space of five hours on November the 23rd. Although the strongest reached just F2 status, hundreds of properties were damaged. It was the largest recorded tornado outbreak in European history.

Drought

One of Britain’s many parched reservoirs (todayifoundout.com)

Although Britain is notorious for its frequent showers, it has suffered a number of droughts in recent history.

The UK was absolutely parched and desperate for a thirst-quenching downpour by the end of the summer of 1976. This was the most severe drought in living memory.

The warmest Summer in 350 years was preceded by an exceptionally dry 12 months including the previous winter which received only 61% of the rainfall expected.

In the Summer of ’76 some parts of South West England hadn’t seen a drop of rain for 45 days and by August the situation had deteriorated to the extent Parliament passed the Drought Act.

This resulted in thousands of homes in Yorkshire and East Anglia having their water supply replaced by communal standpipes in the streets, and many house-holders in Wales and the west of England were left without tap water for much of the day.

Meanwhile, crops were badly hit; £500 million pounds worth of crops were wasted resulting in a 12% jump in food prices.

The Haweswater Reservoir dried up so much it held just 10% capacity.

September rains finally broke what had become the driest 16 month period in more than a quarter of a millennium.

Snow Storm

Men work to dig out one of the many snowed in trains during the ‘Big Freeze, 1963 (dovegreyreader.typepad.com)

The UK once made a sterling attempt to imitate the frigid Siberian Tundra in what became dubbed the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1963. It was the coldest winter in 200 years with an average temperature of −2.1 °C (28.2 °F) in the month of January.

In Scotland the thermometer bottomed out at an arctic −19.4 °C (−2.9 °F).

A blizzard hit Britain just before the turn of the year and snowdrifts formed up to 6 metres (20 ft) in places. My father remembers it as the winter when he awoke one morning to find the snow was up to his bedroom window!

On the 20th of January 283 workers had to be rescued by RAF helicopters from Fylingdales, where they had been snowbound for several days.

In February people had to endure a whopping 36-hour-long blizzard. The transport network was severely disrupted and farmers could only keep their flocks from starving by dropping food to them from helicopters.

Meanwhile, lakes and waterways froze over and could be skated on. The Thames even saw its first car rally on the ice.

Even the sea off the Kent coastline froze to a mile out. The Chatham Dockyard was only kept open with the use of an icebreaker.

Most of the country was covered in snow for January and February and it was only until March that this once temperate land began to thaw out.

At least 50 people died in this artic spell.

Wildfire

The Scottish Highlands on fire (wildfiretoday.com)

From ice to fire, we’ve been awed by the footage of raging forest fires that break out every year across vast swathes of the USA and Australia, torching everything in their path to a crisp, but the UK also regularly gets wildfires.

One of the worst of these was a wildfire which ignited in Scotland, of all places, in 2019.

Dry conditions and high winds caused the flames to spread aggressively and at its height, 80 firefighters were tackling the blaze.

In just the first day, the fire incinerated more than 40 square kilometres (10,000 acres) and created a plume of smoke that could be seen from space.

Later, firefighters thought they had tackled most of the blaze and left the scene. However, it reignited and scorched another 50 square kilometres (12,400 acres).

Avalanche

The aftermath and rescue efforts of the Lewes Avalanche (historic-uk.com)

The winter of 1836 was an exceptionally severe one and blizzards had swept across the island, even to the very south of it over the South Downs around Lewes town.

One of the hills above and around the town, Cliffe Hill, though not very big, did have a very steep slope and at its base was a row of cottages.

The blizzard conditions had caused a huge amount of snow to accumulate into a cornice hanging over the row of houses, and even back then they could see the danger and the cottage residents were advised to evacuate, but they chose not to.

When the accumulation of snow finally gave way, 15 people were judged to have been in the houses below.

One eyewitness described what happened: “The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white.”

A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling seven survivors from the wreckage before hypothermia or suffocation could claim them, but eight other individuals were found dead.

The Lewes Avalanche remains Britain’s deadliest ever.

Landslide

Racked by grief, a mother says goodbye at a funeral of one of the 116 children who perished that day (businessinsider.com)

The story of a horrific landslide that hit Aberfan in Wales on 21st October 1966.

The village is nestled on the slopes of the Brecon Beacon mountain range where mining was an integral part of the economy.

Over the years a spoil tip (accumulated waste material removed during mining) had been negligently built up on the slopes above the village.

A period of heavy rain in the days leading up led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill.

Those who heard the mass of mine mud surging down towards them said the sound reminded them of a low-flying jet or thunder.

The tragedy was that it wasn’t just houses in the path of this slurry of death; Pantglas Junior School also lay in its path and was full of students when the wall of sludge overwhelmed them and snuffed out most of their short lives.

Feverish rescue efforts managed to save dozens of buried adults and children yet, sadly, 144 people died that day, including five teachers and 109 pupils from the school.

Earthquake

An elderly woman is helped from her home through rubble after a 4.3 earthquake in Folkestone in 2007 (thesun.co.uk)

Although the UK is clearly not earthquake-prone, it may interest you to know that 200–300 tremors and mild quakes are detected every year by the British Geological Survey.

On June, 7th, 1931 a severe earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale hit 60 miles (97 km) off the Yorkshire coast in the North Sea which toppled chimneys and caused cliffs to crumble. A woman also died from a heart attack triggered by the shocking event.

Flood

Due to flooding around Foulness in Kent, a herd of cattle takes sanctuary around an old abandoned farm (channel4.com)

This is one natural disaster we British are very familiar with, particularly around my corner of the island in the Cotswold Hills. It makes me recall driving to work in 2007 over the top of the hills with the bizarre sensation of being surrounded by lakes of floodwater on either side of the road.

The worst flood, indeed natural disaster, to befall the UK in modern times undoubtedly has to be the North Sea Flood of 1953.

On New Year’s Eve a combination of roaring winds and a high spring tide forced seawater to rise and overwhelm the inadequate sea defences along the south-east coast of England (not to mention of Belgium and the Netherlands).

The sea level swelled so quickly, thousands were caught off guard as water surged into their homes and businesses. 250 square kilometres (65,000 acres) of land were submerged.

People were forced to wait for rescue as the water continued to rise, with an account of at least one family forced to spend the night exposed to the elements on the roof of their house as the waters sloshed around them. Houses and livestock were washed out to sea as water levels rose by 4m (16ft).

The death toll is estimated at 307 plus another 224 at sea, and 30,000 had to be evacuated. There was also a whopping £50 million pounds worth of damage.

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