Coronavirus, fires, crashes, locust swarms: Ten bad things that happened in 2020

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January 1, 2020 marked the beginning of a brand-new decade that many looked at with optimism and as a chance at a new lease on life. But as summer 2020 progresses, many are wondering if this year can get any worse, following a string of wild fires, airplane crashes in Iran and Pakistan, the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, social unrest over the killing of George Floyd, the deadly explosion in Beirut, and various natural disasters – all under the cloud of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Latest crisis: Massive explosions rock Lebanon’s capital of Beirut; Trump says it was an ‘attack’

Read more: A rough year for America: 10 bad things to happen in 2020

A stretch of bad events kicked off the year. Wildfires engulfed Australia with apocalyptic scenes, followed shortly by the Iranian regime shooting down the Ukrainian airliner PS752, killing all 176 people on board, during a series of escalations that nearly brough Iran and the United States to war. These events were eclipsed in January, however, when the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the world – wrecking havoc and killing more than 400,000 people as of early June.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

The year also witnessed violence in India’s capital Delhi which has left more than 50 dead and hundreds injured after a Hindu nationalist rampage. Other unfortunate events included the earthquakes in Turkey and the Caribbean, a locust swarm outbreak in East Africa, and the death of a world-renowned basketball player as well eight others in a sobering helicopter crash.

And 2020 looked like it couldn’t get any worse, social unrest exploded in the already polarized United States, following the killing of an African American man George Floyd by a white police officer. The resulting unrest was mainly channeled in peaceful protests that spread across the globe, but also witnessed violent clashes between police and some protesters and a further political polarization in the US ahead of the November, 2020, election. Meanwhile, China tightened its grip on Hong Kong through passing controversial new legislation.

Then, in early August, long-suffering Lebanon was struck by a massive deadly explosion, putting further strain on the country amid a deteriorating economic crisis.

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Beirut explosion

A massive explosion shattered Beirut on August 4, 2020, compounding the ongoing political and economic crises that have gripped Lebanon throughout the past year.

The blast emanated from Beirut's port, where 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate was being stored.

At least 157 people were killed, over 6,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Whole neighborhoods were shattered, with estimates of more than $5 billion worth of damage.

The explosion reignited anti-government protests, leading to the resignation of short-lived Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government.

Read more: Investigators find underground chamber beneath Beirut port wreckage: Reports

US further polarized by George Floyd killing

Massive protests swept the US in late May and early June following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, splitting opinion in an already deeply polarized country.

While many in both the US and abroad celebrated the protests as mainly peaceful and saw them as an opportunity for much-needed police reform, critics have pointed to violence between the police and protesters, as well as some looting, as evidence that law and order had been lost. While Democrats took the knee in a gesture of solidarity with protesters, US President Donald Trump railed against left-wing group Antifa and others and reportedly wanted to send in 10,000 US troops to clear the streets.

In mid-June, protesters came under a series of attacks, including a man who drove his car into a crowd in Seattle.

With protests ongoing, the gulf between both sides appears to be only growing ahead of the November 2020 presidential election.

A similar dynamic can be found in European countries such as the UK, where Black Lives Matters protesters are also protesting against racial injustice and police brutality.

Coronavirus pandemic

The outbreak of coronavirus, or COVID-19, is one 2020 calamity that has caused significant human suffering and major global economic disruption.

The outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province, in December 2019, and was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. As of March 21, more than 276,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 180 countries and territories, resulting in more than 11,400 deaths and 90,000 recoveries. The virus’s fatality rate is low – around 1-2 percent – but it spreads easily, and the economic impacts beginning to be felt are likely to have long-lasting effects.

Pakistan airliner crash

A Pakistan International Airlines flight crashed into houses in Karachi on May 22, killing 97 people.

Miraculously, two passengers survived the crash.

Airbus has opened an investigation into the plane's strange behaviour around takeoff, the latest deadly plane crash in Pakistan's long history of aviation incidents.

People stand on a roof of a house amidst debris of a passenger plane, crashed in a residential area near an airport in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020. (Reuters)
People stand on a roof of a house amidst debris of a passenger plane, crashed in a residential area near an airport in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020. (Reuters)

Australian bushfire

The 2019–2020 Australian bushfire season, known as the black summer, began with several serious and uncontrolled fires in June 2019, mainly in the southeast of the country. The fires, which peaked during December and January, have since been contained and extinguished.

More than half of all Australians have been directly affected by the bushfire crisis, including millions whose health has been affected. As of March 9, the fires, unprecedented for Australia in terms of duration and intensity, burned an estimated 18.6 million hectares, destroyed over 5,900 buildings, and killed at least 34 people. However, smoke pollution that blanketed the country’s southeast during the bushfire may have killed more than 400 people, according to the estimate published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

A koala stands in a field with bushfire burning in the background, in Kangaroo Island, Australia, January 9, 2020. (Reuters)
A koala stands in a field with bushfire burning in the background, in Kangaroo Island, Australia, January 9, 2020. (Reuters)

Ukrainian jetliner crash in Iran

The beginning of the year also witnessed a dramatic escalation in hostilities between the US and Iran, after a US drone strike killed Iran’s most notorious spymaster, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Qassem Soleimani.

This culminated in Iran’s military “unintentionally” shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed killing all 176 aboard. The plane was shot down hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing US troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted, offering his condolences and saying that investigations continue to identify and prosecute this “great tragedy & unforgivable mistake.”

Devastating floods in Indonesia

Floods in Indonesia's capital Jakarta and nearby towns on the early hours of January 1, killed 66 people and forced almost 400,000 to flee their homes. At least 182 neighborhoods had been submerged in the city's greater area, inundating thousands of homes and buildings, including the presidential palace, and paralyzing transport networks.

Overnight rains caused more rivers to burst their banks in greater Jakarta, sending muddy water up to five feet deep into residential and commercial areas. According to the country's disaster management agency (BNPB), many of the victims drowned or were buried by landslides. Several died of hypothermia and electric shocks.

Communal riots in Delhi

The 2020 Delhi riots included multiple waves of bloodshed, property destruction, and rioting that killed 53 people, most of whom were Muslims who were shot, slashed with repeated blows, or set on fire by Hindu mobs in North East Delhi beginning on the night of February 23.

Paramilitary forces— the Rapid Action Force (RPF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)—were deployed amid allegations of inaction and even complicity of Delhi Police personnel in the clashes.

The events were the result of fallout from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the dangerous rhetoric employed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) in Delhi’s city elections and the mob incitement by a BJP leader to violently remove a group of Muslims who were blocking a road in the capital’s north-west to protest against the legislation.

Read more: Pregnant Indian cow reportedly has mouth blown off, sparking social media uproar

Taal volcano eruption

Red-hot lava gushed out of a volcano in the Philippines on January 12 after a sudden eruption of ash and steam forced villagers to flee and also shut down Manila’s international airport, offices, and schools.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage from Taal volcano’s eruption south of the capital. But clouds of ash blew more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) north, reaching the bustling capital, Manila, and forcing the shutdown of the country’s main airport with more than 240 international and domestic flights canceled.

People watch as the Taal volcano spews ash and smoke during an eruption in Tagaytay, Cavite province south of Manila, Philippines on Sunday. Jan. 12, 2020. (Photo: AP)
People watch as the Taal volcano spews ash and smoke during an eruption in Tagaytay, Cavite province south of Manila, Philippines on Sunday. Jan. 12, 2020. (Photo: AP)

Death of Kobe Bryant in helicopter crash

On January 26, Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players, was killed at age 41 in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others on board.

Bryant and fellow passengers were reported by local media to have been on their way to a sports academy in the nearby city of Thousand Oaks, California, where he was to have coached his daughter’s basketball team in a youth tournament.

Honorable mentions

2020 has been such a bad year that more than ten things made it on to the list.

Here are some of the honorable mentions.

Earthquakes in Turkey and the Caribbean

A total of 41 people were killed and more than 1,600 were injured in eastern Turkey after an earthquake rattled the region on January 24.

The 6.7 magnitude quake struck near the town of Sivrice, in eastern Elazig province, causing at least 10 buildings to collapse, Interior Minister Sulyman Soylu said. The earthquake was felt in the neighboring provinces of Diyarbakır, Malatya, and Adıyaman, and the neighboring countries of Armenia, Syria, and Iran.

About 1,607 people were hospitalized, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management President (AFAD) said.

Another powerful 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck in the Caribbean on January 28, prompting brief tsunami warnings and office evacuations as far away as Florida.

The quake hit between Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cuba at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. It is the largest earthquake in the Caribbean since 1946. Some offices were temporarily evacuated in Miami and parts of Jamaica.

Locusts swam in East Africa

Hundreds of billions of locusts swarmed through parts of East Africa and South Asia in the worst infestation for a quarter of a century, threatening the food supply of tens of millions. The Food and Agricultural Organization said that the locusts could affect the food security of 25 million people.

City-sized swarms of the dreaded pests wrought havoc as they descend on crops and pasturelands, devouring everything in a matter of hours. The scale of the locust outbreak, which affected seven East African countries, was like nothing in recent memory.

Dead locusts in Saudi Arabia after intensive pest control operations, February 21, 2020. (SPA)
Dead locusts in Saudi Arabia after intensive pest control operations, February 21, 2020. (SPA)

Gas plant explosion in Lagos, Nigeria

An explosion at a gas processing plant on March 15 killed at least 15 people and destroyed about 50 buildings after a fire broke out in a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the explosion was triggered after a truck hit some gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant near the corporation's pipeline in Abule Ado area of Lagos state.

The impact of the explosion led to the collapse of nearby houses, damaged NNPC's pipeline and caused the corporation to halt pumping operations on the Atlas Cove-Mosimi pipeline, the state-owned oil company said in a statement.

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