On Friday, December 5, 1952, a killer fog 30-miles-wide engulfed London — killing thousands of people in only a matter of four days.
It is known as the Great Smog, and one of the deadliest air pollution disasters in human history.
The event was caused when a high-pressure system locked itself over the city, creating a temperature inversion which acted like a lid and prevented the fog and dense smoke from the coal that was being burned from escaping into the atmosphere.
There was also an incredible stillness to the air that kept the sooty black coal smoke from blowing away.
People who survived the catastrophic event said that the fog smelled absolutely terrible, just like rotten eggs. It was so thick and heavy that it even blacked out the sun, leaving the city in total darkness. People were completely unaware that by burning coal in their homes at ground level to stay warm, they were only making the situation worse.
For four days, people walked through London as if they were blind, unable to see their feet as they walked or what was ahead of them. Allegedly, after walking around in the streets, people would look as if they were coal miners, their faces black as night.
Cars were abandoned alongside the road, parents were advised to keep their kids home from school for fear that they’d get lost, livestock perished, violence, burglaries and purse snatchings increased, and birds that lost their way in the fog flew head-on into buildings.
At one point, ambulances were forced to stop running, leaving thousands of Londoners gasping for air and dying in the city streets. The Great Smog was so toxic that people literally choked or suffocated to death. If you wanted to grasp just how lethal it was, undertakers even started running out of coffins to bury the dead.
Babies and the elderly didn’t stand a chance; neither did people suffering from cardiovascular or respiratory problems. Fatalities due to pneumonia and bronchitis increased more than sevenfold. Aside from the coughing and wheezing, it was a silent death, one that left victims with pale blue lips.
By the time the killer fog finally lifted on Tuesday, December 9, the aftermath it left in its wake was staggering. According to a recent study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, more than 12,000 may have been killed.