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5 of Histories Deadliest Natural Disasters

Young men facing the devastating of the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

Violent natural disasters have been a fact of human life since the beginning of the species, but the death counts of the most ancient of these disasters are lost to history. The Mediterranean island of Stroggli, for example, is believed to have been completely wiped out by a volcanic eruption and ensuring Tsunami that eradicated the entire Minoan civilization around 1500 B.C. How many lives were lost? We'll never know. Following are 5 of histories deadliest natural disasters from the team @ Rock Against Poverty:

2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

Mosques still standing after the devastating 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia


A magnitude-9.3 temblor struck undersea off the west coast of Sumatra on Dec. 26, 2004, creating a massive tsunami that killed people in 14 separate countries. The overall death toll is estimated at between 230,000 and 280,000 people. In some places, especially hardest-hit Indonesia, the tsunami wave reached 98 feet (30 meters) in height. Indonesia had the highest death toll of any country, with 126,473 confirmed dead and 93,943 missing, according to official government figures. Sri Lanka followed, with a total of 36,594 dead or missing.

1976 Tangshan Earthquake

Carnage in China, Tangshan after the Earthquake in 1976


At 3:42 a.m. on July 28, 1976, the Chinese city of Tangshan and its surroundings were rocked by a magnitude -7.8 earthquake. Tangshan, an industrial city, had a population of about a million people, and the official death toll was a staggering 255,000. Another 700,000 people were injured, according to "The Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976: An Anatomy of Disaster" (Pergamon Press, 1988).

1839 India cyclone/1881 Haiphong typhoon

Artwork illustrating the 1839 India cyclone / 1881 Haiphong typhoon


The Coringa cyclone of 1839 hit the port city of Coringa on Nov. 25, whipping up a storm surge of 40 feet (12 meters), according to the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research. About 20,000 ships and vessels were destroyed, along with the lives of an estimated 300,000 people.

The 1970 Bhola cyclone

Aftermath of the 1970 Bhola cyclone from above


Another storm that wiped out tens of thousands of lives was the Bhola cyclone of Nov. 12, 1970. This storm struck what is now Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), pushing up a 20-foot storm surge that funnelled right over the low terrain bordering the Bay of Bengal, causing widespread flooding. A 1971 report from the National Hurricane Centre and the Pakistan Meteorological Department acknowledged the challenge of accurately estimating the death toll, especially due to the influx of seasonal workers who were in the area for the rice harvest. However, most estimates place the loss of life from the Bhola cyclone at 300,000 at the low end, ranging up to 500,000.

The Central China Floods of 1931

Floods through the main streets of China 1931


The deadliest natural disaster in history is likely the Central China floods of 1931. In July and August of that year, the Yangtze River overtopped its banks as the spring melt mingled with heavy rains. (The Yellow River and other large waterways also reached high levels.) According to "The Nature of Disaster in China: The 1931 Yangzi River Flood" (Cambridge University Press, 2018), the flood inundated almost 70,000 square miles (180,000 square km) and turned the Yangzi into what looked like a giant lake or ocean. Estimates of the overall death toll vary. Contemporary government numbers put the number of dead at around 2 million, but others, including NOAA, say it may have been as many as 3.7million people.

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