When the World (Almost) Ended

Apocalypse … almost?

January 2022

Script

This video is part of our Kite & Key Shorts series—easy to understand...but hard to forget.

 

Human history is full of barely avoided catastrophes.

In 1908, a meteor struck a desolate part of Russia near the Tunguska River.i The blast was over a thousand times more powerful than the nuclear bomb used at Hiroshima.

Had the object struck about five hours earlier, it would have been on a trajectory to destroy St. Petersburg (population: 1.5 million). Instead ... it only flattened 80 million trees.

Another near miss: In 1971, Los Angeles was struck by the San Fernando earthquake.ii The quake severely damaged the Van Norman reservoir, causing the top 30 feet of its dam to crumble.

Luckily, the reservoir was only half-filled at the time and no water escaped. Had it been full, it’s estimated that as many as 123,000 people would have been killed in a flood.

Perhaps the biggest near-disaster was avoided thanks to one man’s quick thinking. On September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov was on duty at a Soviet nuclear command center when he saw five U.S. nuclear missiles heading towards Russia.iii

Protocol would have been to launch a counter strike ... but Petrov had a gut feeling the alert was a malfunction. He was right — and his decision likely saved us from nuclear war.

It’s easy to worry about all the ways that things can go wrong ... but we should also be grateful for all the times they haven’t.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. In 1908, a meteor came within five hours of destroying St. Petersburg, Russia.
  2. In 1971, Los Angeles narrowly avoided a dam break that could have killed 123,000.
  3. In 1983, a Soviet officer prevented war by ignoring a false alarm of an American nuclear attack.

Sources

  1. “June 30, 1908: A Very Close Encounter of the Second Kind” (Tony Long) — Wired
  2. “'71 Valley Quake a Brush With Catastrophe” (Kenneth Reich) — Los Angeles Times
  3. “Stanislav Petrov” — National Park Service

Shownotes

SOUND: "Clock” (Veaceslav Draganov)

FOOTAGE: Jean-Édouard Dargent (Bibliothèque Nationale de France)//Vokrug Sveta: eonid Kulik,Bettmann, Scott Peterson (Getty) //U.S. Geological Survey (Flickr)

CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION.

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