Lake Nyos Disaster: August 21, 1986

Lake Nyos Disaster August 21, 1986

On August 21, 1986, a rare natural disaster occurred in the West African country of Cameroon when a large cloud of carbon dioxide gas spewed from Lake Nyos and blanketed nearby villages killing 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock while they slept.

The event, known as a limnic eruption, occurs when carbon dioxide builds in colder, deep lake water creating a heavy layer on the bottom. The weight of the warmer, upper layer of water forms a lid that keeps the gas down — much like a cork on a bottle.

Carbon dioxide cloud kills 1746 people in Cameroon
Eventually, the gas in Lake Nyos built up to a point that it was released in a massive eruption that created a 330-foot high column of water and a 200-foot wave. Scientists wondered what caused the cork to pop.

Sule Umare, a cattle herder from Cameroon described the event that killed 99% of the people in his village. “We thought that rain was coming,” he recalled. “I went out and saw the moon shining. I wondered how rain could come without clouds.” Sule was enveloped in a flood of carbon dioxide before he lost consciousness.

Another survivor, Margaret Wandia remembers she was, “breathing very hard and had no strength.” She woke to find three of her four daughters dead beside her.

Some scientists concluded that an underwater landslide disrupted the layers and caused the gas to bubble up that fateful day. Others wondered if volcanic magma below the lake caused the release.

While studying the lake, scientists realized gas levels were rising again. They concluded that gas was gradually leaking into the lake from deep in the earth. In order to prevent a future explosion, scientists started venting the gas with a 672-foot pipe, that when lowered to the bottom, performed like a big straw – sucking the gas upward where it vented gradually into the air.

A second Cameroon lake experienced a similar, but smaller eruption in 1984 and 37 people died.

If you’d like to learn more about the disaster at Lake Nyos, search our archives!

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76 thoughts on “Lake Nyos Disaster: August 21, 1986

  1. Mr. Hammond, regarding your very interesting article about the Lake Nyos disaster, your punctuation throughout, unfortunately, is atrocious. A refresher course on proper use of the comma might be a good idea.

        1. I had never heard about this disaster before reading your riveting article, It is very much appreciated. Brilliant idea to vent the CO2 into the atmosphere. Thanks so much for bringing to us

          PS Forget the Primer Police…They blunder here and there, disrupting the flow of educated minds.

        2. Really !! I agree the story was so interesting and informative I dont care about punctuation either. Way more important things in the world.

        3. Linda, I care! I don’t trust the written word if writers don’t pay attention to details! Either they are stupid and/or lazy not to check something that will be viewed online. If a writer is that sloppy, how can I trust their reporting? Only people who are ignorant defend such practices.
          However, I defend this article, as I did not see a mistake!!!

        4. Some people just have to find fault with everything and anything. I find that sad!! Pay attention to the story… thank you for your story. I appreciate your time and knowledge

        5. Some people just have to find fault with everything and anything. I find that sad!! Pay attention to the story… thank you for your story. I appreciate your time and knowledge.

        6. I also thought that this was a good article; but you need to realize that punctuation is not taught the same in all schools! Have you heard of the “Oxford comma,” for instance? I refer you to a small book entitled “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.”

      1. I am a former English teacher. I saw no misuse of commas either. Perhaps the author corrected them? I found it to be a very interesting article.

        1. Do the various countries that use “English” have variations in punctuation rules? They certainly do spell things somewhat differently. Also, Microsoft Word has settings for American English, Australian English, and so forth.

      2. There ARE several missing & misplaced commas. I see both points of view, though. While it is an informative and important article, I do feel such an important post would benefit from correcting the errors. It is definitely a sign of the times with immediate texting/emails.

    1. Thanks so much for the punctuation lesson. You’re my hero. Would you kindly send me your signature?

      A million thanks,

    2. So he left out a comma. Big deal. It’s a great article, and he doesn’t need the internet grammar police to criticize him. My mom always said, “If you can’t be kind, be quiet.” Just think about it.

      By the way, I have a degree in literature, but I make occasional mistakes online. I probably made one here.

    3. You Sir are an outright moron. Devoid of feelings and human compassion.
      To comment on punctuation (see no comma) after reading this article is totally insane. See a doctor —URGENTLY

    4. O my goodness, you are right! I can’t believe I have learned that much about commas lately.

    5. I loved the article and find people that have to point out a criticism instaed of enjoying learning something just suck. If you can’t identify your self you really Really lack courage and have no civility

    6. The rule is, where ever there is a natural pause when reading or speaking, one may use a comma. I see the comma after 21 is not needed and there should be a comma after Cameroon. Otherwise I found the article very interesting and the commas meant nothing to the explanation. We all could read it and know exactly what was stated. It was an excellent article. Many people use the hyphen incorrectly.
      However in this article it was used correctly.

    7. I’m a writer. While I have some problems with punctuation, I see no problems in the article.
      If there were any, they were corrected.

      On the other hand, if you use incorrect grammar, expect a lesson!

    8. What kind of JACKASS are you?…Please reply with something consisting of creative critique, or simply keep your agitation to yourself. Idiot….how’s my use of punctuation?

    9. Mr. Hammond, I’m not concerned with the comma situation, but I am disappointed that you don’t have video. Natural disasters are far more interesting if we can observe the disaster as it unfolds. When California breaks off and is swallowed up by the Pacific, I hope you are there to get it on tape, and write about it. Actually, skip the byline, just get the video. Set up cameras now and you won’t miss it, I suggest putting a drone on captain moonbeam, there is the potential for the most viewed video of all time, and it belongs to you. You’ll never need to write another word, you can purchase the punctuation rights to whatever you want, then you won’t have to concern yourself with this peanut gallery upset over your pathetic writing skills. It’s worth whatever price they ask.

    10. Hey E…do you feel better now? Your lame use of a brain is atrocious! Why don’t you go hammer on your Congressman and apply your grand intelligence to a constructive purpose? This was a nice article!

    11. 1,746 innocent souls went to bed ,like normal, and NEVER woke up again! And you are whining about punctuation??? How about a LITTLE show of empathy for your fellow man? Wake up and realize, that there but for the grace of God, go I!!!

    12. I consider myself a pretty good writer. I’ve also won three writing contests. I don’t see any problems with the punctuation in this highly interesting article.

    13. I think it is a gift to offer corrections, but none were offered. Criticism is better when constructive. I saw an appositive: [Another survivor, Margaret Wandia (comma) remembers she was,(comma not needed here) “breathing very…. .”

      I did not have problems reading it through the first time, so it survived my reading test, but the criticism made me look again. You are welcome.

    14. E, The article had correct grammar and punctuation. Your grammar, on the other hand, is atrocious. Prior to complaining about grammar, it may be wise to be educated in the subject of modern grammar mechanics.

  2. Who cares about commas! What a fascinating story! `There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of…`

    1. Commas? We don’t need no stinkin’ commas.

      (With apologies to “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre”)

  3. Very interesting. Too bad the scientific environmentalists have missed the past ‘historical’ events. If this could happen with a deep fresh water lake, this could happen in the large deep salt water oceans and may be the actual explanation for climate change.

    1. Actually, you’re close, but cause and effect are reversed.
      Climate change is occurring and there is absolutely no doubt that it is greatly influenced by human caused release of CO2 and methane. We have reached a tipping point where the temperature increases are great enough that permafrost is melting and there will be massive releases of trapped CO2 and Methane due to that. There will then be a feedback effect and it will be too late to do anything about it if we don’t act immediately. I’m sorry that the deniers have hoodwinked our foolish legislators into thinking that this is not a concern. May they be replaced by those with more sense.

      1. …I think the manmade climate change folks are missing the big take away from that freak incident. No matter what carbon tax and what redistribution of income, globalists invent to “save the world”, Lake Nyos as well as non-manmade volcanos actually kill and pollute, (not to mention target women and children), without paying their fair share or being held accountable. Is nature ruled by a tyrannical hierarchy? (having too much fun here) The fact is that current science – which has become corrupted because it has been shown to be weaponized by the left – indicates that as of 2018 we have lukewarm climate change. Not enough proof of imminent world disaster to warrant overhauling economic systems (I.e requiring US to shrink which means less prosperity for the world) and also denying the developing world access to electricity, running water (requires powers), & refrigeration. Lake Nyos killing villagers in the 80’s has nothing to do with people driving cars in the free world in 2018! No connection.

          1. They will believe what they want to believe. You can’t argue with an idiot and you can’t argue religion and politics. You can’t educate an idiot.

        1. I am impressed! Perhaps it’s all their ancient knowledge that allows volcanos to target victims by gender and generation.

          1. I know. I’m sitting here thinking WTF is h talking about. I don’t know if he misspoke by saying the wrong word, if he’s speaking metaphorically, or if he watched Moana too many times.

      2. I had ever heard about this disaster before reading your riveting article, It is very much appreciated. Brilliant idea to vent the CO2 into the atmosphere. Thanks so much for bringing to us

        PS Forget the Primer Police…They blunder here and there, disrupting the flow of educated minds.

      3. I’m not going to get involved on the BS of “Climate Change.”

        You may reference the Biblical story of the Plagues of Egypt. This type of incident may actually be the physical way in which the “Angel of Death” became apparent.

  4. Just because there are natural sources of greenhouse gas, doesn’t mean that the man made sources are not an issue and more importantly an issue we can do something about, not just make excuses until it is too late.

    Also how does gas from a lake “target” women and children? Do comments like that really contribute to a reasoned discussion?


    1. You spelled “criticize” wrong………. But I did like your comment and yes I found the article interesting.

  6. A little education can go a long way. Why not read the article,digest the information, decide to research more on the subject.Or read it, go “hmm” and walk away. A smart ass comment does not show wisdom or higher education on your part. It shows you need to feel “superior”, which is NOT coming through here. Oh,,,,, some commas just for you and some for any friends,should you have any.

  7. It makes me wonder just how many of the lake ‘pots’ are around. Do scientists study lakes which haven’t already shown an inclination for this, to see if it is a hidden, potential threat? Or do they wait until gas leaks start happening, thus often being taken by surprise? And would there be a way to tap some of the other gas build-ups for energy use?

  8. 1700 people died .,. And , you’re, worried about punctuation,

    How about: I pray for the repose of the souls. God help them being taken so sudden make me think it’s a good idea to get right with god you never know when you’ll take your last breath.

  9. E…….
    In consideration of yours & like minded I have taken to using “…” randomly and regularly….. so as not to offend… I find it slows the intended communication to surface in an absorptive manner

  10. Folks, relax and be happy. Commas aren’t critical to life!

    We are slowly destroying our entire earth. Look at the atmosphere. Then skip on to the seas and oceans. Finally, despite our venting lakes, cars, refineries and homes, carbon, in its many forms, is overwhelming us.

    Plastics infestation, wildlife devastation, wholesale consumption of earth’s minerals and forests, water pollution, in all its manifestations, and human waste are, finally, problems of human cancer-like growth and are highly unlikely to be brought under control before our human demise. I don’t think we have a chance.

    How I hope that I’ve got my commas right!

  11. Leave it to the climate change fools to take the opportunity to try and advance their cause here. EARTH has undergone millions of years of climate change and will continue to do so…….it’s called nature, and in the future EARTH most likely will see a cooling period. Fantastic article!

  12. I have never heard of this disaster. Thank you for sharing. Very sad event. Scientifically interesting.

  13. So few of the respondents to this story shocked that 1,746 innocent people died? Are we so lacking in empathy that shallow nitpicking is the standard by which we now live? Nothing short of horrific and worrisome for our future as humans beings!

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