In 1940 – (78 years ago) – an earthquake in the Vrancea region of eastern Romania wreaked havoc from the capital city of Bucharest well into neighboring Moldavia (now known as Moldova). In Bucharest, some 185 buildings were destroyed, including a fourteen-story reinforced concrete structure that was the city’s tallest building. From across the country came reports of fire, landslides, burst pipelines, leveled neighborhoods, and collapsed factories. The death toll was placed at almost 600, with another 1,271 people injured in Romania’s worst earthquake of the twentieth century.
In 1944 – (74 years ago) – at Port Seeadler in the Admiralty Islands of Papua New Guinea, the US Navy cargo ship Mount Hood exploded without warning, with almost four thousand tons of explosives and ammunition aboard. The ship had been delivering munitions to Navy vessels in the South Pacific theater of World War II. Eyewitnesses reported a sudden blast and mushroom cloud, followed by chunks of mud, metal debris, and body parts raining from the sky. The explosion completely destroyed the Mount Hood and killed all 350 of its crewmembers, of whom no physical remains were ever positively identified. It also damaged some twenty-two smaller craft nearby in the harbor, many of whose crewmembers were also killed. Years later, the blast would be assessed as equivalent to that of a small tactical nuclear weapon. It was so powerful that it blew a hole in the ocean floor directly below the ship, measuring a hundred yards long, fifty feet wide, and forty feet deep. Altogether at least 432 people died, with 371 wounded. A naval inquiry later attributed the accident to poor handling of ammunition.
In 1975 – (43 years ago) the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald, largest ship on the Great Lakes, ran into violent weather on Lake Superior, some seventeen miles north of Whitefish Point in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The ship was buffeted by hundred-mile-an-hour winds, with waves up to thirty-five feet high. Its captain, Ernest McSorley, was on his last voyage before retirement. Just after 7 p.m. he radioed to another freighter nearby, the SS Arthur M. Anderson, that although his vessel was taking on water, he and the crew were holding their own in the storm. It was the last communication from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Without even sending out a distress signal, the ship went to the bottom of Lake Superior with all twenty-nine crew members. A search party found only two empty lifeboats and some scattered debris floating on the water. Experts from the US Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board later blamed the disaster on faulty cargo hatches that allowed water to enter the ship’s hold. The Edmund Fitzgerald now lies in two giant pieces 535 feet deep in Canadian waters. After a series of incidents in which divers visited the shipwreck and even photographed the remains of dead crewmembers, the Canadian government prohibited public access to the underwater site.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi