Why are people so fascinated by tragedy? For the same reasons we have trouble looking away from a terrible car accident, tourists are attracted to the sites of disaster. Natural disasters, manmade disasters, wherever there is a large amount of unexpected loss, you are sure to find people gawking at the aftermath. Visiting these sites gives us a chance to reflect on the horrors they cause so that we may learn from past mistakes and prevent future tragedies from happening.
Many of these tragic landmarks are critical to understanding human history. In honor of the fallen, here are the 10 most important sites of disaster tourism.
10 10. Prince William Sound, Alaska
In 1989, the infamous Exxon Valdez Spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, releasing 11 million tons of crude oil into the ocean. 30 years later, the environmental nightmare continues, and large amounts of oil still pollute the water.
The economy for nearby towns was shot down by the spill, as fishing and recreation decreased drastically. Visiting this area and seeing the oil's effects on the people and the nature is a powerful and emotional trip for any passionate environmentalist.
9 9. The Hindenburg Crash Site, New Jersey
"Oh, the humanity!" These were the words that Radio Reporter Herb Morrison blurted out when he witnessed the infamous Hindenburg Crash in 1937. The luxury airship, transporting only the wealthiest elite, burst into flames in the New Jersey sky. This was the first major accident of this size recorded on video.
The Navy Lakehurst Historical Society offers tours of the crash site, where visitors can learn more about the crash, how it happened, and where exactly the accident went down. This is a fascinating stop for anyone interested in aviation history.
8 8. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington
In 1980, Mount St. Helen erupted, wiping out over 200 homes and killing 57 people. This was the most devastating instance of volcanic activity in American history. Over 150 square miles of forest was destroyed.
As of 1980, this land is a dedicated memorial to hiking, outdoor activity, and most importantly, remembering an honoring those lives lost in the volcanic catastrophe. The forests, which were once completely wiped out, have since started to grow back.
7 7. Nevada National Security Site, Nevada
Located about 70 miles from Las Vegas, the Nevada National Security Site is truly a wasteland in every way. While not a disaster site in the traditional sense, as in no human tragedy happened here, there was an enormous amount of physical destruction to this land and everything in it. This was the site for over 900 nuclear tests between the 1950s up until the 1990s, during a time where nuclear war seemed inevitable.
The territory is now a tourist spot for people interested in the history of nuclear warfare. Many craters are leftover from explosions, and visitors can tour some of the facilities used in nuclear testing.
6 6. Oklahoma City National Memorial
In 1995, Oklahoma saw one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. A car bomb set off a massive explosion, destroying the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and leaving 168 people dead with hundreds more injured.
Today, the Oklahoma City National Memorial honors all that fell in that devastating blow. There are stone chairs for each person who was lost in the attack with their names on them; this site is especially beautiful and peaceful at night. There is also a museum, which teaches the history of the attack, educating visitors on exactly what the city went through on that fateful day.
5 5. Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans
It's been nearly 14 years since New Orleans was hit with one of the worst storms in American history. And yet even today, many parts of the city are still being rebuilt. Over 800,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed in the storm, leaving countless people homeless and costing the U.S. an estimated $160 billion. And we're still not done!
New Orleans runs tours built around Hurricane Katrina's damage, with some of the proceeds going towards relief funds. Seeing even a portion of the damage this storm caused, with its effects lingering over a decade later, is humbling. If you want to support the rebuilding of New Orleans while seeing what its people went through, check out one if its many hurricane tours.
4 4. Ground Zero, New York
9/11 was the most shocking tragedy in recent American history. On that fateful day that the twin towers fell, the course of history was forever changed for the U.S. After losing nearly 3,000 American lives on home soil, we lost our sense of invulnerability, leaving us plagued with political insecurity, war, and fear.
In honor of the fallen, and in honor of what the rest of America felt following 9/11, New York City has a memorial at Ground Zero. Where the towers once stood are now fountains with the names of victims etched into them. There's also an entire museum for the incident. Visiting this site can be very emotional, but anyone looking to honor the victims of these horrific attacks may find peace in visiting Ground Zero.
3 3. Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Japan
On August 6, 1945 Japan was forever scarred by the world's first atomic bomb blowing up a huge portion of Hiroshima, killing estimations of over 100,000 people. The city was afterwards plagued with issues with radiation, thousands of displaced families and nearly an entire city that needed rebuilding.
While most of the city is rebuilt today and the radiation has died down, there are still remnants of the bomb's damage on the city, both physically and emotionally. The Genbaku Dome, also known as the "A-Bomb Dome" is Hiroshima's most powerful symbol of this damage; of all the buildings that were left standing after the explosion, this building was the closest to ground zero. The building is hollow, broken, and barely standing, much like the entire city was directly following the bomb, and is a living example of the horrors of nuclear war.
2 2. Chernobyl, Ukraine
In April of 1986, a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl exploded, causing the city to be overwhelmed with harmful radiation. The town's population of approximately 14,000 prior to the explosion has since left, and the United Nations estimates that about 4,000 people died of radiation-related causes.
This catastrophic nuclear explosion has left Chernobyl a ghost town, which is home to barely 500 people living on the outskirts. Most of the city is completely abandoned; buildings are left vacant and overgrown, with wild animals roaming the streets.
Take the city's eerie feeling of doom, paired with a mysterious and tragic backstory, and you got yourself a great tourist destination! Each year, thousands of horror-enthusiasts flock to this skeleton of a town to witness what a nuclear post-apocalyptic future looks like in real life.
1 1. Pompeii, Italy
Pompeii is one of the world's most unique disaster sites. This ancient port city, once part of the Roman Empire, fell victim to one of history's most notorious volcanic eruptions, killing an estimated 2,000 people and burying the city in millions of tons of ash. What makes this site so unique is how well the entire city was preserved under the ash. Many of the bodies had rock hardened around them, and archaeologists were able to make molds of people's exact body shapes nearly 2,000 years after the disaster. Seeing the shape of a man cowering in fear, or a woman holding her baby, still preserved after so many years, is both disturbing and an incredible feat of archaeology.
The city itself is also extremely well preserved. Streets are still intact, and you can still make out what each building's purpose was. Bathhouses, courtyards, markets, brothels -they are all still there. Pompeii takes the cake as the #1 site for disaster tourism not because it had the most deaths, but because the site is a perfect time capsule for the exact moment the city was flooded with soot and ash all the way back in 79 AD.