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30 Deadliest Natural Disasters in the World

1931 China Floods

1931 China Floods

Following a multiple-year drought, in 1931 a series of devastating floods occurred in China and were some of the deadliest in history. These floods formed one of the most lethal natural disasters of the 20th century and killed an estimated 4 million people from drowning, subsequent starvation, and disease as a result of the floods. 

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1887 Yellow River Flood

1887 Yellow River Flood

The Yellow River is the second largest river in China and is prone to flooding because of the river’s elevation. Compromised land on the edge of the river, paired with days of heavy rain, led to the failure of dikes and resulted in a massive flood. This natural disaster claimed an estimated 2 million lives spread over 50,000 square miles. Homelessness, a spreading pandemic, and the loss of crops left damage for years to come. 

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1556 Shaanxi Earthquake

1556 Shaanxi Earthquake

The Shaanxi Earthquake occurred during the Ming Dynasty and is the deadliest earthquake in recorded history. More than 97 counties in China were affected, including Beijing. Many people lived in artificial caves called yaodongs at the time, and the earthquake caused a catastrophic loss of life when these homes collapsed on their residents. Approximately 830,000 people were killed in this disaster that left an 840-kilometer area destroyed.

1970 Bhola Cyclone

1970 Bhola Cyclone

This natural disaster occurred in what was once East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh, and is the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded. The inhabitants had already endured five cyclones that storm season when the Bhola cyclone’s storm surges flooded many low-lying islands. Villages were wiped out, crops were destroyed, and at least 500,000 people lost their lives in this natural disaster. 

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2010 Haiti Earthquake

2010 Haiti Earthquake

The Haiti earthquake happened almost 10 years ago, but the residents are still dealing with the aftermath of the natural disaster. The earthquake had 52 aftershocks with a magnitude up to 4.5 on the Richter scale —some of the highest aftershocks ever recorded. The death toll was an estimated 316,000 people and sparked a huge surge in humanitarian aid, which resulted in food, water, medical teams, and funding to be sent to Haiti from all over the world.

1737 Calcutta Cyclone

1737 Calcutta Cyclone

In October of 1737 Calcutta, India, (modern-day Kolkata) experienced a deadly tropical cyclone that led to the deaths of an estimated 300,000 residents, mariners, and merchants. Calcutta’s population was only around 3,000-20,000 at the time, but 20,000 ships were lost in the storm, which explains the high death toll. The storm and subsequent flooding destroyed almost all the buildings in the city, devastating the inhabitants. 

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1839 Coringa Cyclone

1839 Coringa Cyclone

Just over a hundred years after the Calcutta cyclone ravaged the city and port, another enormous cyclone hit Coringa. A 40-foot storm surge led to massive flooding, destroyed ships, and home damage. Nearly 300,000 people were killed during this tropical storm, and the city was never entirely rebuilt after the deadly natural disaster.

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1920 Haiyuan Earthquake

1920 Haiyuan Earthquake

Also known as the Gansu earthquake, this natural disaster happened in the winter of 1920 in China. The earthquake was a reported 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale and was followed by a series of aftershocks that lasted for three years. Collapsed buildings, landslides, and ground cracks led to an estimated 273,400 deaths. The aftershocks claimed even more lives as people died from exposure during the winter because they could only make temporary shelters.

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526 Antioch Earthquake

526 Antioch Earthquake

This earthquake struck Syria and Antioch during the Byzantine Empire in the early summer. The seismic site is located close to the transform boundary of the African and Arabian Tectonic Plates and is regularly affected by earthquakes. The estimated 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed almost 300,000 people between the collapsed buildings and the subsequent wildfire that lasted for days after the earthquake was over. 

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1976 Tangshan Earthquake

1976 Tangshan Earthquake

This was one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. The death toll has been reported to be at least 242,000 people, but some reports say as many as 655,000 people lost their lives in this natural disaster. With a magnitude of 7.6, this earthquake destroyed an entire city in just a few minutes. The city of Tangshan lost most of its buildings, all communication and emergency services, roads, and bridges. Luckily, the Chinese government was able to quickly step in and provide aid to its people. 

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1975 Typhoon Nina

1975 Typhoon Nina

Otherwise known as Typhoon Bebeng, this tropical storm is the fourth-deadliest cyclone on record. Heavy rain and flooding led to the collapse of the Banqiao Dam, which led to more dams being destroyed and deadly flooding. At least 229,000 deaths were recorded between the affected areas in Taiwan and China. 

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2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake occurred in the winter and was an undersea megathrust earthquake with a registered magnitude of 9.1 on the Richter scale. This earthquake was caused by a rupture along the fault between the Burma and Indian Plates and led to a series of large tsunamis. These tsunamis reached up to 100 feet high and killed an estimated 227,898 people in 14 different countries. The natural disaster led to other complications with living conditions and commerce, especially for Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

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1935 Yangtze River Flood

1935 Yangtze River Flood

The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia, and the river basin is home to almost one-third of China’s population. The area naturally floods every summer and is only habitable because of the protection of river dikes. However, the 1935 flood was large enough to overflow the dikes, leading to the loss of an estimated 145,000 lives. The death toll number doesn’t take into account the loss of life from pandemics, famine, and compromised living conditions, which could put the total death toll closer to 3.7 million.

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1923 Great Kanto Earthquake

1923 Great Kanto Earthquake

On the Japanese main island of Honshu, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake occurred that lasted for almost 10 minutes in September of 1923. The earthquake was caused by a rupture of part of the convergent boundary between the Philippine Sea and Okhotsk Plates. Tokyo was devastated, and the surrounding towns didn’t fare any better. Large fires that turned into firestorms ravaged cities, water lines were broken for days, and tsunamis occurred as a result of the earthquake. Nearly 143,000 people lost their lives in this deadly natural disaster, and this earthquake is the greatest damage ever sustained by pre-war Japan. 

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1991 Bangladesh Cyclone

1991 Bangladesh Cyclone

This cyclone struck the city of Chittagong in Bangladesh with winds of up to 250 km/h, forcing a 20-foot tall storm surge to ravage a wide area. The storm, known officially as Super Cyclonic Storm BoB 1, was tracked all the way from the Bay of Bengal to the region of eastern India and Bangladesh. An estimated $1.5 billion in damage was caused between infrastructure damage, loss of crops and livestock, and damage to commerce. The storm killed at least 138,866 and left almost 10 million more homeless. 

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1908 Messina Earthquake

1908 Messina Earthquake

Also known as the Reggio earthquake, this deadly natural disaster occurred in the winter of 1908 and ravaged Sicily and Calabria in southern Italy. The magnitude 7.1 earthquake led to massive destruction of the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria—some of the largest and most populated cities in Italy at the time. A large, low-angle fault lying offshore in the Strait of Messina is attributed as being the cause of the seismic activity, and a total of 293 aftershocks occurred in the following year. Most people were sleeping and were killed or buried alive in their beds as houses collapsed on top of them. An estimated 123,000 people lost their lives in this tragic event.

1786 Kangding-Luding Earthquake, Dadu River Landslide, and Floods

1786 Kangding-Luding Earthquake, Dadu River Landslide, and Floods

A series of devastating natural disasters left almost 100,000 dead and many more homeless. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.75 and was caused by movement along the India and Eurasian Tectonic Plates. An aftershock led to a landslide that collapsed a dam in the Dadu River. The dam’s destruction led to a huge flood and a massive loss of life. There was also major infrastructure damage to the surrounding areas, which lead to even more casualties. 

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1815 Mount Tambora Eruption

1815 Mount Tambora Eruption

The Mount Tambora eruption is the most deadly volcanic eruption in recorded history, with a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 7 out of a maximum of 8. Located in present-day Indonesia, Mount Tambora produced a very large eruption, after which volcanic ash began to fall. After a few days of increasingly intense eruptions, columns of flame shot out, pumice stones began to fall, and a cloud of ash came down the mountainside. The village of Tambora was buried in ash, and the ash soon covered surrounding cities, landing as far as 800 miles away. All vegetation on the island was destroyed, and tsunamis began to strike the island as the ash reached the Earth’s stratosphere. Up to 71,000 people lost their lives in the Mount Tambora eruption and subsequent events. 

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2003 European Heat Wave

2003 European Heat Wave

The summer of 2003 had the highest recorded heat wave in Europe since 1540. The harshest part of the heat wave happened in July and August. The western European seasonal lag from the Atlantic warm waters, combined with hot continental air and strong southerly winds caused temperatures to soar. A total of 10 countries faced hefty death tolls and massive crop failures. A total of 70,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the deadly heat, dehydration, and crop failure. 

1883 Krakatoa Eruption

1883 Krakatoa Eruption

Seismic activity had been building up around Mount Krakatoa, located in Indonesia, for years before the 1883 eruption. In late May of that year, a series of lesser eruptions began, releasing huge plumes of steam and ash until August when everything exploded. A series of four huge explosions almost completely destroyed the island—the explosion could even be heard all the way in Perth, Australia. The combination of explosions, deadly gas, volcanic ash, and tsunamis led to a death toll of almost 36,000 people. 

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1999 Vargas Tragedy

1999 Vargas Tragedy

The Vargas Tragedy refers to a series of events culminating in a natural disaster in Venezuela. Heavy rains lasted days, which led to flooding that triggered thousands of small landslides. These landslides were liquefied into debris flows, a mixture of debris, rock, and mud. The natural disaster caused a total of $3.5 billion in damages from flooding and debris flow damage. Nearly 30,000 people lost their lives. Many more people would have died if it hadn’t been for the efforts of the Red Cross and Venezuelan president. 

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1902 Mount Pelée Eruption

1902 Mount Pelée Eruption

Mount Pelée is a volcano located on the French island of Martinique and is currently dormant. Known as a stratovolcano, Mount Pelée is made up of many layers of hardened lava, pumice stone, and ash. The 1902 eruption marks the only major volcanic disaster in France’s history. The town of Saint-Pierre was destroyed when the volcano erupted, setting everything in its path on fire. Muddy rain mixed with ashes then covered the city, and communication was impossible. There were only two survivors in Saint-Pierre, leaving a massive death toll of almost 30,000 people. 

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1970 Huascarán Avalanche

1970 Huascarán Avalanche

The Ancash earthquake in Peru was the cause of the disastrous Huascarán avalanche. The earthquake led to a large part of Mount Huascarán to collapse, causing a rock, ice, and snow avalanches. By the time it reached the village of Yungay, the avalanche was made up of 80 million cubic meters of water, mud, rocks, and snow. Traveling at an intense 335 km/hr, the debris quickly buried two towns and killed more than 20,000 people. 

1792 Mount Unzen Eruption and Megatsunami

1792 Mount Unzen Eruption and Megatsunami

Mount Unzen is made up of several volcanoes, located near the city of Shimabara in Japan. The partial collapse of one of the volcanoes —due to slow volcanic activity— triggered a mega-tsunami. The tsunami killed a total of 14,524 people. This became known as Japan’s worst volcanic-related disaster. 

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79 AD Mount Vesuvius Eruption

79 AD Mount Vesuvius Eruption

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius is possibly one of the most well-known natural disasters in recorded history. The massive volcano, known as Mount Vesuvius, is best known for its 79 AD eruption that led to the burial and destruction of Pompeii and other settlements. A cloud of stone, ash, and gas was ejected more than 20 miles into the air, while molten rock and pumice stones shot out of the volcano. Between all of the damaged cities, the death toll reached almost 13,000.

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1490 Ch’ing-Yang Impact Event

1490 Ch’ing-Yang Impact Event

An impact event describes when a meteor falls from space to the ground. The Ch’ing-Yang event was a meteor shower, possibly as the result of an asteroid disintegrating when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Historical records describe a shower during which “stones fell like rain.” The impact event led to the destruction of buildings, livestock, and human life. A reported 10,000 people lost their lives during this meteor shower. 

1972 Iran Blizzard

1972 Iran Blizzard

Known as the deadliest blizzard in recorded history, the Iran blizzard was a week-long period of extremely low temperatures and severe winter storms. More than 26 feet of snow fell in a few days, burying much of rural Iran. Two towns, Kakkan and Kumar, experienced complete devastation as there were no survivors following the blizzard. All in all, an estimated 4,000 people lost their lives in this deadly natural disaster.

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1871 Peshtigo Fire

1871 Peshtigo Fire

This natural disaster occurred on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, so it’s often forgotten. Much of Wisconsin and parts of Michigan were affected, and almost 1,200,000 acres of land was burned. This remains the largest wildfire on record. The fire started out as a controlled burn to clear forest land for farming and railroads, but strong winds blew the fires out of control and escalated them to disastrous levels. Almost 2,500 people lost their lives in this deadly fire, and many had to be buried in a mass grave because there was no one left alive who could identify the bodies. 

1986 Lake Nyos Limnic Eruption

1986 Lake Nyos Limnic Eruption

A limnic eruption, also known as a lake overturn, is a rare type of natural disaster that occurs when dissolved carbon dioxide suddenly erupts from the bottom of a lake. This eruption forms a gas cloud that can suffocate wildlife, livestock, humans, and can also cause tsunamis. In the 1986 limnic eruption of Lake Nyos in Cameroon, more than 80 million cubic meters of carbon dioxide was released. The result was the deaths of more than 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock. 

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1936 Kursha-2 Fire

1936 Kursha-2 Fire

Kursha-2 was a Russian industrial community in Central Meshchyora. It was built for the exploitation of local forests but ultimately was destroyed by wildfires. A firestorm started near Kursha-2, which quickly grew in size and intensity. An empty train came to evacuate children and women, but hundreds were still forced to stay behind at the settlement to die. Unfortunately, a bridge the train would have had to cross was already in flames, and almost every passenger on the train was burned alive. Only a few manage to escape the blaze, leading to a death toll of more than 1,000 people. 

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