Favorite historical catastrophe: Difficult to pin down. I'm particularly interested in volcanoes and society, so undoubtedly volcanic activity. Instead, I'll give a vague summary of 'special interests' if that's OK.
1) Montagne Pelee, 1902. This eruption was devastating; Alwyn Scarth, in Vulcan's Fury, indicates a 3% survival rate for the town of San Pierre, which was obliterated in less than thirty seconds by pyroclastic flow. A nightmarish scenario; and yet, it acted as the birthplace of modern volcanology, with Jagger (founder of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory) pledging, "No more shall the people perish" (the motto of the HVO to this day).
2) Krakatau, 1883. I particularly recommend Simon Winchester's book 'Krakatoa', which is a brilliant combination of history, culture, society, and geological events. The eruption was fascinating, in that the dispersal of ash in the atmosphere was one of the key development in modern meteorology.
3) Pinatubo, 1991. The USGS online book, Fire and Mud, is top-quality and high-powered. More interesting than just the eruption, though, were matters following it; as the lake threatened to overspill, with the possible result of a major lahar event. Human intervention prevented disaster there.
4) Boxing Day 2004. A terrible human tragedy, one of the worst I've ever encountered. When the Richter Scale went up, I realised this was a nightmare scenario; but I underestimated it. Sadly, the implications of this to sustainable tourism are still being ignored; which probably means that it's going to hit us quite badly again. The chain of earthquakes could continue for quite a while yet, and this could get very nasty. I hope it doesn't.
5) Nyiragongo, 2002. The January 17th eruption of Nyiragongo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was a nightmare scenario. The lavas of Nyiragongo are unusually fluid due to a low silica composition (and if anyone has any information on why this is the case, please let me know; I've been trying to find out for years). The result - the spontaneous evacuation and return of the inhabitants of Goma - was a true humanitarian crisis. Sadly, the centre of volcanic activity - fissuring - seems to be migrating towards Goma. There will be another disaster there.
6) Hawaii, Kilauea. OK, not a catastrophe, but an ongoing volcanic eruption with major hazards associated. I've written websites on it before now; it's a fascinating case-study. What makes really interesting reading are the notes from the Hawaii Volcano Task Force, a group who have been created - to marked the volcano...
That'll do for now...
Favorite future catastrophe: Unsustainable development. It sounds ridiculous, but it is a catastrophe. The idea of sustainable development is equity of resource-use and management. It's a pipe-dream, and the unsustainable development is fuelling the catastrophes all over the world - from the famines of Ethiopa to global warming. It's not really a catastrophe, but it's one that underpins most. So much is this the case that a new term is being coined - 'unnatural disasters' - for natural events made infinitely worse due to the inequalities in the human systems (although I have heard a couple of other definitions of this term).
Favorite disaster movie: Dante's Peak. It has a history to it; filmed in cooperation with the USGS, and actually used in a few places to cause evacuations that saved lives.
Favorite disaster book: Vulcan's Fury, by Alwyn Scarth, which covers major eruptions that have impacted society, such as Pelee, Krakatau, Nyos, Coseguina, and Laki.
When did you first become interested in catastrophes/disasters? In school, and then throughout my Geography degree (results impending). I had a module in Geohazards, and according to the Geography Yearbook, I'm known for 'teaching my lecture GEOHAZARDS' lol! What can I say, I'm still a 21-year-old know-it-all lol... I'm now going into secondary school teaching.
Have you experienced any catastrophes first-hand? No.
Anything else to say? Apologies, I do warn everybody that I can go on rather. As a (hopefully) teacher, I'm sure I'll find lots of useful links through this as well - and, I hope, I'll give other people lots of useful info too.