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  • August 21, 1986.

  • A man named Joseph shakes himself out of a haze.

  • His head is thumping.

  • He's almost delirious.

  • His nostrils are filled with the most noxious smell.

  • He tries to say something, but words won't come out of his mouth.

  • He surveys his body.

  • It's stained red and covered in painful blisters.

  • Before he can assess what's happened, he loses consciousness.

  • He wakes up again and walks into his daughter's room.

  • She's already departed from this world.

  • With eyes filled with tears, he slowly walks over to his neighbor's house.

  • All of them are dead.

  • In every house in the village, he finds nothing but death.

  • Riding on his motorcycle outside of the village he sees no sign of life.

  • People he knew, even the animals in the fields: all of them are dead.

  • This was one of the worst natural disasters ever to befall mankind, and the worrying thing

  • is, it could happen again.

  • Let's now go back to the start, early evening close to Lake Nyos in northwestern Cameroon.

  • Nothing is out of the ordinary, there are no signs of what's about to come.

  • Like on any other evening, Joseph is preparing dinner.

  • His daughter is outside playing with her dog.

  • The villagers are cooking their meals, smokes from fires billows above their huts.

  • Just after 9 pm, some of them swear they can hear a strange rumbling sound.

  • Many people are already asleep, their bellies full, unaware that they're having the last

  • dreams they'll ever have.

  • In just moments to come, they will be dead, as will just about any other living thing.

  • Not far away at the lake, the rumbling stops for a while, and then whoosh, a massive jet

  • of water some 300 feet high (91 meters) sprays into the air.

  • This has never happened before, at least not for a long, long time.

  • This serene lake, which the locals rely on for their drinking water, has a dark secret

  • no one is aware of.

  • When that jet of water rose into the air it brought with it carbon dioxide that had been

  • building up in the lake for maybe a thousand years.

  • The gas formed a huge cloud, as wide as a football field, and it moved towards those

  • villagers at a velocity that made it almost inescapable.

  • When it arrived at the huts in those villages, it wrapped around those people like a cloak

  • of death, there was nothing they could do.

  • With only carbon dioxide to breathe, they passed out and died fairly quickly from suffocation.

  • Some people survived, but not many.

  • Joseph, who is very much a real person, was one of those survivors.

  • He woke up at one point but then collapsed again.

  • He recalled seeing red on his trousers, his body covered in what he called a “starchy

  • mess”.

  • Later in an interview, he said, “I wanted to speak, my breath would not come out.”

  • He wasn't even in the worst-hit village, which was one of the reasons why he survived.

  • After seeing his daughter lifeless and then seeing how most of the village was dead, he

  • got on his motorbike and headed over to the village of Wum.

  • This is what he said about that perilous journey: “I didn't see any sign of any living thing

  • ... When I got to Wum, I was unable to walk, even to talk ... my body was completely weak.”

  • When he arrived there he was met with utter devastation he could not ever have imagined

  • in his worst nightmare.

  • Death everywhere, people were just lying in the road, collapsed over fences; dead cows

  • in the hundreds were lying in the fields.

  • Chickens, pet dogs, all just lying on the ground not breathing.

  • Still, in a few of the huts there were some people still breathing, but only just.

  • Some of them would wake up in a day or two, only to find every single member of their

  • family had passed away.

  • It seemed impossible, and we guess to a western audience, something straight out of an apocalyptic

  • movie.

  • Word soon got to western scientists- nobody had heard of a catastrophic event of such

  • magnitude.

  • Just what had happened?

  • Soon newspaper headlines read things like, “Aid, and scientists, flow into Cameroon.”

  • Teams of experts from North American and Europe booked their flights, hoping they might solve

  • this mystery of this mass death.

  • Why would so many people just die and there not be any clear sign of what did it?

  • It seemed at first to be what is calledoutgassing.”

  • This is when gas has been trapped and it suddenly gets released.

  • But what happened at Lake Nyos isn't common at all, in fact, it was a strange thing indeed,

  • the worst of its kind in recorded history.

  • The scientists first had to understand just what had come out of the lake and what had

  • made that water spray into the air with such violence.

  • They lowered containers into the lake so they might check just what was in the water.

  • They were shocked to find that when they pulled some of those containers to the top, the lids

  • blew off.

  • What was certain is that there was so much carbon dioxide in the water that it created

  • enough pressure to cause the lids to blow.

  • What had happened at the lake, they agreed, was a “limnic eruption.”

  • This is when dissolved carbon dioxide is somehow displaced from the bottom of a lake, and as

  • happened in this case, a large cloud of gas moves through the air, killing most living

  • things in its path.

  • Everything caught in its wake suffocates in such a case.

  • The human death toll was almost 1,800, with over 3,500 livestock dying, all in an area

  • of 16 miles (25 km) of the lake.

  • These events are incredibly rare, but it had happened before, again in Cameroon, at Lake

  • Monoun in 1984.

  • That time, 37 people died.

  • But get this, there's a lake in Africa where a limnic eruption could occur and the lake

  • is 1,700 times larger than Lake Nyos.

  • It's also surrounded by about two million people.

  • If an eruption happens, it could be one of the worst disasters known to man.

  • We'll come back to that soon.

  • First, let's look more closely at what went down at Nyos.

  • Scientists were sure that a limnic eruption had occurred, but they weren't sure what

  • caused it.

  • Some geologists put forward the idea that a massive landslide had caused it, but others

  • said it must have been an earthquake.

  • Still, if that was true, wouldn't have someone felt it?

  • None of the survivors had felt the ground move beneath them prior to the gas attack.

  • What seemed certain was that around 1.2 cubic kilometers of gas ended up forming that giant

  • cloud.

  • The water turned a red color at the time as a result of the bottom part containing a lot

  • of iron, mixing with the air and being oxidized.

  • That's why Joseph saw red all over himself.

  • You might wonder why the cloud just didn't disperse in the air and harmlessly move right

  • over the heads of the villagers.

  • The reason is carbon dioxide is denser than air.

  • That's why it moved low through the valleys and made its way to the villages.

  • It moved fast, too, at around 12–31 mph (20–50 kilometers per hour).

  • Of course, that's not easy to get away from, but some people did.

  • Most others suffocated and died without even knowing what was happening.

  • The survivors didn't get off easy.

  • Many suffered from breathing problems after the disaster, while most of them had lesions

  • all over their bodies.

  • Some even became paralyzed, but later recovered.

  • Scientists wanted to know what had caused all those injuries.

  • They figured CO2 was certainly the main culprit, but the release of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen

  • sulfide could also have caused people injuries.

  • In Joseph's words, “My arms had some wounds ... I didn't really know how I got these wounds.”

  • You can look at any medical website and it will tell that exposure to hydrogen sulfide

  • can cause headaches, nausea, convulsions, and certain eye and skin irritations.

  • Joseph also said he smelled something awful, and that could have been the rotten egg malodor

  • of hydrogen sulfide.

  • The villages were evacuated for the time being while the researchers stayed.

  • In fact, they had some disturbing news to report back to the Cameroonian government.

  • That carbon dioxide was growing in the lake at a disturbing rate.

  • If something wasn't done about it, a similar disaster could happen again.

  • One survivor was named Suley.

  • She lost all her children and another 31 members of her family.

  • She lost over 400 cattle, too.

  • In the aftermath of the disaster, she and the other survivors even remarked that there

  • weren't any flies on all the dead bodies.

  • The flies themselves had died.

  • Those survivors banded together and helped each other out the best they could, but they

  • were still afraid of the lake.

  • They hadn't in the past had much interest in science, but instead, myths surrounded

  • the lake.

  • Some of those stories stated it was home to their dead ancestors, and that it might rise

  • up one day and cause calamity.

  • Tales of how dangerous the lake was had been passed on through generations.

  • They were right, but perhaps ignorant of exactly what caused the danger.

  • Scientists talked about suchgeomythology”, saying no doubt catastrophes have happened

  • over many years and stories have been passed down.

  • What they wanted to do was make sure there were no more catastrophes.

  • They got to work, not knowing if something would go off again and they'd be the ones

  • lapsing into a coma and dying.

  • The villagers that survived invited them into their homes and made sure they always got

  • a good meal.

  • You have to remember this place was extremely remote.

  • The only hotel was a hut.

  • Over the weeks and months, they figured that the lake, made from a crater, sat on top of

  • volcanic rubble.

  • They knew carbon dioxide was down there and that springs could take it into the water.

  • They didn't know what had caused the massive eruption, but they knew where that gas had

  • come from.

  • It was a time bomb.

  • It was sure to go off again one day.

  • They considered digging tunnels down there to try and free the gas, but that would cost

  • way too much.

  • They even tinkered with the idea of using explosives to free the gas, but that was deemed

  • a bit on the dangerous side even if the immediate area was evacuated.

  • In the end, they decided to lay down a pipe at the bottom of the lake and let the gas

  • run through that.

  • Small amounts could slowly be released through the pipe and then come out of the top of the

  • pipe into the air.

  • Some experts thought that would be too dangerous, but by the time 2001 rolled around a pipe

  • had been laid and the degassing of the lake began.

  • Right now, the lower parts of the area around Nyos are still eerily quiet.

  • Many people have moved to safer places, but the disaster is never far away from their

  • thoughts.

  • Some others missed the place where they'd lived for so long, and are now living aside

  • the great lake again.

  • The good news is that the experts say there are just three lakes in the entire world where

  • so much carbon dioxide can cause such a disaster.

  • Those are Lake Nyos, Lake Monoun that we mentioned, and Lake Kivu, which sits on the border of

  • The Congo and Rwanda.

  • The problem with Kivu is it's a giant, as we said, 1,700 times bigger than Nyos and

  • surrounded not by just small villages but millions of people.

  • Just remember that scientists don't exactly know what caused the Nyos eruption, so it

  • seems such a thing could happen without any warning signs.

  • If Kivu erupts, it could be a disaster like no other the world has ever seen.

  • Scientists went there after the Nyos disaster and what they found was a supersaturation

  • of gas, meaning, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

  • Sure, such events are supposed to take place maybe every 1,000 years, but no one knows

  • when the last one happened.

  • What they do know is very large extinction events have occurred around that lake.

  • They say if it should happen again, and given a long enough timeframe it should, then a

  • lot of those two million people could die.

  • Experts also warn that lake tsunamis could also occur, due to those explosions of gas.

  • Pipes could be built to allow the gas to release in a safe manner, but there are around 510

  • million metric tons of carbon dioxide down there.

  • That's about two percent of what's released into the atmosphere each year from humans

  • burning fossil fuels.

  • Right now, there are no pipes at Kivu.

  • The locals might not have experienced such a catastrophic event in the area, but they've

  • heard of the wordMazuku”.

  • This is Swahili and in English, it meansevil wind”, a wind that blows over people and

  • animals and even plants, and when it's passed all in its wake are dead.

  • Now you need to watch, “Worst Natural Disasters in Human History.”

  • Or, have a look at, “How Fukushima Disaster ACTUALLY Happened.”

August 21, 1986.

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Lake of Death - Why Did Over 1800 People Already Die There

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/14
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