We are always told that we must never keep things that bother us to ourselves, because they accumulate and we end up blowing up in the least expected or convenient moment, even hurting people we don’t want to hurt.
Well, it turns out that not only can happen to people, but also with other natural bodies, like lakes, for example. That was, more or less, what happened with Lake Nyos in Cameroon: one day it couldn’t take it longer to itself and it blew up.
A Suffocating Night
It was the evening of August 21, 1986. The residents of the local villages around Lake Nyos were preparing themselves to take a nice dinner and go to sleep as it was the end of a long day. Around 9:30 pm, those who were still awake started to hear a strange rumbling noise that seemed to come from the lake’s direction. A few minutes later, before they could understand what was happening or what would happen, a huge explosion rose from the lake and 1800 people would be dead.
What happened that night was that Lake Nyos expelled a jet of water over 300 feet high, releasing years’ worth of carbon dioxide that had collected in the lake. After the explosion, a cloud of gas rose into the sky and then descended towards the villages around the lake.
It was 160 feet thick and traveled between 12 and 31 miles per hour, making it almost impossible to avoid. The cloud replaced the air with hot carbon dioxide, suffocating almost everyone that came into contact with it before it disappeared for good.
Nios was the worst affected village since it was the nearest one to the lake. A man who traveled to Nios the morning after the explosion came up to a ghost town where he couldn’t find a single person alive. When he came back to his own village, some survivors were starting to arrive as well and tell the story. Days later, some of them would tell how they were unconscious for up to two days, just to wake up and find the bodies of their whole families.
As soon as they heard about what happened, scientists and other authorities came to lake Nyos to investigate what happened. Scientists found out that not only the explosion was because of a huge amount of carbon dioxide stored at the bottom of the lake, but also, in the following months, they found out that the carbon dioxide levels were increasing at an alarming pace again.
Cameroon’s Ministry of Mines, Water and Power proposed installing a pipe system into the lake to help carbon dioxide get to the surface. Even though they did it, the levels still continue to be too high. What’s worst: scientists don’t exactly know what could have been the detonator to the explosion, so they can provide concrete clues to prevent it to happen again in other lakes with the same characteristics as Lake Nyos.