Monday, 15 March 2010

Bursting dams

Two dam bursts in southern Kazakhstan have killed 35 people. They happened after heavy rains, and two villages in the Almaty region were swept away by the resulting floods. President Nazarbayev has suggested that the dams may have been poorly maintained, and is threatening to prosecute those responsible.

The world’s worst ever dam disaster happened in China’s Henan province in 1975 when 60, built shoddily as part of Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, gave way after heavy rains. More than 4,000 square miles were flooded, and the death toll is disputed to this day. The official figure is 26,000, but others say it was really as many as 230,000 if you include those who died from starvation and disease in the aftermath. (see my blog of March 27, 2009)

One of India’s worst floods happened when the Machchu-2 dam burst in 1979, flooding the town of Morvi in Gujarat and killing up to 15,000 people. Once again there had been heavy rains.

While America’s worst flood followed the collapse of what was then the world’s biggest earth dam, 14 miles from Johnstown in Pennsylvania. The dam held back the USA’s biggest man-made lake. It burst on May 31, 1889 after weeks of rain, and the waters careered through four villages and then devastated Johnstown itself, killing at least 2,200 people. For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

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