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Today in History: April 26, Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster

Today in History

Today is Friday, April 26, the 117th day of 2024. There are 249 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On April 26, 1986, an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine caused radioactive fallout to begin spewing into the atmosphere. (Dozens of people were killed in the immediate aftermath of the disaster while the long-term death toll from radiation poisoning is believed to number in the thousands.)

On this date:

In 1607, English colonists went ashore at present-day Cape Henry, Virginia, on an expedition to establish the first permanent English settlement in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1865, John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was surrounded by federal troops near Port Royal, Virginia, and killed.

In 1913, Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old worker at a Georgia pencil factory, was strangled; Leo Frank, the factory superintendent, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to death. (Frank's death sentence was commuted, but he was lynched by an anti-Semitic mob in 1915.)

In 1933, Nazi Germany's infamous secret police, the Gestapo, was created.

In 1964, the African nations of Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form Tanzania.

In 1968, the United States exploded beneath the Nevada desert a 1.3 megaton nuclear device called "Boxcar."

In 1977, the legendary nightclub Studio 54 had its opening night in New York.

In 1984, bandleader Count Basie, 79, died in Hollywood, Florida.

In 1994, voting began in South Africa's first all-race elections, resulting in victory for the African National Congress and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president.

In 2000, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean signed the nation's first bill allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions.

In 2009, the United States declared a public health emergency as more possible cases of swine flu surfaced from Canada to New Zealand; officials in Mexico City closed everything from concerts to sports matches to churches in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

In 2012, former Liberian President Charles Taylor became the first head of state since World War II to be convicted by an international war crimes court as he was found guilty of arming Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for "blood diamonds" mined by slave laborers and smuggled across the border. (Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison.)

In 2013, singer George Jones, believed by many to be the greatest country crooner of all time, died in Nashville at age 81.

In 2018, comedian Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and molesting Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004. (Cosby was later sentenced to three to 10 years in prison, but Pennsylvania's highest court threw out the conviction and released him from prison in June 2021, ruling that the prosecutor in the case was bound by his predecessor's agreement not to charge Cosby.)

In 2022, Russia pounded eastern and southern Ukraine as the U.S. promised to "keep moving heaven and earth" to get Kyiv the weapons it needed to repel the new offensive, despite Moscow's warnings that such support could trigger a wider war.

Today's Birthdays: Actor-comedian Carol Burnett is 91. R&B singer Maurice Williams is 86. Songwriter-musician Duane Eddy is 86. Actor Nancy Lenehan is 71. Actor Giancarlo Esposito is 66. Rock musician Roger Taylor (Duran Duran) is 64. Actor Joan Chen is 63. Rock musician Chris Mars (The Replacements) is 63. Actor-singer Michael Damian is 62. Actor Jet Li (lee) is 61. Actor-comedian Kevin James is 59. Author and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey is 58. Actor Marianne Jean-Baptiste is 57. Rapper T-Boz (TLC) is 54. Former first lady Melania Trump is 54. Actor Shondrella Avery is 53. Actor Simbi Kali is 53. Country musician Jay DeMarcus (Rascal Flatts) is 53. Rock musician Jose Pasillas (Incubus) is 48. Actor Jason Earles is 47. Actor Leonard Earl Howze is 47. Actor Amin Joseph is 47. Actor Tom Welling is 47. Actor Pablo Schreiber is 46. Actor Nyambi Nyambi is 45. Actor Jordana Brewster is 44. Actor Stana Katic is 44. Actor Marnette Patterson is 44. Actor Channing Tatum is 44. Americana/roots singer-songwriter Lilly Hiatt is 40. Actor Emily Wickersham is 40. Actor Aaron Meeks is 38. New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is 32.