Mother Nature can be both our ultimate provider as well as our ultimate destroyer. For millions of years, humanity has been affected by natural disasters with some of the deadliest having wiped out entire civilizations and making a devastating mark on the world. Historians and scientists have long studied some of the more famous natural disasters such as Pompeii and the stories of an ancient Great Flood (which is linked to the story of Noah and the Ark). From earthquakes, to tsunamis, to floods and volcanoes, there’s almost nowhere on earth safe from the deadly fury of Mother Nature.
With the toll of natural disasters seemingly escalating – most recently this month there’s been a landslide at goldmine in Guinea which killed 7 and a fatal avalanche on Mount Everest which took the life of 15 climbers – many around the world are left wondering whether Mother Nature is on an angry rampage. Her unpredictable character makes her all the more fearful. The human race, of course, has the ability to create horrific disasters all by itself, but when natural disasters occur it’s difficult if not impossible to place blame. All man can do in the face of nature’s wrath is prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.
Natural disasters are always devastating – hence ‘disaster’ – but some have been cataclysmic in the scale of their damage. There have been those disasters that have had death tolls so high, they obliterated entire communities. Despite the fact that we, as a race, become more creative and innovative every decade, when Mother Nature allows disaster to strike it is a somber and humbling reminder that we’re far from invincible and we still have much to learn about the world around us. The following deadly disasters have contributed to the development of more advanced warning systems, stronger buildings, and increased strategic planning in high-risk areas. Rising from the rubble, the waters, or the ashes, natural disasters continue to serve as a tragic reminder of nature’s supreme force.
10. Indian Ocean Earthquake, 2004 – 230,000
This year marks the 10th anniversary of this devastating event that hit the news worldwide. In the early morning of December 26, 2004, a massive undersea earthquake (also known as the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake) triggered a series of large tsunamis that destroyed cities, towns, and villages on the coastline of the Indian Ocean. The quake had a magnitude between 9.1 and 9.3 and is the second largest earthquake ever recorded. It literally shook the world and made the earth vibrate about half an inch.
9. Banqiao Dam, 1975 – 231,000
This natural disaster in China goes to show that even though you can build strong structures to keep Mother Nature’s force at bay, she will eventually find a way to break through. The Banqiao Dam was built to withstand massive floods that were only expected to happen about once every thousand years. But in 1975, massive rains that lasted for 24 hours were too much for the dam, (the rains made over 64 dams fail) and the water broke through. The break in the dam caused a large wave, which stretched about 6 miles wide and about 23 feet high. The death toll was so high because there was no adequate warning or preparation for a situation like this and communication was extremely poor.
8. Haiyuan Earthquake, 1920 – 235,000
This particular earthquake hit a magnitude of between 7.8 and 8.5 and affected the Ningxia Province in the Republic of China on December 16th, 1920. The seismic waves were so massive that vibrations were even felt in the country of Norway. The earthquake actually changed the course of the rivers in the area, which caused landslides that devastated seven Chinese provinces. One town called Sujiahe was completely buried in the landslide. This disaster is also known as the Gansu Earthquake since Gansu was a part of the Ningxia province at the time.
7. Tangshan Earthquake, 1976 – 242,000
It is known as the second deadliest earthquake in modern history. The epicenter of the earthquake was located in Hebei, China, a city with over one million residents. It is debated whether the earthquake was at a Richter scale of 7.8 or 8.2, but regardless of the scale, this earthquake which hit in the early morning and lasted about 15 seconds caused great devastation with over 240,000 lives lost. It was also one of the first earthquakes to affect a major, industrialised city. The People’s Republic of China was heavily criticized for not heeding the warnings of scientists as well as for declining to accept any international aid, even when their own relief efforts were severely inadequate.
6. Antioch Earthquake, 526 CE – 300,000
In 526, with a magnitude scale of between 7- 9, the Antioch Earthquake happened in Syria and Antioch located in the Byzantine region. It is believed that the earthquake struck in May around the mid-morning, and killed about 300,000. Not only did the earthquake cause devastating damage to numerous buildings, but it also caused a fire to break out that continued to destroy homes, injure and kill people. The area continued to experience aftershocks for 18 months after the disaster.
5. India Cyclone, 1839 – 300,000
It was a devastating chain of events that changed a village forever. In 1839, a massive tidal wave nearly wiped out the village of Coringa while destroying over 20,000 water vessels and killing up to 300,000 people. The tidal wave was over 40 feet high and caused by a cyclone, and the village of Coringa (located in India) was never entirely rebuilt. Many of the casualties included sailors and those working on the boats, who drowned from the massive wave.
4. Bhola Cyclone, 1970 – 500,000
In 1970, the Bhola cyclone struck East Pakistan and India’s West Bengal, which resulted in a devastating flooding of the Ganges Delta. The cyclone turned into a severe storm around November 11th, and by the time it made land in East Pakistan on November 12th, the tide was coming in, making the storm much more devastating than it would have been had there been less water around to flood. The government of Pakistan was criticized severely by both local and international media for the lack of planning in the face of the threat of natural disasters, as well as for the subpar relief operations after the storm was over.
3. Shaanxi Earthquake, 1556 – 830,000
Earthquakes quickly become hot news items, especially now that Southern California has been getting hit with some real shakers, leaving the world to wonder if the “big one” is just around the corner. In 1906, the city of San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake, which has remained in the history books as one of the most devastating. But there is another lesser known earthquake that killed over 830,000 people with a magnitude of 8.0, in the town of Shaanxi in China in the year 1556. The earthquake actually reduced the population by about 60 percent, not to mention the people that survived who were now homeless and mourning their loved ones.
2. Yellow River Flood, 1887 – 900,000– 2 Million
In 1887, a flood spread quickly around about 50,000 square miles of flatland over by the Yellow River (also known as Huang He). What caused the flood? For centuries, residents in the area would build dikes to contain the rising waters, but rains had overwhelmed the old dikes and they eventually burst. The flood ended up devastating 11 cities and hundreds of Chinese villages and killed between 900,000 to 2 million people and left millions homeless and poor (as their farmlands were destroyed). This would not be the last time that China would be affected by flooding in such a grand scale.
1. Central China Flood, 1931 – 3.7 Million
This particular flood was caused by the overflowing of the Yangtze River between July and November of 1931 and affected millions of Chinese people. Also known as the Huang He Flood, it is thought to be the biggest natural disaster ever recorded in history and gained the name “China’s sorrow” because of the huge numbers of Chinese people affected by the flood. Death didn’t happen just because of drowning, but were also due to disease, famine, and the droughts that followed.