Top 10 Costliest Natural Disasters in History

For as much beauty as Mother Nature provides, she sure can be a mean old woman from time to time. From 1980-2010 there were hundreds of natural disasters throughout the world, culminating in over $500 billion worth of damage and the deaths of thousands of people. Some of these disasters will haunt locals for the rest of their lives, such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Andrew, and massive earthquakes that led to a chain reaction of events.

So why do people choose to continue to build in areas that are known hotspots of horrific acts of god? The simple answer is convenience and tradition. Despite the fact that the entire state of California lays along a fault line, millions of residents risk their lives to live in the areas they call home. When disaster does strike, residents are quick to rebuild and resume life as usual as best they can. Here are 10 of the most costly natural disasters and the devastation they’ve left behind.

10 2008 Sichuan Earthquake (China) - $29 Billion

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In the early morning hours of May 12, 2008, the Ngawa Prefecture in China was rocked with a massive 8.0 earthquake that left behind massive piles of rubbish. The initial impact resulted in the deahts of 69,195 people and left almost 19,000 missing or unaccounted for. The earthquake was felt up to 1,000 miles away in both Beijing and Shanghai with several aftershocks measuring up to magnitudes of 6.0. The Sichuan quake was China’s most deadly since since 1950 and led to the Chinese government spending $146 billion over the next three years in recovery efforts. In terms of initial damage, over $20 billion worth of homes and capital were destroyed as 11 million people were left homeless.

9 2010 Maule Earthquake (Chile) - $31 Billion

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On February 27, 2010, the lives of millions of Chileans was forever changed as the Maule earthquake rattled the countryside for three minutes. Reaching 8.8 on the Richter scale, the Maule quake was the sixth largest ever recorded on a seismograph, affecting the lives of 80% of the entire Chilean population. As if one of the largest earthquakes to ever be recorded wasn’t enough, the quake triggered a tsunami which also caused havoc along the coastline. According to official records, 525 people were killed in the quake and the damaged amounted to over $30 billion. With the state in emergency, the Chilean national army was deployed in order to restore order, specifically after a prison riot erupted at El Manzano prison.

8 2004 Chuestsu Earthquake (Japan) - $34 Billion

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Despite the beauty of Japan, the people of the islands have always been at the mercy of Mother Nature. On October 23, 2004, an earthquake measuring 6.8 rang out throughout the Hokuriku region of Honshu, the nation’s largest island. Initially, many thought that the shaking would subside after the first few minutes. However, 16 minutes after the first quake, a second earthquake occurred with a third and final one occurring about 90 minutes later. All told, the quakes caused 40 deaths and up to $30 billion in damages. Even pop culture couldn’t escape the tragedy of the situation, as a Pokémon episode showing a massive earthquake was not allowed to be aired as it did not want to be too insensitive to those suffering in the aftermath.

7 1994 Northridge Earthquake (United States) - $42 Billion

At 4:31 a.m, Reseda, California was changed forever. Although the earthquake that shook the sleepy neighborhood lasted just 20 seconds, it registered a 6.7 on the momentum scale and was one of the fastest moving quakes ever recorded, resulting in tremors as far as 220 miles away in Las Vegas. Several 6.0 sized tremors occurred in the hours following the initial quake, and when it was all said and done damages amounted to just over $40 billion. Casualties have not been confirmed, but it has been confirmed to be between 60 and 72. One reason for the inaccuracies is due to the fact that many died as a result of building collapses and injuries in the hours after the earthquake, with damage being reported as far as 100 miles away.

6 2012 Superstorm Sandy (United States) - $50 Billion

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As the most deadly and costly hurricane in the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, “Superstorm” Sandy also earned the title of being the second costliest hurricane in US history. The hurricane was a category 3 at its peak intensity when it made landfall in Cuba and moved north throughout the Atlantic ocean as it spanned nearly 1,100 miles. At least 286 people were killed as a result of Sandy with initial damages amounting to $68 billion. Not only did it wreak havoc throughout the mid-Atlantic region, but floods in Haiti caused millions of dollars and the deaths of 54 people including two Canadians. It also cost $100 million in damages in Ontario and Quebec.

5 1980 Heat Wave and Drought (United States) - $55 Billion

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Now, typically when you think of natural disasters you wouldn’t think of a heat wave of epidemic proportions. Aside from tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes, extreme drought can actually cause more damage than any natural disaster. In the summer of 1980 an extreme drought and heat wave hit the central and Midwestern United States, resulting in the deaths of over 1,700 people and over $55 billion in damages. Due to a strong high pressure wave that built throughout the region, temperatures reached 90 degrees Farenheit every day from June to September. The extreme temperatures not only crippled the country’s water supply, but it created heavy and frequent wind storms that damaged thousands of homes and killed six people from Wisconsin to Missouri.

4 1988 North American Drought (United States) - $78 Billion

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As if the drought in 1980 wasn’t bad enough, the folks in the central United States had to deal with a multi-year and multi-billion-dollar drought that began in 1988 and lasted until 1989. Reminescent of the “Dust Bowl” of the 1920s, the drought created the worst dust-blowing storms in over 60 years. Throughout the drought, schools were closed due to extreme dust being blown and cities throughout the country set heat and precipitation records. The subsequent heat waves in 1988 and 1989 killed roughly 10,000 people and set thousands of acres of land on fire. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the 1988 drought was the most costly natural disaster in US history, causing just under $78 billion worth of damage.

3 2005 Hurricane Katrina (United States) - $108 Billion

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As it stands today, Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005 is the most costly natural disaster to ever hit the United States. It ranks as one of the deadliest in history, causing 1,833 confirmed deaths and $108 billion in damages as it contributed to the most costly and deadly hurricane season ever recorded. The category five hurricane began as a category one in the Bahamas, yet it picked up speed as it moved closer to the US and entered the Gulf of Mexico. Aside from the brute force of the storm that caused hundreds to die, scores of people lost their lives due to flooding and inadequate preparation, specifically in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite the atrocities as a result of the storm, Katrina was a catalyst for change in the United States as several governmental agencies were completely overhauled and revamped due to their failures.

2 Kobe Earthquake (Japan) - $100 Billion

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On January 17, 1995 at 5:46 a.m, the Hyogo Prefecture experienced a 6.8 magnitude earthquake for roughly 20 seconds. In just that short period of time, 6,434 people lost their lives and over $100 billion worth of damage, with most of it coming from the city of Kobe; a population of 1.5 million people. Upon the initial tremors, 150,000 buildings were ruined, fires raged throughout the city and aftershocks were felt for over a week, making thousands of people skeptical of going home. Even though 22% of all structures were damaged beyond repair, most buildings built after 1981 were able to survive as the country had just updated all high rise building codes to protect against earthquakes.

1 2011 Tohoku Earthquake (Japan) - $235 Billion

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The most costly natural disaster in history comes as a result of several unfortunate series of events. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake was unique in that it occurred in the ocean, yet its reach was wide. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded and triggered a powerful tsunami with waves that reached over 130 feet in height. The quake literally shifted the mainland island of Honshu 8 feet east and shifted the world on its axis roughly four inches. The resulting damage? 16,000 deaths, twenty prefectures in states of emergency, and millions of buildings in ruin. Most famously, the tsunami triggered several nuclear accidents with the most severe coming at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Hundreds of thousands of people fled and it became the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The World Bank has listed the economic cost at $235 billion.

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