12 of the Worst Natural Disasters in Human History

Published on January 18, 2018
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On a day to day basis you probably aren’t concerned with the existence of gigantic natural disasters, but that doesn’t mean our world isn’t beholden to them. Natural disasters can include tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards and so much more. Wild, huge, natural disasters can make the world seem like it is turning upside down while causing intense flood damage, wind damage, or fire damage. Though we have come a long way in terms of how we approach disaster recovery programs the truth remains thus: some disasters we don’t have an answer for. We decided to compile 12 of the deadliest, most damaging natural disasters in human history.

European Heat Wave of 2003

We will start off our list talking about the sort of natural disaster that you never really expect: the heat wave. In North America a bad heat wave might send you seeking out hotel reservations to get some air conditioning, but this heat wave offered no reprieve from those afflicted. The 2003 European Heat Wave was the hottest summer recorded in Europe since 1540 The insane heat wave led to almost complete crop failure while the death counted raised and raised, ending up at close to 70,000 people across Europe. It may seem strange from the West when we can take a cheap flight and a hotel reservation to escape the heat, but that wasn’t a valid escape in this situation.

European Heat Wave of 2003

European Heat Wave of 2003

2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake

Experiencing an earthquake is a life changing event, no matter how intense the tremor actually is. If you live in certain areas of the United States then you’ve probably acclimated to a degree, but some earthquakes are impossible to get used to. One of the worst earthquakes to ever strike happened back in 2004 off of Sumatra, Indonesia. The quake hit a magnitude of 9.3, third highest of all time, and it would end up becoming one of the deadliest natural disasters of all time. Over 230,000 people would end up dead from the quake and the ensuing tsunami and more were displaced with nothing but the hope that their home owner insurance quote was worth something. The quake would end up striking 14 countries.

2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake

2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake

Shaanxi Earthquake of 1556

We’re digging back in time a little bit so get your cheap ticket for the time machine. The 1556 Shaanxi Earthquake is the deadliest earthquake ever recorded as it killed over 830,000 people. Many folks think of earthquakes as fairly localized things but this isn’t the case, the ground below us is a network of connections. Over 97 countries would end up being affected by the Earthquake and some of those countries lost over 50% of their entire population. Without the medical expertise and disaster response teams of today the problem was only exacerbated. The center of the Earthquake was located in the Wei River Valley and it radiated out from there.

Shaanxi Earthquake of 1556

Shaanxi Earthquake of 1556

1908 Messina Earthquake

The earthquake/tsunami combination is truly awful to behold and in 1908 took lives by the handful in Sicily and throughout Southern Italy. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the region, almost completely destroying the cities of Reggio Calabria and Messina. Between these two cities and the rest of the peripheral damage almost 200,000 lives would end up being lost. After the earthquake had laid out its devastation a tsunami would hit the coasts, launching 39 foot tall waves to crash areas around the shore – killing an additional 70,000 people. On days like this it is possible to believe that the world is ending.

1908 Messina Earthquake

1908 Messina Earthquake

2010 Haiti Earthquake

Haiti was struck by an earthquake back in 2010 that brought the entire country to its knees. The earthquake that strong just outside of Port-au-Price, the capital of Haiti, rated in at a magnitude of 7.0 with a depth of over 8 miles. Over 3 million people would end up affected or displaced by the earthquake and almost 160,000 of them would die as a result. The initial earthquake wasn’t even the most damaging aspect of the natural disaster: over the next 12 days there would be 52 registered aftershocks that would go on to plague the area. The fact that Haiti was so impoverished did not help and global efforts had to be made in order to give aid.

2010 Haiti Earthquake

2010 Haiti Earthquake

1991 Bangladesh Cyclone

The tropics may be beautiful but they are nothing but deadly when nature decides to come calling. The Bangladesh Cyclone of 1991 is one of the deadliest, most powerful cyclones in recorded history and it caused massive mayhem to Bangladesh. Winds would reach upwards of 155 MPH while 20 foot waves would crash over the shores. The storm would end up killing almost 150,000 people while over 10 million would end up homeless as a result of the storm.

1991 Bangladesh Cyclone

1991 Bangladesh Cyclone

Yellow River Flood of 1887

Flooding has been an issue throughout China as far back as we can look but the 1887 Yellow River Flood is one of the worst in recorded history. The primary reason this flood was so bad was that it included 62 dams failing. Farmers near the Yellow River were particularly struck by the floods and widespread death would ensue. The flood started in September of 1887 and it would end up killing close to 900,000 people though there are reports that put the casualty number even higher, some estimates upwards of 2 million deaths.

Yellow River Flood

Yellow River Flood

1923 Kanto Earthquake

You’ll see that Asia is particularly prone to disastrous earthquakes as you push through this list and now we’ll talk about Japan. In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake stuck the Kanto Plain on Honshu, an island. The earthquake lasted for 48 seconds and it would end up killing 105,000 people. There were follow up aftershocks that would continue to lay waste to the region. This is the greatest natural disaster to strike Japan pre-WW2. One particularly interesting tidbit of information is that the quake was so strong that it moved the Great Buddha statue which weighs 93 tons.

1923 Kanto Earthquake

1923 Kanto Earthquake

Bhola Cyclone of 1970

Cyclones, to me, are the most vicious and scary natural disasters that you’ll ever read about or experience. They drop down from the sky like a missile sent from God and before long they ravage everything in their path. In 1970 a tropical cyclone formed and struck Bangladesh as well as West Bengal, killing upwards of 500,000 people while damaging numerous buildings and towns. According to reports almost $88 million in damage was done across several countries and this was only intensified by an inadequate response from the governments involved. Peak winds during the cyclone would exceed 115 MPH.

Bhola Cyclone of 1970

Bhola Cyclone of 1970

1976 Tangshan Earthquake

The Great Tangshan Earthquake happened in 1976 at the end of July, becoming the largest earthquake in recorded history. The earthquake struck in Hebei, China and it would radiate out thanks to its 7.8 magnitude. The recorded death toll sits at 650,000 and an additional 164,000 would end up sustaining critical injuries while managing to survive. The earthquake lasted only a total of 16 seconds but would cause aftershocks that continued to plague the region. The earthquake was caused by the Tangshan Fault which ruptured as tectonic plates slid past it.

1976 Tangshan Earthquake

1976 Tangshan Earthquake

The Spanish Flu

We’ll toss an asterisk next to this entry as we initially weren’t going to list pandemics. However, it is hard to look past the extreme disaster that followed in the wake of the deadly Spanish Flu. This pandemic began in March of 1918 and it spread throughout the entire planet, namely Asia, Europe, and North America, where upwards of 100 million people would end up dead. Over the span of two years over 500 million people would end up infected by the virus and life expectancy across afflicted areas dropped by an average of 12 years during this period. Doctors still aren’t sure exactly why the disease stopped but the leading theory is that it mutated to a more harmless version, thus allowing humanity to catch its breath and move forward.

The Spanish Flu

The Spanish Flu

Chinese Floods of 1931

If you live in the Midwest a flood advisor typically means that you live a little bit too close to a river and is going to rain a bunch. This has caused people to sort of shake their head at floods as if they aren’t much of a problem. however as you have seen throughout our list no disaster is worth wagging a finger at. The deadliest floods in human history happened in 1931 in China. The 1931 China Floods, also known as the Yellow River Floods, is the deadliest natural disaster in recorded human history. Right now there aren’t concrete numbers as to how many people died during these floods but estimates put the death toll at upwards of 4 million people. The cause of the disastrous flooding was attributed to a string of abnormal seasons: a heavy winter with large snowstorms pushing into an early spring thaw that coincided with heavy rains on already raised rivers.

Chinese Floods of 1931

Chinese Floods of 1931