Every civilization since the dawn of time has developed its own series of myths and legends. From the Greeks to the Egyptians, each one of these ancient cultures passed down all sorts of intriguing—and often terrifying—tales. But the mysterious Lake Nyos in Cameroon, Africa, just may be the source of the most frightening story of all—and it’s entirely true.

According to rumors, evil spirits regularly emerged from the lake to scare locals. One day in 1986, however, people began to pay close attention to these rumors after nearly 2,000 people randomly suffocated near the lake at the same time. This is a detailed explanation of what happened at Lake Nyos that fateful day more than 30 years ago…

For centuries, ancient civilizations like the Greeks and Egyptians told haunting myths that exist even in modern times. But it’s perhaps the enduring tale of Lake Nyos that’s the most horrifying of them all—because it’s true.

Located in the northwestern portion of Cameroon, Africa, Lake Nyos is a body of water that has long been shrouded in mysterious folklore. In fact, it was even eerily nicknamed “the Bad Lake.” One legend told of evil spirits that would emerge and kill people in the area.

Fortunately, that’s all anyone ever thought it to be—a legend. This lake couldn’t actually be deadly or haunted by spirits, could it? That’s what most believed, until one horrible day in 1986 changed everything…

On August 21, 1986, people’s worst fears about Lake Nyos proved true. Even though the initial trigger was not identified, what transpired in the blink of an eye was an absolute catastrophe, to say the least.

That fateful day, the lake actually exploded. The resulting death and destruction were absolutely devastating for the local community, livestock, and wildlife in the area. Could it really have been the work of evil spirits?

To find the truth, it was important to dig deeper into the event itself. When Lake Nyos suddenly erupted, it created somewhat of a small tsunami. In fact, reports claimed that it shot water upwards of 300 feet in the air. It also released a type of gas…

During the 20-second eruption, 1.2 billion cubic meters of carbon dioxide was released into the air, causing a blanket of deadly gas to cover the entirety of several nearby villages. The gas spread so fast that no one had any time to prepare…

Tragically, almost no one in the surrounding villages survived the horrific ordeal. In the village of Nyos alone, only six of its 800 residents survived the deadly blast of gas. Elsewhere, the effects were almost as bad…

The deadly gas cloud continued to spread to a 15-mile radius, killing anyone who dared go outside to investigate. Only those who escaped to higher ground in the nearby mountains were able to survive the catastrophe.

The results were devastating: 1,746 people from the villages of Cha, Sebum, Nyos, and Kam lost their lives. Additionally, the disaster took the lives of roughly 3,500 livestock, while the lake changed color from its beautiful bright blue to a muddy red. So, what caused this explosion to happen?

Well, geologically, Lake Nyos has always been somewhat of a scientific anomaly. Formed during the 1600s, it’s what is known as a volcanic crater lake. These sorts of lakes are known for having extremely high carbon dioxide levels.

Typically, this level of gas buildup is released into the atmosphere over long periods of time, and in turn, is rendered completely harmless. But in some cases, a lack of release can be devastating, as was the case in 1986.

This wasn’t the result of evil spirits—it was the work of a geological event. Rather than releasing the gas into the atmosphere, Lake Nyos kept it all inside like a massive pressure cooker just waiting for some disturbance to shake it up. Modern experts suggested it was only a matter of time before it became too much to handle.

Over time, the water became loaded with gas. Not long before the eruption—called a “limnic eruption”—a test revealed that for every one gallon of water, there were five gallons of carbon dioxide present. It was practically a bomb waiting to explode. Until it finally did…

After the sudden eruption of gas left its fatal mark on the villages, authorities have taken more precautions to prevent similar tragic events from recurring. Luckily, they’ve avoided another disaster so far. So, what can they do to make sure this never happens again? No, not ward off evil spirits…

In an effort to monitor the lake, experts installed a pipe along the bottom to let gas escape into the air. As a result, this pressure release causes the water to spout into a fountain, which is a spectacle in and of itself!

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Even still, scientists suggest that these precautions might not be enough. In fact, some estimates say there is currently more carbon dioxide in the lake at present than there was back in 1986!

Somewhat shockingly, those experts claim the next disaster could be worse than the one experienced decades ago. Worse still, Lake Nyos isn’t the only such threat to the African countryside.

The nearby Lake Kivu is also a problem—and a serious potential threat. It’s similarly gaseous, a thousand times larger than Lake Nyos, and it’s located in a more densely populated area. If it were to blow…

Researchers and experts alike continue to do their best despite facing a series of difficult questions. How can they predict another limnic eruption before it happens? And, more importantly, when will the next one take place? That’s way more frightening than evil spirits!

It’s hard to believe that a lake could be so devastating. Let’s hope these experts do their best to prevent a similar explosion from happening again.

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