Top 18 Worst Natural Disasters of All Time

In recent history, natural disasters appear to have been on the rise, and it’s clear that these will continue to happen. We are sixteen years into the twenty-first century and have already experienced some devastating disasters.

Let’s take a look back over the past centuries at some of the world’s worst and most devastating natural disasters and how they affected the world at that time.

The Black Plague of 1348

The Black Plague gripped Europe in the years 1348 through 1351. Fleas carried on the backs of rats were the main cause of the spread of this disease. Europe at that time was extremely unsanitary, with its inhabitants literally living in their own filth.

It spread like wildfire across the entire European continent. The Black Plague claimed the lives of an estimated 200 million people, wiping out nearly 60% of Europe’s population.

Watch this documentary on the black plague:

The Black Death - Worst plague in history

The Spanish Influenza of 1918

It is estimated that the Spanish Influenza killed an upwards of 100 million people although the exact number of casualties cannot be confirmed. Likely starting in the Spring of 1918, the influenza virus quickly spread throughout Asia, Europe and North America.

The main reason why this disease spread so rapidly was because of the world’s advancement in transportation. It was able to travel far and wide and claim the lives and millions upon millions of people. Spanish Influenza is a fore glimpse of what could happen in today’s advanced society but on a larger scale.

Watch this documentary on the 1918 pandemic:

The 1918 Pandemic: The Deadliest Flu in History

Yangtze River Floods of 1931

At the time that it happened, it was considered the worst natural disaster of the twentieth century. Southern China had experienced some devastating torrential rains which cause the Yangtze River to reach flood state.

The hundreds of villages that had been built on the river were wiped completely out, drowned by the raging flood waters.  It is estimated that 3.7 million people lost their lives during this flood.

This YouTube clip will reveal more about those floods:

Tangshan Earthquake of 1976

The city of Tangshaun in China was laid devastated by an earthquake that no one knew or even suspected was coming. After it was finished, the entire town was destroyed.

The 7.8 earthquake claimed the lives of 240,000 people. It was a disaster that the country was clearly not ready for. The government had a hard time pulling their resources together and bringing aid to the people who needed them.

Here’s more on that earthquake:

The Great Tangshan Earthquake

Hurricane Andrew of 1993

Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1993. Although the loss of life wasn’t a large number; only 65 people were killed, the loss in property exceeded the billions of dollars. It is estimated that the devastation unleashed by Hurricane Andrew totaled more than $26 billion.

This two hour documentary about the hurricane is something you do NOT want to miss:

Hurricane Andrew: As It Happened

The Arduous March of the 90s

In 1994, the people of North Korea suffered a great famine that lasted 4 years. It claimed the lives of 3.5 million men, women, and children. A majority of the people who died were children.

Since the North Korean regime censors the information coming out of the country, it isn’t exactly clear what caused this famine. But almost every resident of the country suffered and felt the devastating impact it.

Countries of the European Union, South Korea, China and the United States, rallied together and sent food assistance to help them. This food assistance continued until 2002, when the leaders of the country requested that it be stopped.

Look at how bad things were during the famine:

The 1997 Famine That Still Affects North Korea Today

Mozambique Flood of 2000

The turn of the century saw a flood that claimed the lives of over 800 people in Mozambique. Heavy rainfall flooded the rivers causing them to overflow and pour into the living areas of the residents.

Those who survived were left homeless. Thousands of them had to flee and find new places to live and settle down.

Learn more about the flood here:

Mozambique Flood 2000 | Globespin | Episode 03 | Travel And Leisure

Gujarat Earthquake of 2001

A 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck Gujarat, India on January 26, 2001. People were going about their regular morning routines when the earthquake shook the ground beneath them. Homes and building were destroyed leaving 20,000 people dead and over 400,000 homes destroyed.

Watch this YouTube about the earthquake:

The 2001 Gujarat Earthquake That Killed Thousands (2001)

European Heatwave of 2003

More than 70,000 people across Europe died due to the extreme heat. Europeans across the region fell like flies as the temperatures soared as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, 45 degrees Celsius.

Summer months are not usually this hot, that is why the people were not ready for these types of temperatures. France lost the most people. Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Italy also suffered great losses during this time of unseasonable heat.

Here’s a short clip of the heat wave back then:

Extreme Heat Kills Thousands in Paris | Disasters | BBC Studios

Sumatra–Andaman earthquake of 2004

On December 26, 2004, an earthquake measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale occurred underneath the Indian Ocean. The Sumatra-Andaman earthquake is also known as the Indian Ocean Tsunami event.

While residents of surrounding islands and shorelines carried on with their daily routine, a massive tsunami generated by the earthquake closed in at speeds up to 500 miles per hour in the deep ocean.

Small islands in the path were literally wiped off the map. Lives were lost in an instant as there was no warning of the danger that was rushing in. Almost every small island near the epicenter was wiped away.

The event affected many countries in the South Indian Ocean, including Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Malaysia, and many more. The death toll from this event was a staggering 300,000 people, with nearly 46,000 people still missing to this day.

Hurricane Katrina of 2005

The year 2005 saw a lot of natural disasters, but one that stands out in the memories of most Americans is of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Once it started on it path of destruction it was clear to meteorologists that the immense category 5 storm was headed straight for New Orleans. When FEMA issued an evacuation order for all those in the path of Katrina, a mass exodus was underway.

Millions of people poured out of the city while National Guard were sent in to maintain order among those who could not evacuate.

When Katrina slammed into New Orleans head on, it destroyed homes and building causing millions of dollars in damage. It wasn’t until the levees broke that chaos descended upon the city and lives began to be lost.

Water from Lake Pontchartrain poured into the city flooding it and its residents. The final death toll from the storm was 1,836. Louisiana suffered the most with 1,577 residents perishing in the storm and Mississippi losing 238.

Kashmir Earthquake in Pakistan of 2005

On the morning of October 8, 2005, residents of Kashmir, Pakistan woke up to their homes collapsing in on them. The 7.6 earthquake level the town, and killed more than 75,000 people. The death toll was so high because of the way the buildings and homes were constructed.

Look how awful things were during a relief camp:

Pakistan Azad Kashmir 2005 Earthquake Devastation and Relief Camp

Afghan Blizzard of 2008

A desert isn’t supposed to have blizzards, but this year, Afghanistan had a devastating and extremely rare one. Due to its unexpected arrival, approximately 1,000 people lost their lives.

The highest toll was paid by animals, resulting in 400,000 + cattle, sheep and goat deaths. The loss of these animals had a tremendous impact on the livelihood of the desert dwelling communities.

This short 20 minute clip will reveal more about how things were back then:

The Coldest Winter, Afghanistan 2008

Cyclone Nargis of 2008

In the latter part of April 2008, the world saw Cyclone Nargis appear and cause destruction to the countries of Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka. The intense cyclone caused mud and landslides; massive coastal flooding that resulted in the deaths of over 150,000 people in Burma and Sri Lanka.

Millions of people were displaced and left homeless due to the storm. The countries suffered up to $10 billion of structural damage.

Here’s more on how that cyclone formed:

"Cyclone Nargis" Myanmar 2008 :Geography Case Study

Haiti Earthquake of 2010

On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the city of Port Au Prince and its surrounding areas. Thousands of homes were destroyed in the minutes following the initial earthquake.

Cholera ran rampant amount the relief camps that were set up for the survivors. Some who survived the earthquake succumbed to the effects of the cholera.

Approximately 60 aftershocks shook the area afterward. 230,000 people lost their lives and almost 2 million people were left homeless. Countries from all over the world sent in aid to assist the 3 million residents that were left in need of it.

Learn more on the earthquake in Haiti here:

The Haiti Earthquake: Seven Years Later

Tohoku Earthquake and Subsequent Tsunami of 2011

On March 11, 2011, the earth literally shook on its axis as an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale shook Tohoku, Japan. The earthquake rattled the city, bringing buildings and residences crumbling to the ground.

The residents didn’t have time to recover before a devastating tsunami swept through the region. This was the first time since the Indian Ocean tsunami that the events had been captured on camera.

This natural disaster was exceptionally bad because while the residents of Japan were recovering from the earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima nuclear plant had a meltdown, leaking high amounts of radiation into the surrounding areas.

Even if the tsunami warning had been sounded, 15,800 people lost their lives from either the initial earthquake or the tsunami and nuclear meltdown that followed.

Find out more about what happend in tohoku:

Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, 2011

Somalian Famine of 2011

Somalia has seen some really hard times when it comes to famine. The land seems incapable of producing enough food for its residents. In 1992 the world became aware of the fact that the people, especially children, of Somalia were starving to death.

The nations of the world rallied then and also in 2011 when the country was stricken with yet another famine. The death toll in the famine of 1992 was lower than in 2011-2012. It is estimated that 258,000 people died in the most recent hunger disaster to hit the country. Over half of that number were children.

Watch this short clip from Time to learn more about it:

How A Predictable Drought Became A Tragic Famine In Somalia | TIME

Final Words

Unfortunately, these disasters been happening since the world started recording them. Some are small and some are intense. Regardless of the intensity, it is safe to say that these disasters can affect millions of people, communities, and governments.

The past century alone has seen several devastating natural disasters. We do not know what the future holds, but we can say that if and when another one strikes, it’ll be added to the list of the world’s worst natural disasters.

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