How 9/11 Became the Deadliest Day in History for U.S. Firefighters

How 9/11 Became the Deadliest Day in History for U.S. Firefighters

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At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Six minutes later, the first contingent of New York City firefighters—two ladder and two engine companies—had arrived at the stricken building. They had just begun to climb a stairwell in an effort to reach people trapped on the upper floors, when another hijacked airliner, United Airlines Flight 175, struck the south tower at 9:03 a.m.

The 9/11 attacks not only became the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history, they were also the deadliest incident ever for firefighters, as well as for law enforcement officers in the United States. The New York City Fire Department lost 343 among their ranks, while 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority officers lost their lives, according to the 9/11 Commission that investigated the attacks and emergency response.

"We had a very strong sense we would lose firefighters and that we were in deep trouble, FDNY Division Chief for Lower Manhattan Peter Hayden later told the commission. “But we had estimates of 25,000 to 50,000 civilians, and we had to try to rescue them.”

READ MORE: 9/11 Timeline

On the ground, fire department officials quickly realized that there was no hope of controlling the blaze. Instead, they focused on the desperate mission of evacuating the office workers who were inside the two massive buildings. Though they surmised that the twin towers had suffered structural damage and the fire-suppression systems might have been rendered inoperable, they had almost no solid information about the situation inside. So the firefighters rushed into the unknown.

But probably no one realized just how bad it would be. Among the 2,753 people killed at the World Trade Center site on 9/11, 343 were FDNY fatalities. That somber figure far surpasses the 78 lives lost in the next biggest catastrophe for firefighters in history, an Idaho forest fire back in 1910. The 9/11 FDNY deaths amounted to more than a third of the approximately 1,000 emergency personnel at the scene, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s final report on the World Trade Center attack. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, two of FDNY’s fatalities were emergency medical technicians, and the remainder were firefighters.

READ MORE: The 9/11 Commission

Nearly two decades later, there isn’t an official account of precisely where firefighters were when they died. But a 2005 New York Times analysis, which was based upon eyewitness accounts, dispatch records and federal reports, suggests that roughly 140 firefighters lost their lives in or around the south tower, while around 200 died inside the north tower or at its base. NIST estimated that about 160 firefighters were outside the two buildings when they met their deaths, probably from being struck by pieces of the buildings.

The first fatality occurred at approximately 9:30 a.m., when a civilian leaping from the south tower struck firefighter Daniel Suhr, according to the 9/11 commission report and an oral history interview with FDNY Captain Paul Conlon, who witnessed it. “It wasn’t like you heard something falling and could jump out of the way,” Conlon recalled.

Climbing the stairs clad in heavy protective clothing and carrying equipment was a grueling task, even for physically-fit firefighters. Exhaustion quickly set in, and some became separated from their units, according to the national 9/11 commission’s report. To make things even more difficult, radio communication became difficult as they ascended higher inside the buildings, whose steel frames and steel-reinforced concrete interfered with the signals. “When attempting to reach a particular unit, chiefs in the lobby often heard nothing in response,” the 9/11 commission report noted.

READ MORE: The War on Terror: Timeline

But even without those vulnerabilities, there would have been no way to prepare for what happened at 9:59 a.m., when the south tower suddenly disintegrated, collapsing into itself in just 10 seconds. There was no time to flee, and the collapse killed all the firefighters and emergency personnel inside the building, according to the 9/11 commission report. After being crushed under a mountain of rubble—250,000 tons of steel, concrete and furnishings—some of their bodies weren’t recovered until months later.

About a minute later, FDNY officials, realizing that the north tower might soon collapse as well, got on the radio and issued a command to all firefighters in the north tower, telling them to evacuate. But with the breakdown in radio communication and the confusion of the disaster, some firefighters didn’t hear the evacuation order, according to the 9/11 commission report. Many who weren’t near windows didn’t even know that the south tower had collapsed, even though they had felt the powerful jolt and the rush of wind pushing the debris cloud up into the north tower.

Without a sense of the impending peril they faced, firefighters inside the north tower who heard the command didn’t uniformly respond and get out of the building as quickly as they could, according to the 9/11 commission report. Some units delayed their own evacuations to help civilians who were having trouble getting out, while others lingered to look for other firefighters so they could descend together. Others stopped to rest on the way down.

READ MORE: How the Design of the World Trade Center Claimed Lives on 9/11

But once five FDNY companies reached the lobby of the north tower at 10:24, another problem developed, according to the 9/11 commission report. There weren’t any chiefs waiting for them, so they stood for more than a minute. Finally, one firefighter who had seen the south tower’s collapse from a window told the rest that they should leave. But before they all could get out of the lobby, the north tower began to collapse at 10:28 a.m., killing some of them.

Among those who died on the outside of the north tower was Chief of Department‚ Peter J. Ganci, FDNY’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, who was working the radio and commanding rescue efforts. Just moments before, he had spoken with then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, according to the New York Times.

Though the FDNY paid a terrible price that day, firefighters’ heroic efforts undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. As it turned out, far fewer people were in the towers that day than feared—an estimated 17,400, according to NIST—and 87 percent of them were safely evacuated.

How 9/11 Became the Deadliest Day in History for U.S. Firefighters - HISTORY

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The Presidents’ Responses 

On September 11, 2001, sitting President George W. Bush addressed the nation with a formal statement, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” Eleven days later, the Office of Homeland Security in the White House coordinated a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard the country against terrorism and respond to future attacks. Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led international effort to oust the Taliban, began on October 7, 2001. Although the Taliban was weakened, the war continued and Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, remained at large for nearly a decade. 

On May 2, 2011, U.S. Special Forces SEAL Team Six invaded bin Laden’s fortress in Abbottabad, Pakistan and took down bin Laden. Sitting President Barack Obama stated, "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation&aposs effort to defeat al Qaeda." He added, "his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity." 

Immediately following this victory, in June 2011, Obama announced withdrawals of troops from Afghanistan. However, in August 2017, sitting President Donald Trump outlined a new plan to increase deployment of American troops into Afghanistan to continue to fight the Taliban. 

The Deadliest Day For U.S. Journalism Since 9/11

Journalists around the nation are reeling after a lone gunman attacked a Maryland newsroom on Thursday, making it the deadliest day for the profession since Sept. 11, 2001.

A suspect is in custody following the shooting at the Capital Gazette office in Annapolis. A reporter who was in the newsroom at the time said the gunman shot through a glass door before opening fire on the reporter’s colleagues, killing at least five people and injuring several more. Police have not yet given a concrete motive, but the massacre already serves as a grim marker for the field of journalism.

Prior to Thursday’s attack, at least 32 journalists and media staff had been killed in the U.S. since 1990, according to the International Federation of Journalists. Eight died on 9/11, though only photojournalist Bill Biggart, who was struck by falling debris while taking pictures of the World Trade Center’s collapse, was killed while covering the events of that day. Six TV engineers were among those who perished inside the World Trade Center. Another professional photojournalist was aboard one of the hijacked planes.

The tally of slain journalists varies slightly depending on methodology. The Committee to Protect Journalists counts Biggart as the lone journalist death on 9/11. According to CPJ, the previous deadliest day for journalists in the past quarter-century came in 2015, when WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed by a former co-worker during an on-air interview.

But Thursday’s massacre appears to be the first mass shooting involving journalists in the U.S. and one of the deadliest targeted attacks on the American press. A bombing at the Los Angeles Times building in 1910 killed 21 people, though it wasn’t clear that the pro-union perpetrators intended to kill reporters.

Although we don’t yet know if the gunman in Annapolis chose to target the Capital Gazette newsroom out of a broader animosity for the media, the killings come at a time of escalating antagonism toward the press, often at the urging of those in the highest ranks of power.

“We’ve seen a lot of threats against journalists over the past two years. We’ve seen a lot of chilling statements from politicians, especially [President] Donald Trump, demonizing the press,” said Peter Sterne, a senior reporter for Freedom of the Press Foundation and managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project that has been documenting hostility against journalists in the past few years.

Trump has regularly maligned the media, accusing news outlets of deliberately lying about his administration to make him look bad. He’s also referred to the press as “the enemy of the people,” echoing a phrase used by some of history’s most notorious dictators, as well as by former President Richard Nixon.

That sort of language has become common fare for Trump and many of his supporters. And as any reporter who’s been online in the past three years can attest, it’s not unusual for the criticism to boil over into more violent threats.

But the attacks on the media haven’t only been rhetorical. There have also been plenty of assaults on individual journalists, said Sterne, often involving protesters of various ideological bents shoving or punching reporters, or stealing cameras.

Last year, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter on the eve of the Montana special election that sent him to Congress. Gianforte later pleaded guilty to assault and avoided jail time.

To Sterne, the onslaught of verbal and physical jabs has contributed to an atmosphere that has many journalists fearing for their safety.

“I do think there is a tie between some of the rhetoric that people use to demonize journalists and the increasing number of attacks on journalists,” said Sterne. “There’s definitely a sense that when people are unhappy with journalists’ coverage, they increasingly are resorting to physical means.”

As the attack on the Capital Gazette shows, these threats can be deadly serious.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that Alison Parker and Adam Ward were with WXAN. They worked for WDBJ-TV.

Wednesday was one of the deadliest days in American history, topping D-Day, 9/11


Medical personnel move a deceased patient to a refrigerated truck serving as make shift morgues at Brooklyn Hospital Center on April 09, 2020 in New York City. - America's coronavirus epicenter of New York recorded a new single-day high of 799 COVID-

Just when the U.S. appears on the verge of rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine, the numbers have become gloomier than ever: Over 3,000 American deaths in a single day, more than on D-Day or 9/11. One million new cases in the span of five days. More than 106,000 people in the hospital.

The crisis across the country is pushing medical centers to the breaking point and leaving staff members and public health officials burned out and plagued by tears and nightmares.

All told, the crisis has left more than 290,000 people dead in the U.S, with more than 15 million confirmed infections.

The U.S. recorded 3,124 deaths Wednesday, the highest one-day total yet, according to Johns Hopkins University. Up until last week, the peak was 2,603 deaths on April 15, when New York City was the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak.

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Wednesday’s toll eclipsed American deaths on the opening day of the Normandy invasion during World War II: 2,500, out of some 4,400 allied deaths. And it topped the toll on Sept. 11, 2001, as well: 2,977.

New cases per day are running at all-time highs of over 209,000, by Johns Hopkins’ count. And the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 is setting records nearly every day.

A U.S. government advisory panel convened on Thursday to decide whether to endorse mass use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to help conquer the outbreak that has killed close to 300,000 Americans. The meeting of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration was the next-to-last hurdle before the expected start of the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history.

Depending on how fast the FDA signs off on the panel’s recommendation, shots could begin within days.

In St. Louis, respiratory therapist Joe Kowalczyk said he has seen entire floors of his hospital fill up with COVID-19 patients, some of them two to a room. He said the supply of ventilators is dwindling, and the inventory is so thin that colleagues on one shift had to ventilate one patient by using a BiPAP machine, similar to the devices used to treat sleep apnea.

When he goes home to sleep during the day at the end of his grueling overnight shifts, he sometimes has nightmares.

“I would be sleeping and I would be working in a unit and things would go completely wrong and I would shock myself awake. They would be very visceral and very vivid,” he said. “It would just really spook me.”

In South Dakota, Dr. Clay Smith has treated hundreds of COVID-19 patients while working at Monument Health Spearfish Hospital and at Sheridan Memorial Hospital in neighboring Wyoming.

He said patients are becoming stranded in the emergency room for hours while they await beds on the main floor or transfers to larger hospitals. And those transfers are becoming more challenging, with some patients sent as far away as Denver, 400 miles from the two hospitals.

“That is a huge burden for families and EMS systems as well when you take an ambulance and send it 400 miles one way, that ambulance is out of the community for essentially a whole day,” he said.

Smith added that some patients have gone from thinking “I thought this was a hoax” to “Wow, this is real and I feel terrible.” But he has also seen people with COVID-19 who 𠇌ontinue to be disbelievers. It is hard to see that.”

𠇊t the end of the day the virus doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not,” he said.

In New Orleans, city Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno described a recent visit to a hospital where she watched doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and others risk exposure to the disease in a long, futile attempt to save a dying COVID-19 patient. Some broke down in tears afterward, she said.

“These are seasoned emergency and critical care personnel,” she said. “We do not cry very often — and especially not a number of us all at once.”

She cited “the sheer exhaustion of giving their all for similar patients over and over and over again for the past nine months, coupled with the knowledge that much of this could be prevented with really simple measures.”

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam, a doctor by training, announced a midnight curfew and expanded mask rules to require the wearing of face coverings outdoors, not just inside.

In New York City, which was ravaged by the virus in the spring, one doctor sounded a note of relative optimism, saying that at least physicians are more capable of managing the virus now.

�rly in the spring we did not know enough,” said Dr. Jolion McGreevy, who directs Mount Sinai Hospital’s emergency department. “We really are operating from a place of knowledge, now — which is a big leap from where we were in the spring.”

The grim figures from Wednesday led the usually stoic health director of the nation’s most populated county to become emotional. Barbara Ferrer described 𠇊 devastating increase in deaths” in Los Angeles County, with the total hitting 8,075 on Wednesday.

LA County Public Health director chokes back tears as she talks about COVID-19 deaths

Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer choked back tears on Wednesday as she talked about the more than 8,000 LA County residents who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

“Over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back,” Ferrer said, fighting back tears.

Ellen DeGeneres, meanwhile, became one of the latest celebrities to be infected with the virus, though she said she is �ling fine right now.” Production on her talk show was put on hold until January, and reruns will air in the meantime.

The Tragedy Of September 11, 2001

Even after seeing the most powerful 9/11 pictures, the true scope of the chaos is difficult to convey.

It all began at 8.46 AM when American Airlines Flight 11 — hijacked by five Al Qaeda operatives on its way from Boston to Los Angeles — crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At the time, people weren't sure whether this was an accident made by an amateur pilot or due to some sort of malfunction, but that confusion would soon cease.

As the North Tower's crash site smoldered and smoke wafted across the sky, the world's media kept its cameras trained firmly on the buildings. Then, at 9.03 AM, United Airlines Flight 175 — also traveling from Boston to Los Angeles — crashed into the South Tower. By this point, it was clear that New York City was under attack. By whom, or why, would remain a question for some time.

"Boom! Boom! Just like that. The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now ― with somebody ― and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy."

Hunter S. Thompson

American Airlines Flight 77 traveling from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles crashed into the Pentagon at 9.37 AM, tearing a massive hole into the side of the building. Just 22 minutes later, the unimaginable happened back in New York City: In around 10 seconds, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed into its footprint — reducing 110 stories to rubble forever.

United Airlines Flight 93, meanwhile, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania a few minutes later. The San Francisco-bound flight had been hijacked by four Al Qaeda terrorists after departing Newark, New Jersey.

The damage had already been staggering, but things were about to get even scarier. At 10.28 AM, the North Tower collapsed. Tower 7, said to be plagued by such intense fires that it gave out and buckled, collapsed at 5.21 p.m.

As the 9/11 pictures above clearly show, it was the deadliest day in American history.

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9 Jim Gartenberg: &ldquoTake It Easy.&rdquo

September 11th was supposed to be Jim Gartenberg&rsquos last day working at the World Trade Center. His employer, commercial real estate firm Julien J. Studley Inc., had transferred him to its Midtown Manhattan offices. In fact Gartenberg, 35, was cleaning out his desk on the 86th Floor of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into it at 8:46am.

The plane struck floors 93-99 &ndash several stories about Gartenberg&rsquos office. However, the impact left piles of debris that, per a phone call Gartenberg made to Midtown office colleague Margaret Luberda, blocked his exit. Soon, fire compounded the problem. &ldquoThere&rsquos a fire,&rdquo he said to his pregnant wife, Jill. &ldquoI love you, tell Nicole&rdquo &ndash the couple&rsquos two-year-old daughter &ndash &ldquoI don&rsquot know if I&rsquom going to be OK.&rdquo

Remarkably, Gartenberg&rsquos next call was to ABC News, who carried the conversation live on air. Calmly explaining where he was, what happened and who he was with, his composure during the two-minute conversation was heroic. In fact, Gartenberg doesn&rsquot discernibly panic even after learning that, unbeknownst to him, not one but two plane crashes had occurred &ndash one in each building.

Instead, Gartenberg sought to comfort the thousands of family members with unaccounted-for loved ones. &ldquoI want to tell anybody who has a family member in the building that the situation is under control. Please&hellip take it easy.&rdquo

This wasn&rsquot ignorance or denial. Next, Gartenberg called his Midtown colleague again: &ldquoMargaret, I didn&rsquot want to tell them how bad it was,&rdquo he replied. &ldquoI didn&rsquot want to worry the other families.&rdquo Gartenberg perished. [2]


Although to many Americans 9/11 seemed like a random act of terror, the roots of the event had been developing for years. A combination of factors that coalesced in the late 1990s led the catastrophic event. These factors included regional conditions in the Middle East that motivated the perpetrators, as well as intelligence lapses and failures that left the United States vulnerable.

Osama bin Laden in November, 2001 Wikimedia Commons

Osama Bin Laden was relatively unknown in the United States before 9/11, even as he was amassing popularity, followers, and fame in the Middle East during the 1990s. In 1988, he was one of the founders of al Qaeda, a militant Islamic terrorist organization that organized and carried out the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden called for indiscriminate killing of all Americans who, he claimed, were “the worst thieves in the world today” (9/11 Report, page 47). It was the perfect historical moment for that rallying cry.

Throughout the 20th century, a wave of secular, nationalist revolutions swept through the Middle East, taking root in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries. While these movements were awash in promising ideology, the new regimes quickly became autocratic and suppressed dissent. Their critics turned to violent revolution to express their dissatisfaction with the secular governments.

At the same time, social malaise, especially among young men who were struggling to find decent jobs and start their own families in corrupt oil states, provided easy targets for radicalization. Bin Laden’s message that America was the “head of the snake” and the root of all society’s problems resonated well with the discontent.

By the mid-1990s, Bin Laden was the head of al Qaeda, a multifaceted and highly developed terrorist network carrying out attack after attack on Americans in the Middle East. It was a new type of terrorism to which the US intelligence agencies struggled to adapt. Much of the intelligence community had not even imaged the specific type of hijacking and terrorism carried out on 9/11. They were preparing for threats such as the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and bombing in 2000 of the USS Cole.

Aftermath of the 1993 WTC Bombing Wikimedia Commons

Much of the intelligence community’s focus was on reactive law enforcement activity rather than proactive countering of terrorism. A telling quote from the 9/11 commission report focuses on the lack of a proactive response: “The process was meant, by its nature, to mark for the public as the events finished – case solved, justice done. It was not designed to ask if the events might be harbingers of worse to come. Nor did it allow for aggregating and analyzing facts to see if they could provide clues to terrorist tactics more generally – methods of entry and finance, and mode of operation inside the United States” (Commission Report, p. 73).

Bin Laden had amassed substantial power due to conditions in the Middle East as well as his charismatic leadership, and the US intelligence community was underprepared for a 9/11 style attack. In the aftermath of 9/11, these two factors continued to affect US policy in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq.

9/11 tragedy created Charlotte firefighter, artist, community builder

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity

September 21, 2020 at 6:58 am EDT By Kevin Campbell

Charlotte firefighters work an average of 52 hours a week on 24-hour shifts. In only 3 1/2 minutes, the heat from a house fire can reach over 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. For one Charlotte firefighter, the hours and heat aren’t enough, so he has a scorching-hot hobby.

Ferney Mercado has been fighting fires for nearly 10 years. However, even when he’s away from the firehouse, he’s using the element of fire at his art studio, Char’d, at his home.

Char’d actually started with a need, both financial and as a way for me to express myself,” Mercado said.

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity (MOTUS Media/Photo Credit: MOTUS Media)

In 2016, Mercado found motivation in a traditional Japanese wood charring technique known as Shou Sugi Ban and started Char’d Urban Woodworks and creates beautiful, character-filled pieces of art. From his signature char’d-cuterie board to dining tables, his creativity seems limitless.

Shou Sugi Ban, which translates to the burning of Japanese cypress, is a traditional Japanese technique of charring wood to repel water, prevent sun damage and make it rot and insect-resistant.

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity (MOTUS Media/Photo Credit: MOTUS Media)

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity (MOTUS Media/Photo Credit: MOTUS Media)

“Once you put (wood) through a planer and you start seeing the grains come to life, that definitely wakes me up in the morning,” Mercado said. “It really motivates me to show up every day in this workshop and do that work necessary to become a better woodworker.”

With a need for a creative outlet when he is away from the fire department, Mercado uses amazing skill to transform wood, but his intensity in his woodworking studio is magnified tenfold as a firefighter.

His decision to become a firefighter happened on the day he sat in class on Sept. 11, 2001, and watched the World Trade Center buildings fall in New York City.

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity

The 9/11 attacks not only became the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history they were also the deadliest event ever for firefighters, as well as for law enforcement officers in the United States.

“I can remember just sitting there wondering what I could do to help. I was in high school trying to form a plan in my head how I could get to New York to help,” Mercado said.

Mercado is the youngest of four children brought up by a single mother who worked multiple jobs in order to support the family, so he experienced plenty of challenges. He grew up in what he said was a rough neighborhood.

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity Mercado, his wife and son

“There was a lot of violence and a lot of drugs in my neighborhood. It just seemed like the norm, but I didn’t want to grow up to be a product of that environment,” he said. “I had to move past what I was seeing and create my own path.”

A decade after the fall of the towers in New York City, Mercado became a firefighter in 2011.

As the Hispanic population grows in Charlotte, Mercado believes there is a great need for the evolution of the firehouse to include Spanish-speaking employees and to diversify its workforce.

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity

“The fire department should look like the community we serve,” Mercado said. “A lot of times, we deal with people on the worst days of their lives, and at a minimum, we should be able to communicate with them.”

During this Hispanic Heritage Month, Mercado believes it is essential to embrace his Puerto Rican heritage, Latino roots and the legacy he has received from his past generations of family.

Speaking with Mercado, you quickly understand that he wants to inspire this generation of young people that there are boundless opportunities no matter where they come from.

Charlotte Firefighter Ferney Mercado Community Unity

He now knows what he imagined when he was a kid and wants to share with the next generation of kids the hopes that he had growing up with limited financial means.

Mercado uses the destructive element of fire to create exquisite art and has navigated the challenges of his childhood to ignite hope in the community.

10 Deadliest World Events In Human History

Throughout human history, there have been many world events that have seen a multitude of deaths and widespread destruction. The ten entries on this list are ranked according to the number of deaths. While some of the events spanned just a few years, others occurred over centuries.

Since these death toll estimates are always highly disputed, I have made it a rule to use the highest respectable estimate in every case. I have also chosen to focus this list on &lsquoman-made&rsquo events &ndash natural disasters have not been included.

The Atlantic (or Trans-Atlantic) slave trade began roughly in the 16th century, reaching its peak in the 17th century until finally being all but abolished in the 19th Century. The main driving force behind this trade was the need for European empires to establish themselves in the New World. European and American settlers therefore began to use mainly West African slaves to fill the vast labor needs on plantations. Estimates vary on the amount of slaves who died, but it is said that for every ten slaves taken on a ship, four would perish from causes related to mistreatment.

The Yuan dynasty was founded by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, around 1260. Yuan literally translates as &lsquoGreat is the Heavenly and Primal&rsquo, though there proved to be nothing either great or heavenly about it.

The dynasty turned out to be one of the shortest-lived in the history of China, covering just a century until it fell in 1368. Chaos reigned during the twilight years of the Yuan Dynasty, and the lands were marked by warring tribes, outlaws, political struggle, famine, and bitterness among the populace. After all this carnage, the Ming Dynasty took control. Their reign is described by some as &ldquoone of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history.&rdquo

Around 500 years before Yuan, the Tang Dynasty was in control of China. An Lushan &ndash a general in the north of China &ndash sought to take control, and declared himself emperor (creating the Yan Dynasty). The An Lushan rebellion lasted from 755 until 763, when the Yan Dynasty was finally defeated by the Tang empire. Medieval warfare was always a bloody affair &ndash and this rebellion was no exception. Millions died and the Tang Dynasty never fully recovered.

Jump forward a thousand years and the Chinese are at it again &ndash this time with some help from the French, the British, and some American mercenaries. In 1850, the Qing Dynasty is now in charge of China. They had suffered some major problems before the rebellion, with natural and economic disasters causing havoc &ndash not to mention the Europeans bringing opium addiction to China. So up stepped Hong Xiuquan, who amongst other things claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Hong established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom &ndash and the carnage began. The Taiping Rebellion happened at roughly the same time as the American civil war, though the latter conflict proved to be far less bloody.

Another century later and we&rsquore now in a Communist-led China. The period 1958 to 1961 is also know as &lsquothe great leap forward&rsquo &ndash and it&rsquos a sombre lesson in what can happen when a government attempts to change a country too quickly.

Although droughts and poor weather conditions led to the famine, the disaster can quite easily be seen as a consequence of the government&rsquos attempts to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a modern communist society. Chinese peasants describe this period as the &lsquothree bitter years&rsquo, which is something of an understatement. Several decades later the Chinese economy became the largest in the world &ndash but at quite a price.

Here is another example of a disaster caused by a country with a vast population trying to change its economic and social landscape in a very short period. Under the Soviet Union, from 1917 to 1953, millions of Russians died at the hands of revolution, civil war, famine, forced resettlement and other crimes. One man can take most of the blame: Joseph Stalin.

His desire to build a new and better country at any cost &ndash and to keep hold of the power he had gained &ndash was a direct cause of the majority of casualties under Soviet rule. It is hard to fathom how, in 1948, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

If there is one man who could be said to have more blood on his hands than anyone else in history, it is Genghis Khan. Under the leadership of Khan (and successors after his death), the Mongol empire grew into the largest land empire the world has ever seen &ndash at its peak covering 16% of the Earth. The Mongol army swept across Asia, killing its rivals with great ferocity for the best part of two centuries. The death toll would certainly have been much higher if the Mongols had continued to progress west and into Europe.

Aside from all the killing, it wasn&rsquot all bad under Mongol rule &ndash with religious tolerance given to most faiths, as well as tax breaks for the poor. 

Although other wars had come close quite a few times, this was the first truly global war. The causes of the &lsquogreat war&rsquo are varied and rather complicated, but suffice it to say that in 1914 when the various European empires began to get too big for each other, they decided to form two vast alliances and fight it out for dominance.

Europe became divided, and dragged the rest of the world into its rapidly widening sinkhole. Outdated warfare tactics were deadly to the soldiers involved: these young men would often be ordered to walk very slowly towards the opponent&rsquos machine-gun fire. When the war finished in 1918, Europe and the world began to count the cost of so many lost lives. Most agreed that this madness could never happen again&hellip

Having taken a break from fighting for a few years, &lsquototal war&rsquo broke out again in 1939. The two teams divided again into vast forces, and called themselves the Allies and the Axis. During the short break before the war, each country had decided to build some new killing machines &ndash taking to the skies and to the sea, and developing more efficient land-based vehicles as well as automatic weapons their soldiers could now carry. And as if this wasn&rsquot enough, a certain country decided to build a very big bomb. The Allies eventually &lsquowon&rsquo the war, though 85% of the death toll came from their side, with the Soviet Union and China seeing the greatest casualties. The majority of deaths also came outside of the combat zone, and can therefore be attributed to war crimes.

When Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and other explorers in the 15th century found a new continent, it must&rsquove seemed like the dawn of a new age. Here was a new paradise that adventurous Europeans could call their new home. There was, however, one problem: this land already had an indigenous population.

Over the following centuries, the seafaring Europeans brought vast death tolls to what is now referred to as North and South America. Although war and invasion can account for a hefty chunk of these casualties, it was the natives&rsquo lack of immunity to European diseases that caused the most deaths. Some estimates state that 80% of the Native American population died as a result of contact with Europeans.


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