The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
“I’ll tell you what, we’re having an earthquake….” The announcer seems to be saying just before the 1989 World Series broadcast below was cut short by static.
Arguably the first earthquake to make its debut on live television, the Magnitude-6.9 tremor rocked the San Francisco Bay area, resulting in 62 deaths.
Most of them were on the Cypress Freeway in Oakland, whose collapse caused 42 deaths in total.
The San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge was mostly intact, but a small section did collapse, resulting in the death of one motorist.
The damage was catastrophic, but the eyes of area residents couldn’t help but wander a few dozen kilometres away from the quake’s centre, to a certain familiar landmark.
The Golden Gate Bridge, as it happens, wasn’t actually harmed by the quake. But a report by the United States Geological Survey found a 62 per cent probability that a 6.7 Magnitude or greater quake will hit the Bay Area by 2031, and that an M8.0 tremor could so significant damage the famous span.
Authorities have laid out hundreds of millions of dollars for a retrofit of the bridge and its approaches, designed to make it stronger, but flexible enough to “roll with the punch” in the event of another major quake, right down to the rivets, which are now twice as strong as the originals.
The last phase is expected to be complete over the next six years.
The Forbidden City, China
Aside from the Great Wall, the Forbidden City in China’s capital of Beijing is probably the country’s most famous, and photographed, national monument.
Once the seat of China’s emperors, the huge palace complex housed the monarch, his family, his harem and his government. And by “huge,” we mean 72 hectares in area, consisting of almost a thousand buildings from opulent palaces to guard posts filled with soldiers grumbling about those living in the opulent palaces.
It took around a million labourers 14 years to put the whole thing together, having to invent new construction techniques just to get the building materials there from the far corners of the empire. With labour rights back then not being exactly stellar, untold numbers of workers died.
The emperor who ordered it built didn’t take long to add to the body count. After overthrowing his nephew in 1402, he initiated purges against his enemies, even mass murdering many of his concubines.
Maybe he sensed the gods weren’t super happy with all of this, because when the Forbidden City was completed, he had tons of good luck charms and magical statues installed.
They, uh, didn’t work. One year after the Forbidden City’s exquisitely-ornate gates opened, lightning struck the complex, and the resulting conflagration consumed hundreds of buildings, including three palaces. An unknown number of people died in the flames.
The emperor was spooked. So were his successors – they didn’t dare rebuild the burned palaces until two decades after his death.
Colossus of Rhodes and Pharos of Alexandria
You might have heard of these – two of the famous seven wonders of the Ancient World. Marvels of engineering, their builders’ respective visions were still no match for the forces of the Earth.
We’ll start with the Colossus of Rhodes, on the Greek island of the same name.
Despite what you see in the pic above, no one knows for sure what it looked like. But when it was built after a 12-year effort, it was likely the tallest statue of its time, at 33 m.
And it only stood for 56 years, before being knocked over by a quake in 226 BC. The fallen pieces were sold for scrap centuries later, and it’s said most people had trouble wrapping their arms around even the thumb.
The Great Lighthouse of Alexandra had better luck.
This was a magnificent feat of engineering. Built in 323 B.C., it stood as much as 140 m tall, and the sunlight or torchlight reflected from its giant mirrors could be seen more than 50 km away.
And when the quakes did come – and they did, numerous times – the tower was often diminished, but kept on shining until a final quake in the 1300s rendered finally unusable.
They just don’t build them like that any more.