The Dead of Lake Nyos

The content below is from Episode 80 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.


  • This is the first episode in October and you know what that means!? It’s the first episode of the Who’d a Thunk It? FRIGHTFEST!
    • All episodes this month will be spooky, creepy, or downright terrifying!
    • Last year I did Pennsylvania Folk Lore 1, 2, and 3. I also did an episode called FrightFest 2020, and my last episode of October 2020 I did an episode on the 2 man eating lions called The Ghost and the Darkness.
      • I had a blast doing FrightFest as an homage to the the cable network AMC’s Fear Fest that they have done every year for the last 24 years.
      • I have fond memories of my dad and I sitting down and enjoying movies like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Critters, Cujo, and more.
      • This marks the 25th anniversary of AMC’s Fear Fest where they play classic horror movies every night through the month of October.
    • So strap in Who’d a Thunkers because this is the first episode of 2021 FRIGHTFEST!!!


  • Want to watch a claustrophobic 90’s horror movie that turned a small budget in to a fascinatingly terrifying story? Watch Cube.
    • Here is a brief synopsis of the plot… don’t worry I won’t spoil anything for you:
      • Without remembering how they got there, several strangers awaken in a prison of cubic cells, some of them booby-trapped.
    • It is an hour and 30 minutes long and when I first watched it I immediately knew I had stumbled on to a little-known gem of a movie.
    • You can watch it for free on Pluto TV.
      • If you aren’t familiar with Pluto TV you should definitely get it. It is free *with ads* (less ads than cable TV though… because Cable sucks).
    • If you don’t have Pluto TV on your smart TV then download it and if you like a good thriller movie watch Cube on said Pluto TV app… you won’t regret it.
Cube alternative movie poster on Behance


  • You’ve heard of natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, volcanoes, hurricanes, and landslides and how lethal each of them can be. But what if I told you Lakes could kill?
    • and No I’m not talking about Jason Voorhees popping out of a lake and grabbing your from your canoe.
Friday the 13th: There's a life-sized Jason Voorhees statue at the bottom  of a lake in Minnesota
  • No, I’m talking about a very real horror.
  • The power of mother nature far exceeds that of the killer from the famous Friday the 13th movie franchise.
    • I’m talking about a rare natural disaster that has claimed the lives of 1,800 people since the phenomena was first discovered in 1986.
      • 1,800 may not sound like a big number, but there’s No telling how many lives were lost before 1986 and history failed to take note.
    • That first recording of this lake-related horror in 1986 occurred in Africa at Lake Nyos.
  • The Lake itself
    • is a crater lake in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, located about 315 km northwest of Yaoundé, the capital. Nyos is a deep lake high on the flank of an inactive volcano in the Oku volcanic plain along the Cameroon line of volcanic activity. A volcanic dam impounds the lake waters.
Nyos 2010 red
  • What happened at this lake that some have deemed cursed?
    • Well Lake Nyos is no normal lake. It is what’s known as a crater lake. It was formed over millions of years by a subterranean volcano.
      • Now it IS common for a crater lake to have a lot of carbon dioxide in them. And usually those high levels of carbon dioxide gases leave the lake slowly and harmlessly. They dissipate over time as the lake water churns. But as I said, Lake Nyos is no normal lake.
      • Hundreds of years of carbon dioxide built up in the deep lake and never dissipated. Scientists discovered Lake Nyos had a 5 to 1 ratio. That means over 5 gallons of carbon dioxide had dissolved in to every 1 gallon of water. That is a massive chemical reaction waiting to happen, and if you listened to Episode #76 “Explosives” you’d know that is what makes something explode… a chemical reaction.
    • The night of August 21st 1986 something set off the lake’s catastrophic potential. Something metaphorically ignited this powder keg of a lake and scientist aren’t sure what it was.
      • It could have been a landslide, small volcanic eruption, or even just a cold downpour of rain on a corner of the lake.
      • Regardless of what caused it, what came next was horrifying. Around 9:30PM at night on that August 21st in 1986 Lake Nyos exploded.
      • That is when 100,000–300,000 tons (some sources say 1.6 million tons) of carbon dioxide (CO2) flew up in to the air in the form of a gas cloud at about 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) to an altitude of about 90 meters (300 feet). This explosion caused a small lake tsunami.
      • Because the gas cloud of CO2 was heavier than the surrounding atmosphere it quickly fell back down to ground level. As it did the immense volume of CO2 blanketed an area so large it affected people up to 15 miles away from the lake.
      • There were 800 residents of the nearby village of Nyos and only 6 survived. In total, the limnic eruption at Lake Nyos claimed the lives of 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock also were suffocated by the fumes in just a few short minutes.
      • Before Lake Nyos this phenomena was undocumented. It was a new scientific discovery… and a lethal one.
  • To define this uncommon natural disaster:
    • A Limnic Eruptions is also known as a lake overturn, is a rare type of natural disaster in which dissolved carbon dioxide suddenly erupts from deep lake waters, forming a gas cloud capable of suffocating wildlife, livestock, and humans. A limnic eruption may also cause tsunamis as the rising CO 2 displaces water.
Cattle suffocated by carbon dioxide from Lake Nyos
  • As you can imagine this devastated the community surrounding Lake Nyos. Without any survivors telling their story the cause of all that death may still be a mystery. But there were a few survivors and Here are some of their stories.
  • Reverent Father Anthony Bangsi was a missionary living in the marketplace known as Subum near the lake at the time.
    • He says that night is still very clear in his mind. It haunts him that whatever was causing all that death was invisible. The only way he knew there was danger was from the birds dropping from the sky dead and all the other animals dying around him at his feet.
    • He said he and his fellow missionary Father Lawrence were sleeping inside when Father Anthony Bangsi felt as if he was suffocating. He went outside to see if he could breath more freely out there, but shortly after leaving the house he went unconscious.
    • When he awoke the next day he found it hard to speak and even stand up. That night father Lawrence dies, his body was lying right next to Father Anthony Bangsi. Father Anthony Bangsi is 1 of very few to survive. Lake Nyos’s limnic eruptions claimed the lives of 500 at Subum.
Dead cattle surround compounds in Nyos village Sept. 3, 1986, almost two weeks after the lake's explosion.
  • Another survivor from Subum, Joseph Nkwain recounted the scene:
    • “I could not speak. I became unconscious. I could not open my mouth because then I smelled something terrible … I heard my daughter snoring in a terrible way, very abnormal…. When crossing to my daughter’s bed … I collapsed and fell … I wanted to speak, my breath would not come out…. My daughter was already dead.”
  • The scale of the disaster led to much study on how a recurrence could be prevented.
    •  Several researchers proposed the installation of degassing columns from rafts in the middle of the lake. The principle is to slowly vent the CO2 by lifting heavily saturated water from the bottom of the lake through a pipe, initially by using a pump, but only until the release of gas inside the pipe naturally lifts the column of effervescing water, making the process self-sustaining
    • Starting from 1995, feasibility studies were successfully conducted, and the first permanent degassing tube was installed at Lake Nyos in 2001. Two additional pipes were installed in 2011.
    • Following the Lake Nyos disaster, scientists investigated other African lakes to see if a similar phenomenon could happen elsewhere. Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2,000 times larger than Lake Nyos, was also found to be supersaturated, and geologists found evidence that outgassing events around the lake happened about every One thousand years.
      • My mind immediately connected old taboo curse lore to disasters like this. 1,000 years ago we as humans didn’t even know things like molecules existed let alone have the ability to determine the cause of a rare geological disaster.
      • So I’m guessing there is some African curse tied to these CO2 burping volcano lakes.
  • While science did eventually find out why the Lake Nyos happened (minus what exactly triggered it) it wasn’t an immediate discovery.
    • I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be in the shoes of Father Anthony Bangsi or Joseph Nkwain to see the people around you die slowly without the ability to speak or already be dead when you discover them. For quite sometime the survivors had no explanation as to why so much death had happened all around them. It was truly and invisible killer.
  • There you have it Who’d a Thunkers. If you are like me and you live in an area that is relatively safe from natural disasters and you think:
    • “No fault lines anywhere so no earthquakes to worry about”
    • “No volcanoes to I don’t have to sweat over lava”
    • “Not real close to the coast so hurricanes don’t bother be”
    • and “we’ve got lots of hills so fat chance of a tornado destroying my house.”
    • Killer Lakes! Lakes can kill…
      • of course these are special lakes with volcanoes underneath and this disaster has to build up over time so it only happens once every like… thousands years or so..
      • Next time you are at your buddies lake house (if you have a buddy wealthy enough to own a lake house and nice enough to let you visit) take a look at the water… maybe try and see if you can spot any invisible CO2 gas lurking in the depths.


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