While we might imagine that civilization is impervious to the elements, it’s a sobering fact that nature can wipe cities from the face of the Earth in minutes. Natural disasters usually strike without warning and have devastating consequences. Loss of life and property can be enormous, and the psychological effects can be immeasurable. Nothing can be as terrifying as being in the grip of nature, and we can ultimately do nothing to inhibit its effects. Here are 7 of the most devastating natural disasters in history.
1) 1906 San Francisco earthquake
Striking the Californian coast at 5am on April 18, 1906, the San Francisco earthquake shook the ground from Oregon to LA and is remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in US history. The earthquake itself was followed by widespread fires, caused by burst gas mains, which devastated the city. Ultimately, 3,000 people died.
2) The 1931 great floods in China
In 1931 a series of floods overran Central China. It is generally considered the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded, and almost certainly the deadliest of the 20th century, when pandemics are discounted. The human casualties are estimated to have numbered from 3.7 million to 4 million dead and countless thousands of people made homeless.
3) The Great Tangshan earthquake
The Great Tangshan Earthquake was a natural disaster that occurred on July 28, 1976. It is believed to be the largest earthquake of the 20th century based on death toll. The epicentre of the earthquake was near Tangshan in Hebei, China, an industrial city with approximately one million inhabitants. The number of deaths initially reported by the Chinese government was 655,000, but this number has since been dropped to around 255,000. A further 164,000 people were recorded as being severely injured. The earthquake came in between a series of political events involving the Communist Party of China. It shook China both literally and figuratively in 1976, which was later labeled a ‘Year of Curse’.
The earthquake hit in the early morning, at 3.42am local time on July 27, and lasted for around 10 seconds. The Chinese Government’s official sources state that it reached 7.8 on the Richter magnitude scale, though some sources listed it as high as 8.2. It was followed by a major 7.8 magnitude aftershock some 16 hours later, increasing the death toll.
4) The Bhola Cyclone of 1970
The 1970 Bhola cyclone was a devastating storm that struck Bangladesh and West Bengal on November 12, 1970. It was the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, and one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern times. Up to 500,000 people lost their lives in the storm, primarily as a result of the storm surge that flooded much of the low-lying islands of the Ganges Delta.
5) Hurricane Katrina
On August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of the United States with devastating effect. It was reported that more than 1,800 people lost their lives, and more than $81bn in damages occurred. As a result, efforts to assist those affected by Hurricane Katrina still continue, as those affected by the terrible hurricane continue to work to regain the health and livelihood that they had before the storm. The resources below provide access to historical information related to the event, as well as on-going aid and assistance that is currently available to the effected public.
6) 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
At 6.58am on December 26, 2004, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded began shaking the Pacific seafloor about 150 miles off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Within moments, the magnitude 9.0 quake gave birth to a tsunami — a wall of fast-moving water that is one of the most feared of all natural disasters. Within hours of the initial earthquake, shorelines thousands of miles away were pummelled by waves as high as 30 feet, like the Hawaiian islands pictured above. Fishermen, tourists, and coastal residents in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, the Maldives, and even as far away as Somalia had little inkling of what was coming due to the speed of the wave and, more importantly, the lack of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean. At last count, more than 155,000 people have been killed and more than 1.7 million displaced in what is being called one of the worst natural disasters of the last 100 years.