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The Upper Big Branch mine disaster
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
March 24, 1989
Prince William Sound, Alaska
Valdez captain Joseph Hazelwood, accused of being drunk on the job, left the tanker in the hands of an officer who wasn't certified to pilot the ship and the Valdez ran aground in Bligh Reef off the coast of Alaska. Around 11 million gallons of the estimated 54 million gallons of oil the ship was carrying were spilled into the Prince William Sound, covering and killing thousands of animals. While images of animals and birds covered in oil became iconic symbols of the disaster, groups like the American Bird Conservancy warn that only one in 10 birds affected by an oil spill is likely to turn up on shore.
The longterm impact:
There have been major reductions in populations of fish, birds and other marine creatures, permanently hobbling the local fishing industry. Efforts to remove the oil had the unintended affect of removing and destroying critical microorganism populations that are necessary to preserve the marine food chain. Some experts believe that the shoreline will take up to 30 more years to fully recover, and oil can still be found on many beaches, just under the surface.
More than twenty years after the spill, many claims by local residents and businesspeople have gone unpaid. Indeed, many have died while their claims against Exxon wended through court, and survivors are more prone to anxiety, depression and other mental illness. Meanwhile, Exxon merged with Mobil in 1999 and has posted record profits while vigorously arguing against efforts to address climate change. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to reduce the amount of damages awarded to victims of the Exxon Valdez disaster from $2.5 billion to $500 million.
Homer, an 11-year-old female otter rescued in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. (Photo: Zuma / Newscom)
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The Johnstown Flood
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