Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 28 Notes:

The horrific stories of two tidal waves that destroyed cities and caused the gruesome deaths of many. Two different countries. Two different ways to handle the tidal waves. Two different outcomes. One very big lesson. 

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

It was October 17th. 4:13 in the afternoon. Mary and her four year old daughter Hannah were drinking tea when the Tsunami hit and washed them away, killing Hannah instantly. The fifteen foot tall tidal wave crashed through the city and pulled with it all the ground clutter it could find.

It had been building since morning. The wooden wall that was banded with long strips of steel had given way under the pressure. It all started when one strip gave way. While it was reported it was not fixed. It was not fixed because one strip gave way three to four times a year without an issue. 

The engineers intended to fix it. They would get around to it. But, when such a thing had happened in the past, it had never impacted the integrity of the wall. This time was different. The wall was compromised. With a mechanical groaning the wall gave way. The remaining strips of steel snapped. The flood came and poured into the land around it.  

This was the slums and there was a lot to sweep away. Cheap houses. Apartments jam packed with the poor, the destitute, criminals and prostitutes. The land was flat and there was no natural runout for the tidal wave. So, it went into the low points, flooding the basements of houses and forcing people to climb into their furniture to avoid drowning.  

It was a fast moving wave. Unexpected. 

The tidal wave washed through the house Mary and her daughter were in, bringing with it all of the debris. It arrived with such force that it took out the foundation of the building. The building groaned. The building bucked. The building collapsed. Crushing and killing Hannah. Mary was swept into the street and miraculously survived.

The house next to that one suffered a similar fate, but the people inside were not as lucky. There were five people gathered for the wake of a two year old boy who had died. When the basement was flooded and the foundation collapsed on their heads, they were all killed. 

The death toll stood at six. Including three children under the age of five. 

The tidal wave didn’t stop. It was too strong. Moving too fast. It plowed into the side of a restaurant and brought the wall down on the head of a fourteen year old girl washing dishes inside. She was crushed and killed. 

The 8th death, another child, would be found when the tidal wave finally subsided. She was washed out of her house, drowned and found in a neighboring house. 

Eight dead in a matter of minutes. Five under the age of 18 and four of those five under the age of 5. Hundred more left without houses. Millions of dollars in damages.

This reminds me of another similar disaster. This one took place years later and involved another tidal wave. The engineers had long warned of increased protection measures. But, they were routinely turned away. No issues had happened prior so why should they happen now?

The steel wall would hold, even if it did leak a little. The leaking was not a serious problem with the wall. Neither were the rumbles and the creaks of the wall fighting the pressure it held back. The people in town had gotten so used to the sounds of the struggle that they didn’t pay them any attention anymore. But, then with a loud bang the tearing and creaking of steel filled the air. The wall gave way. The wall couldn’t hold anymore. The wall, let loose its wave.

And this wave rolled through the city on January 15 at 12:30 pm. It brought 40 foot tall waves. It moved at 35 mph and flowed with such force that it bent steal train tracks. It set chunks of metal flying through the air like missiles and impaled them into surrounding brick buildings.  

It picked up train cars and used them as weapons to kill people. 

It took out buildings at their foundations and washed them away whole. Like it did to Engine 31 Firehouse. Just picked the two story building up. Flipped it. Crushed it. Trapped the firefighters inside. Most survived, but it took hours for rescuers to cut out the floor boards and pick through the rubble to find the buried firefighters. All survived but one.

The wave didn’t stop there though. The house next to the fire station was swept away and shoved violently into an elevated train platform, where it exploded into pieces. The wave was a dirty mess. It covered everyone it washed over. You couldn’t tell human from animal. It suffocated people. It cut a several block wide path of destruction through the city. Rescuers spent four days scouring the wreckage looking for survivors. Some were so badly mutilated that they couldn’t be recognized. When all was said and done, 150 people were injured. Another 21 were killed. Two of the dead were children. Age 10. All the rest adults.  

What came next in both of these instances was the same. Outrage. Anger driven by sorrow. Anger driven by loss. Anger driven by destruction. Anger, that needed an outlet.

Surely this had been someone’s fault. Surely someone had failed to prepare. Surely, someone had failed to keep them safe. Had they?

Had those responsible for keeping the tidal waves back failed to do their jobs?

What’s most interesting about this story is how the aftermath highlights the cultural difference between two places. 

One of these tidal waves happened in the UK. 

The other in the United States. 

In the UK the judges were sent out to assess the situation. They looked at the walls that had failed to hold back the wave. They listened to engineers who were entrusted with securing those walls. They saw the bodies of the dead. They walked the streets of destruction that had destroyed and damaged all those slum houses and apartments. 

Then they decided that the engineers were not guilty. They found no fault. This was an act of God, they said. Normal and expected human precautions had been taken. No money was paid to the families of the dead. 

Funeral expenses had already been paid for. The dead had been laid out and donations were raised for burial costs. The people came together over the tragedy in their slums and helped out their neighbors. 

In the United States this tidal wave in Boston was very different. The case for neglect piled in, just like they had in the UK. 119 lawsuits were filed. Over a thousand witnesses testified. Over 1,500 exhibits were produced. The case took almost 5 years to resolve. It was a formal legal matter. 

Very orderly. There were no site visits. No visitations of the dead. There was a judge. In a court room. And page after page of detailed documents drafted by high priced lawyers. There were expert witnesses on both sides saying this and saying that. The closing arguments took 11 weeks. 

And in the end the engineers were found guilty. They paid $8 million in damages to the families of the dead.

But, these floods both had larger consequences. They created immediate change. 

They learned from the mistakes. They adapted. They created new laws. New regulations. They made things safer so that any future walls would be constructed stronger. In the UK they put forth a requirement of using concrete to further solidify any future walls. 

In the US they required architects and civil engineers be part of the work moving forward. They tightened requirements for what the walls had to include in order to be structurally sound. Required tests. Made an inspection checklist. 

Change was made. Change that would become the basis for modern walls of this sort today.   

What I find most interesting is the response by both countries to these disasters. In the UK mostly kids were killed. The walls construction was shoddy. But, no one was held accountable. In fact, the judges determined that the engineers should actually be paid to help rebuild the wall. 

Was this because the slums were affected? Were people more desensitized to death back then, especially the death of children? And the decision on guilt and next steps was made fast, after a brief walk through the disaster zone. 

In the United States, they brought out lawyers and spent money fighting for this and fighting for that. They spent five years defending the rights of both parties and ensuring a fair, just trial. Justice is an inefficient process in the hands of those with money. They got clinical about everything. Drafting words of paper. Witnesses. Courtrooms. They took the death out of the streets. Away from the twisted steel. They lessened it instead of living in it. 

Then there are the people that died. In both instances I can think of worse ways to die. And, actually the death from the flood in the UK, in London, might be one of my preferred ways to die. 

You see, the tidal wave that was unleashed was about 300,000 gallons of liquid. 

Of beer.

Which busted out of the wooden vat walls that were wrapped in long, steel bands. When it exploded it took out another two vats of beer with it. Then it sent this 15 foot tall tidal wave of beer through the town. A tidal wave of porter beer. And, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

And I would have been stronger, and drunker, from wallowing in the flood of porter beer that lingered in town for the days to follow.

As for the tidal wave in the United States, in Boston, Massachusetts… well, now that would be horrific. 

Perhaps it was this difference in tidal waves that also determined the different outcomes in the trial proceedings. 

You see, in Boston the tidal wave was molasses. Molasses that was used for the production of rum. 

A metal vat built three years prior had been creaking and groaning from day one until an explosion, likely carbon dioxide build up, destroyed the vat and brought 2.3 million gallons of hot, sticky molasses flooding through the streets in the North End of Boston. 

Molasses has 40% great mass than water.

That means it moves faster. Hits harder. Does more damage. It can twist metal. Pick up houses and buildings whole and wash them away. 

And it sticks to you, like it stuck to the horses and humans that it covered. Suffocating them. Or killing them through sticky exhaustion. 

It took 300 people weeks to clean up the mess, using salt water guns and sand to push all the molasses into the Boston Harbor.

It lingered there for months.

The sweet smell for much longer. And, even after it looked like it had all been cleaned up. On hot days. The sweet smell of molasses would fill the air. 

These were two of the early industrialized alcohol production mistakes. 

Death by a flood of Porter beer.

Death by rum molasses. 

The London Beer Food of 1814


The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Two very terrible, but also very influential floods on the pathway of modern alcohol production.

Anyway, I’ll drink to that.