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The 30 Deadliest Structural Failures of All Time

Throughout history, structural failures caused by faulty construction materials or heavy rains have led to building collapses, dam failures, bridges collapsing, and more, with some of the deadliest of these causing the deaths of hundreds or even thousands of people.

The ForneyVault research team put together a list of 30 structural failures that have led to the highest death tolls in history, including the circumstances that led to these structures failing in such a catastrophic way. When going through the list, take note of how many of these deadly disasters were caused by safety issues being ignored or improper construction of the structure. In certain instances, the building owner, engineers, inspectors, or even the local government were found to have cut corners during construction or inspections, which led to these catastrophic consequences. One investigation of faulty construction even found that cooking-oil cans were used as building materials to fill in wall cavities!

Some of these structural disasters occurred before building codes and safety regulations were implemented in the late 19th century to reduce accidents such as these, but that doesn’t mean that deadly structural failures don’t still occur today. Five of the deadliest construction disasters to make the top 30 list occurred recently, during the 2010s. Read on to see which structural failures were deemed the deadliest, and what issues led to their doom.

What Was the Deadliest Structural Failure of All Time?

The deadliest structural failure of all time dates back to 27 C.E., during the Roman Empire, when the Fidenae Amphitheatre collapsed and 20,000 spectators were killed. What led to the Fidenae Amphitheatre collapse? The amphitheater had been cheaply constructed using wood and was not built to be able to withstand the weight of the 50,000 people who came to watch the gladiator games. The collapse of the Fidenae Amphitheatre is considered to be the worst sporting disaster in history.

The 10 Deadliest Structural Failures

  1. The Fidenae Amphitheatre collapse of 27 C.E. left 20,000 spectators dead.
  2. The Ponte das Barcas bridge collapse of 1809 left 4,000 people dead.
  3. The Word Trade Center collapse of 2001 left 2,996 people dead.
  4. The South Fork Dam failure of 1889 left 2,209 people dead.
  5. The Vajont Dam failure of 1963 left 2,000 people dead.
  6. The Eitai Bridge collapse of 1807 left 1,400 people dead.
  7. The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse of 2013 left 1,134 employees dead.
  8. The Circus Maximus stadium collapse of 140 C.E. left 1,112 spectators dead.
  9. The Sampoong Department Store collapse of 1995 left 502 shoppers and employees dead.
  10. The St. Francis Dam failure of 1928 left 431 people dead.

What Was the Deadliest Structural Failure in a Building?

The deadliest building collapse of all time was the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, which killed 2,996 people and first-responders. Why did the World Trade Center collapse? When the Twin Towers were struck by two commercial airplanes that had been hijacked by terrorists, it resulted in many fires throughout the floors that were hit. These fires caused the floors of the building to sag, which then caused the perimeter columns to buckle and ultimately led to the Twin Towers’ collapse. The collapse of the World Trade Center was one of the only structural failures on our list that was caused by something other than bad weather, faulty construction, or ignoring safety regulations.

What Was the Deadliest Bridge Disaster of All Time?

The deadliest bridge collapse was in 1809, when the Ponte das Barcas bridge in Porto, Portugal, collapsed, leading to the deaths of at least 4,000 people. The Ponte das Barcas bridge collapsed due to the unique way it was designed, using wooden boats that connected together to create a bridge. The bridge was designed this way so that it could be easily disassembled and reassembled. When the French attacked Portugal on March 29, 1809, thousands of people tried to escape by crossing the Pontas das Barcas, and the bridge collapsed under the weight of too many people.

What Was the Deadliest Dam Failure of All Time?

The deadliest dam failure was in 1889, when the South Fork Dam failed catastrophically and killed 2,209 people. Days of heavy rain caused the South Fork Dam failure when too much water overtopped the dam, resulting in a flood wave of 20 million tons of water that hit the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and killed thousands of people. This deadly flood has become known as the Johnstown Flood and was the first major disaster relief effort that was handled by the American Red Cross.

Making sure your product is perfect, whether it’s a building, bridge, or dam, is the best way to ensure that it will not fail in the future. Our CMT software (construction material testing software) solutions can help you create the perfect product by eliminating error-prone manual processes and more.

Manual Process via Observation and Notes
Positive Specimen Identification via Bar Code
Preload / Rate / Break Detect – Set, Comply and Automatically Record
Access Detailed Specimen X-Y Plot Data for Every Test Performed

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