Whether it’s nature’s way of naturally culling the population, or survival of the fittest or just plain bad luck, natural disasters have taken millions of lives and will continue to do so. Earthquakes, tornados or tsunamis – regardless of the “flavour” of destruction, there is no denying the absolute power of natural forces. Human might pales in comparison – there is little than we can do when faced with nature unleashed. This post lists 10 natural disasters (excluding famine and disease) that have taken the largest toll on human life.
10.Yangtze River Flood, 1931 China: 1-4 million
On August 18 1931, the Yangtze River in China flooded 87,000 sq. km. (20,000,000 acres) of land, that killed 3.7 million people directly and indirectly over the next several months. The Yangtze River runs through southern China, one of the most populated areas on Earth. In April 1931 the river-basin area rainfall saw sharply rising, to the point that torrential rains in July caused the river to begin swelling its banks. The rising waters drove 500,000 people from their homes by the beginning of August, with the ensuing flood killing millions. In addition to a death toll larger than any other recorded natural disaster, the area was wrought with disease and starvation for years following the recession of flood waters.
9. Yellow River Flood, 1887 China, 1887: 1-2 million
The Yellow River in China is prone to flooding due to the broad expanse of flat land around it. For centuries, the farmers living near the Yellow River had built dikes to contain the rising waters, caused by silt accumulation on the riverbed. In 1887, this rising riverbed, coupled with days of heavy rain, overcame the dikes, causing a massive flood. The waters broke through the dikes in Henan province, and due to the low-lying plains near the area, the flood spread very quickly throughout Northern China, covering an estimate 50,000 square miles, causing a death toll estimated as high as 2 million. It was one of the worst floods in history, second only to China�s 1931 Yellow River in 1931.
8. Shaanxi Earthquake, 1556 China: 830,00
One of the deadliest earthquakes in history occurred in Hausien, in the Shaanxi Province of China on the morning of 23 January 1556. In Chinese historical record, this event is often referred as the “Jiajing Great Earthquake” because it occurred during the reign of Emperor Jiajing of the Ming dynasty. The “Shaanxi Earthquake” as it became later known, had a Richter magnitude of 8, with the destruction extending over 500 miles, destroying 98 counties and eight provinces in Central China. It was particularly hard hitting in the Province of Shaanxi, hence the local nickname. In some of the counties, the average death toll was estimated to be about 60 percent of the local population. According to historical records, a total of 830,000 people lost their lives, most from the collapse of poorly constructed houses and of Loess cave dwellings
7. Yellow River Flood, 1938 China: 500-700,000
The most bizarre flooding of the Yellow River occurred in June, 1938. The Japanese were invading China, and Chiang Kai-shek decided he might stop them by loosing a flood upon them. He ordered the levees blown. The resulting flood slowed the Japanese only slightly, but estimates of the Chinese who died in the resultant flooding vary from 200,000 to 900,000.
6. Bhola Cyclone, 1970 Bangladesh: 500,000
5. Cyclones, 1839/1876 India: 500,000
A cyclone in 1839 devastated the city of Coringa. The cyclone caused a 40-foot tidal wave that wiped out the harbor city that was never entirely rebuilt; 20,000 vessels in the bay were destroyed and 300,000 people died. The city was rebuilding from a previous storm in 1789, when three tidal waves caused by a cyclone destroyed the harbor city at the mouth of the Ganges river. Most ships were sunk and estimated 20,000 people drowned in this earlier storm. Less than 40 years later, a cyclone in 1876 hit the Indian City of Backergunge on the Megna River Delta. The resulting tidal wave flooded the river delta, with some areas getting covered with as much as 40 feet of water. In this natural disaster, 100,000 people drowned and another 100,000 are reported to have perished from subsequent diseases caused by polluted water.
4. Tsunami, 2004 Indian Ocean: 296,000
As a recent event, this earthquake that resulted in a devastating tsunami is still in most people’s memory. The earthquake that generated the great Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is one of the most powerful on record at 9.0 on the Richter scale, and is estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The quake, happening the day after Christmas, unleashed a series of tsunamis that sped across the Indian Ocean at the speed of a jet airliner. By the end of the day more than 150,000 people were dead or missing and millions more were homeless in 11 countries, making it perhaps the most destructive tsunami in history.
3. Earthquake, 526 Antioch: 250,000
Antioch was a thriving Turkish�trading post and home to the�wealthy and intellectual of the�time; it was a city of high Greek�civilization blended together�with Asiatic elements. The city was destroyed in 526 by a�devastating earthquake that�shifted the harbour upwards,�rendering it forever useless. A�fire then followed, destroying�any remaining buildings that�were still standing.
2. Earthquake, 1976 China: 242,000
On July 28, 1976, an earthquake struck the city of Tangshan in Northern China . Tangshan was a thriving industrial city with one million inhabitants, is located in the Province of Hebei, about 95 miles east, slightly south of Beijing. Although the region had experienced moderate seismic activity in the past, there were no foreshocks this time, no warning. Ground motions lasted for about 90 seconds and, during this time interval, about 90 percent of the houses and buildings in Tangshan collapsed. Over a four-by-five mile area the devastation of the city was nearly total. The force of the ground motions were so strong that people reported being thrown in the air. Within seconds, thousands died. Property destruction was unbelievable. Bridges, railroads, homes, factories were completely leveled.
According to official reports a total of 242,769 people died and 169,851 were severely injured. However, based on the density of population, it was fairly accurately estimated that there were at least 655,000 people dead and 780,000 injured.
1. Haiyuan Earthquake, 1920 China: 240,000
In December 1920, an earthquake of 8.5 magnitude struck the Gansu province of midwestern China, causing massive landslides and a death toll of an estimated 240,000 people. The earthquake affected an area of 25,000 square miles, including 10 major population centers. The great devastation caused by the earthquake was due largely to poor soil conditions throughout the Gansu province. Up to that point, for almost 300 years there had been no recorded earthquakes in the region to stabilize gradual changes to the landscape.