Biggest Natural Disasters In History


Though many of the world’s disasters are from the acts of human beings, Mother Nature also has her fair share of destruction. Examples of natural destructions are earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruption, typhoon, cyclones, hurricanes, heat waves, tsunamis, etc. Regardless of which of these disasters have the highest death count, or biggest extent of damage as well as financial loss, all of them have the same horrific and tragic effect.

Aleppo Earthquake

On October 11, 1138 a strong earthquake hit the Syrian city of Aleppo. Modern-day estimates claim that earthquake had a magnitude of 8.5. Extant historical data suggests that about 230,000 people perished in the earthquake and the city suffered vast property damage.

Haiyuan Earthquake

On December 16, 1920, an 8.5-magnitude eartquake rocked Haiyuan County, Ningxia Province in the Republic of China. It was also known as 1920 Gansu Earthquake, as Ningxia was still part of Gansu Province at the time of the disaster. This is the fourth worst earthquake ever recorded in history. About 240,000 people died and several constructions were severely leveled.

Bhola Cyclone

This cyclone, which hit present-day Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal on November 12, 1970, reached wind speeds of 185 km/h. It also fetched storm surges that devastated entire villages, killing up to half a million people. With the strength of the cycline and the alarming death toll, the Bhola Cyclone became and still remains the deadliest cyclone history has ever recorded.

Tangshan Earthquake

The epicenter of the Tangshan Earthquake hit near Tangshan on July 28, 1976. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, the earthquake killed at least 250,000 people and obliterating the entire city, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes of the 20th century.

Nevado Del Ruiz Volcano Eruption

Known as Le Mesa de Herveo, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano generally erupts Plinian eruptions (or Vesuvius eruptions) which creates fast-moving currents of hot gas and rock which are called pyroclastic flows. On November 13, 1985, the volcano erupted, producing an vast flow of lahars that buried the entire town of Armero in Tolima, causing an estimated of 25,000 casualties.

Hurricane Andrew

Hurricane Andrew developed from a tropical wave, became a major tropical depression and finally grew into a destructive tropical cyclone. The hurricane caused 65 deaths and a whopping $26 billion in damages, making it one of the costliest hurricanes in US history. The name “Andrew” was retired from the hurricane list in the spring of 1993 and will never be used again for a hurricane.

European Heat Wave

As Europe is never used to extremely high temperatures during summer, the heat wave that struck the continent in 2003 caught many Europeans off guard. The heat wave resulted into severe droughts that led to crop shortage (in Ukraine, in particular, 75% wheat crops were lost due to heat wave), as well as health crisis. The European heat wave in 2003 was the hottest summer on record since 1540. Over 70,000 people died, including 14,802 casualties in France; a large percentage of deaths consisted of the elderly. The scorching heat also led to extensive forest fires and melting glaciers in the Alps that caused avalanches and flash floods.

Indian Ocean Earthquake

The earthquake, which has an magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3, is also known as Sumatra-Adaman earthquake. The earthquake occurred on December 26, 2004, and while it lasted for only 10 seconds, the following tsunami caused more devastation and killed 200,000 to 310,000 people along the shores of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and South India. The majority of deaths came from Indonesia with confirmed 130,736 casualties. The tsunami was even felt from as far as the east coast of Africa, 8,000 miles away from the epicenter; a total of eight people died there due to the abnormally high waves.

Hurricane Katrina

The Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is considered one of the deadliest hurricanes ever to hit the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina is also the sixth strongest hurricane to strike the United States. The disaster resulted into 1,833 confirmed deaths and property damage amounting to $81 billion, making Hurricane Katrina the costliest hurricane of all time, in US history.

Cyclone Nargis

Cyclone Nargis is considered a rare disaster as it hit the northern Indian Ocean for the first time. It became the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar, causing massive landfall. The Ayeyarwady Delta was the most affected region, suffering heavy devastation by the cyclone and death toll reaching over 100,000. Cyclone Nargis had the equivalent of a category 3 or 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which caused huge storm surges and massive flooding.

Afghanistan Blizzard

Next to the Iran blizzard in 1972 (which still remains as the deadliest in history in terms of death toll), the Afghanistan blizzard in 2008 caused about 1,337 deaths. Temperatures fell to -30 degrees Celsius, with snow piling up to 180 centimeters in the more mountainous areas. Some people were frozen to death, while over a hundred of them were frostbitten and had to undergo amputations across the country, as most of them trampled barefoot through the icy cold mud and snow.

Haiti Earthquake

Haiti suffered one of its worst disasters in history as an 8.1 magnitude earthquake (with a depth of 8.1 meters) hit the country. The disaster caused massive damage in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and other communes in the region. The earthquake resulted into 200,000 casualties and also rendered 2 million people homeless and 3 million others needing emergency aid. Appeals for humanitarian aid were issued by the country’s president Rene Perval, many international organizations and the UN. Over $195 million have been given, along with at $120 million donated by different countries. Many countries sent a large number of workers to help with rescue and relief operations.

Tohuku Earthquake and Tsunami

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami hit the Japanese east coast. It became the biggest earthquake in the history of Japan (with a depth of 24.4 kilometers), and the seventh deadliest in the world. The national police confirmed 15,891 deaths, 6,152 injured and 2,584 reported missing. The disaster also affected over 18 prefectures and caused hundreds of thousands of buildings and infrastructure destroyed. The earthquake and tsunami also led to the nuclear incidents where there was a level 7 meltdown in 3 reactors of the Fukushima power plant, going down as the second-worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl.

New Zealand Earthquake

On February 22, 2011, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake rocked New Zealand, particularly in Christchurch, severely leveling the country’s second-biggest city. The earthquake caused 185 casualties while 238 were reported missing. The property damage amounted to US $16 billion, although the earthquake’s intensity level was slightly lesser than the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake, with 7.1 magnitude.

East Africa Drought

A severe drought hit the East Africa region between mid-2011 and mid-2012, and it’s said to be the “worst in 60 years.” The drought brought a serious food crisis across Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Over 9.5 million people were affected by the drought, which also threatened their livelihood and caused widespread death and starvation.

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