The Worst Explosions in History

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Man-made explosions only

This incendiary list of famous explosions compiles the most horrific man-made explosions in world history. From oil refinery disasters to nuclear power plant crises, the worst explosions have collectively killed hundreds of thousands of people. Humankind has a bad habit of blowing things up, whether through testing, attacks, or accidents, and the biggest explosions ever and the most famous explosions in history are all accounted for here and presented in reverse-chronological order.

The worst explosions ever range from the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II to the accidental man-made explosion and nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl. The worst man-made explosions are often disturbingly recent, such as the August 2015 chemical plant explosion in China. The biggest explosions ever also include non-nuclear testing done by the United States, while the biggest historical explosions consist of Soviet tests during the Space Race and many other Cold War shows of explosive might.

The biggest famous explosions have been going on since the early 1900s, with times of global war as hotbeds for the biggest historical explosions. Sometimes they're due to industrial negligence and sometimes they're military exercises, but every entry on this list of the most famous explosions in history is guaranteed to scare you senseless.
Photo: United States Department of Energy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • 2015 Tianjin Explosion

    Date: August 12, 2015
    Location: Tianjin, China
    Cause: Industrial Accident
    Deaths: 112+

    Hundreds died and hundreds more were injured as a result of an out-of-control fire at the Port of Tianjin. Hazardous materials caused a blast in a chemical warehouse and Chinese authorities initially tried to censor reports of event, but with more than 100 dead, 95 missing, and over 700 injured, news spread quickly.

    Source: CNN, Telegraph
  • Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster

    Date: July 7, 2013
    Location: Quebec, Canada
    Cause: Train Crash
    Deaths: 47

    A freight train of 74 cars loaded with crude oil derailed and rolled down a hill, causing the tank cars to explode. Five people went missing, 42 were confirmed to have died from the accident, and the blasts destroyed more than 40 buildings.

    Source: The Guardian
  • Evangelos Florakis Naval Base Explosion

    Date: July 11, 2011
    Location: Zygi, Cyprus
    Cause: Self-Detonated Explosives
    Deaths: 13

    62 people were injured and 13 people died in this 2011 incident, the worst peacetime military accident in Cyprus history. 98 containers of confiscated Iranian explosives were ineffectively stored, exposed to hot sunlight for over two years when they ultimately self-detonated at the naval base.

    Source: BBC
  • Cataño Oil Refinery Fire

    Date: October 23, 2009
    Location: Bayamon, Puerto Rico
    Cause: Oil Refinery Explosion

    Three people were injured from a massive fire that started in an explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation oil depot and refinery. This blast was so big that it was the equivalent of a magnitude 2.8 earthquake. The resulting blaze took two days to put out, forcing many people to evacuate their homes.

    Source: CBS News
  • Father of All Bombs

    Date: September 11, 2007
    Location: Russia

    Cause: Non-Nuclear Testing

    Deaths: 0

    The "Father of All Bombs" (or FOAB) refers to the most powerful non-nuclear air-delivered bomb of all time. Basically, this vacuum bomb packed the destructive power of a nuke without a nuclear reaction. The Russian military successfully tested it out in the fall of 2007, resulting in an explosion with a blast radius of 990 feet.

    Source: Reuters

  • Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown

    Date: April 26, 1986

    Location: Ukraine

    Cause: Nuclear Accident

    Deaths: 31+

    The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded during a power failure experiment and the inadvertent explosion was the worst nuclear power plant accident ever. Though it directly killed 31 people, 25,000 cases of cancer in the area are attributed to radiation from the accident, and the lasting effects of the radiation unleashed by the blast and meltdown will impact multiple generations.

    Source: CBS News