Statistics show that thousands of people die in disasters, both natural and man-made, each year. Although the worst of them usually make it in to the media, often it’s only for a day or two. Add to that the wide range of other issues covered on television, in newspapers and online, and it’s easy to see why some terrible events can go unnoticed.
According to research done by the reinsurance company, Munich Re, the first six months of 2014 were relatively calm in terms of deaths resulting from natural disasters. In comparison with the previous ten years, a death toll of 2,700 by the end of June was relatively low. Nonetheless, there have still been a number of major tragedies throughout the year which have claimed many lives. While there is still a month of 2014 to go, and we hope that this list does not preempt anything over the coming four weeks, here are ten of the deadliest disasters from the past year, sorted by the numbers of fatalities.
10. Nepal Trekking Disaster: Deaths: 43
Nepal confronted its worst ever trekking disaster following severe blizzards and an avalanche, on October 14th. The disaster struck Annapurna, the world’s tenth highest mountain, killing 43 climbers. Over 500 people were rescued by emergency teams over subsequent days, with more than half being foreign tourists. The Nepalese government responded to the tragedy the following week, by announcing stricter regulations for hikers in the mountains, and pledging to provide more detailed weather forecasts. The government claimed that many of those out on the mountain had not been properly equipped to deal with the notoriously unpredictable weather conditions.
9. Japanese Volcano Eruption: Deaths: At Least 57
Mount Ontake erupted killing at least 57 people in late September. Six people remain unaccounted for, according to the latest reports. Those who died were out hiking on the mountain when the disaster occurred, and were mostly killed by the high volumes of poison gas which the volcano spewed out, as well as by flying rocks. Experts predicted that near the summit, where most of the bodies were found, rocks could have been exploding from the volcano at 190 mph. Seismologists were taken by surprise by the eruption, along with the hikers on Ontake. Though they did say that seismic activity had increased in the area, they had not anticipated such a powerful eruption. The death toll is Japan’s worst from a volcanic eruption, since World War II.
8. Sri Lankan Landslide: Deaths: 16 Confirmed, But 192 Missing Presumed Dead
The worst natural disaster since the 2004 Asian tsunami struck Sri Lanka on October 29th. A landslide claimed the lives of more than 200 people at the Meeriyabedda estate, in Koslanda, around 200 kilometers from the capital, Colombo. The mudslide struck an area of land where hundreds of families who worked on the tea plantation lived. It destroyed seven buildings divided into living quarters, a Hindu temple and two milk collection centers. While many were killed, several hundred more could have died had the disaster struck earlier. Children had just left for school and many others had gone to work when it hit. The landslide was caused by heavy monsoon rains which had been affecting the entire island.
7. Malaysian Airlines Plane Disappears: Deaths: 239 Presumed Dead, 227 Passengers & 12 Crew
The first tragedy to strike Malaysian Airlines, in what has been a dreadful year for the company, came on March 17th. A passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur to China disappeared off the radar around two hours after take-off. To date, no trace of the aircraft has been found, although it is suspected that at some point, the plane went off course and ended up somewhere over the southern Indian Ocean. The aircraft’s instruments were disabled so air traffic control could not pick up signals from the plane. The mysterious circumstances of the plane’s disappearance led to some bizarre theories as to its fate, including the suggestion that it had landed on a desert Island.
6. MH17 Crashes In Ukraine: Deaths: 298, 283 Passengers & 15 Crew
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 crashed over eastern Ukraine in July. The flight took off in the Netherlands and was bound for Kuala Lumpur. The cause of the crash remains disputed amid the on-going fighting in Ukraine. Western governments, including the United States, claim that pro-Russian rebels shot it down. But the Russian government, and a report in the Malaysian media, have suggested that a Ukrainian aircraft was responsible for taking down the passenger plane with a missile during a training exercise. Investigations continue into the cause of the disaster, but little evidence has been made public so far.
5. Turkey’s Worst Ever Mine Disaster: Deaths: 301
In May, Turkey suffered its worst ever mine catastrophe with over 300 deaths. The Soma coal mine collapsed and trapped the miners underground. Serious accusations of poor safety controls were made by relatives of the dead miners in the wake of the tragedy, including suggestions that inspections had not been carried out properly and safety precautions persistently violated. Angry protests took place in several cities for weeks afterwards.
4. Korean Ferry Sinks: Deaths: 295, Nine Remain Missing
The MV Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank near the southern tip of the Korean peninsula on April 16th. Over 300 school students were on board, travelling for a trip to the popular tourist island of Jiju. Reports in the press stated that only 79 of them were rescued. In total, 179 people were rescued from the sea. The ship was sailing in relatively good weather conditions when it sank. Following comments from some of those who were rescued that they felt a sharp impact before the boat began to sink, the most likely cause was that it hit something. Outrage at the government’s handling of the rescue mission and the overall response led to the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister. The captain of the ship was sentenced to 36 years imprisonment for professional negligence.
3. Floods Strike Asia Following Heavy Rains: Deaths: Over 500
After weeks of heavy rain in northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, more than 500 people died in September due to flash floods. An estimated 2 million people were affected by the floods across the three countries, including 400,000 who lost their homes. Since the affected areas contained many people who made a living from farming, the disaster ruined their livelihoods. At least 325,000 acres of crops were destroyed and 1,000 villages were seriously damaged. On top of the initial floods, many of the survivors in rural areas had to contend with water-borne diseases which broke out in the absence of infrastructure to cope with the crisis.
2. Two Refugee Boats Sink Within A Week: Deaths: More Than 700
Over 700 refugees seeking asylum in Europe drowned within two days when two overloaded boats sank in the Mediterranean Sea in September. The route has become one of the most commonly used means of fleeing war and poverty by thousands of refugees over recent years, particularly since European countries have intensified their land border controls. Most of those who died in September were fleeing the civil war in Syria, and the Gaza Strip. There were also significant numbers from poor African countries. A survivor reported that one of the boats was carrying over 500 people when it was involved in a violent altercation with human traffickers. The other boat capsized off the Libyan coast, with only 36 survivors. According to research on the death toll of refugees trying to reach Europe, 25,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean since 2000.
1. Chinese Earthquake: Deaths: 617 Confirmed, 112 Missing Presumed Dead
A devastating earthquake measuring between 6.1 and 6.5 on the Richter Scale struck southern China in August, killing at least 617 people and injuring 3,143. The quake’s epicenter was in Yunnan province, an area affected by extreme poverty. Southern China has been impacted by a number of strong earthquakes over the past few years, the most deadly being one in 2008, that caused the deaths of almost 90,000 people in Sichuan Province. This year’s quake caused extensive damage, prompting some eye-witnesses to describe the scene to the media as like a battlefield.