Wrath of the Earth. The deadliest natural disasters in history

    28 Sep 2021

    News of the rampage of natural disasters, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Even in our cynical world, where tragedies are constantly happening, it is difficult to get used to such messages. After all, nature kills people with sad regularity. In July 2021 alone, floods in Germany, Belgium, and China have resulted in more than two hundred deaths. And in the history of humanity, there have been natural disasters that have killed more than 5 million people. They were described in the Chas article below.


    China is home to majestic rivers. You heard about at least two of them in school geography lessons. These are the Yangtze and the Yellow River. They originate in the Tibetan Plateau at an altitude of over 4 km and carry their waters to the Yellow and East China Seas. These are the longest rivers in Eurasia, stretching for more than 5,000 km.

    There are not many wonders of nature on the planet as grand as the Yangtze and Yellow river. But these rivers hide a colossal destructive force. Seven of the ten most significant floods in the world in the last 100 years were caused by them. And the catastrophe of 1931, in general, can be considered one of the darkest pages in human history.

    Natural conditions then developed most negatively. In 1930, China experienced a very snowy winter, which was replaced by an equally rainy spring. All this water flowed into the rivers, and frequent cyclones that came in 1931 helped her. China usually faces such events about twice a year. But this time, the country survived seven hurricanes only in July 1931. Humanity also made its contribution – at that time, there was a civil war, so dealing with the control and regulation of water levels in rivers was especially difficult.

    The element took advantage of the circumstances to the maximum. By August 1931, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers had come ashore, flooding an area larger than England. But the flood was only the first link in a chain of tragic events. Rivers flooded rice fields, provoking famine in the surrounding areas. Outbreaks of cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery began in unsanitary conditions.

    The exact number of victims of natural disasters, famine, and disease is unknown. According to the most modest estimates, it is one million people. But this is the bottom line. The top is at 3.7 million lives.

    Volcanic eruption

    The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD is one of the most famous natural disasters in history. This is not surprising, given that it destroyed the entire city of Pompeii. But it did not take as many lives as it may seem. Scientists estimate that about 2,000 people died in Pompeii. The deadliest volcanic eruption was much later.

    The site of the tragedy was the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. In April 1815, the Tambora volcano erupted here. The following indicators best illustrate its strength. Before the eruption, the volcano’s height was 4300 meters, and then it decreased by about 1400 meters.

    Of course, such a large-scale natural disaster could not last a minute without human casualties. It is estimated that about 10,000 people died directly during the eruption. Another 82 thousand died from famine and disease that came after the disaster. And these are only those victims that can be directly linked to Tambora.

    The eruption released millions of tons of ash, dust, and sulfur dioxide. The world has come a volcanic winter. In the Northern Hemisphere alone, temperatures dropped by 0.4-0.7° C, causing crop failures and food shortages.

    (Volcanic winter – a decrease in world temperature due to air pollution caused by a large volcanic eruption).

    It is difficult to judge how many starvation deaths can be recorded at the expense of the volcano. But according to Gillen Wood, author of Tambora: An Eruption That Changed the World, “the death toll is likely to reach one million in three years.”


    The tsunami is one of the favorite natural disasters of Hollywood cinematographers. They are easy to understand because a wall of water the size of a house, relentlessly approaching a city, always looks spectacular. But just on the screen. In reality, it is a terrible catastrophe that could take the lives of tens of thousands of people. This is precisely the disaster that happened on December 26, 2004.

    A magnitude 9.1 earthquake shook the Indian Ocean that day, causing a deadly tsunami. About 20 minutes after the shocks, a 30-meter wave reached the nearest inhabited land. On her way was the city of Banda Aceh (Sumatra, Indonesia), which was home to 320 thousand people. The wave killed about a third of them.

    Next hit Thailand. More than an hour has passed since the devastation of Banda Aceh, but residents of the provinces of Phang Nga and Phuket still suffered from the disaster. Five thousand four hundred people died here.

    Giant waves reached the opposite part of the Indian Ocean. They wreaked havoc in Sri Lanka, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and killing about 30,000. The Indian port city of Chennai was also hit, killing at least 10,000.

    The total number of tsunami victims stood at 230 thousand people, making it the deadliest disaster of its kind in history.


    Earthquakes can cause disasters without any tsunamis. Humankind has known this for a long time. Records of these catastrophes began to be kept about 4,000 years ago. That’s how we learned about the most powerful earthquake in history. It was recorded in 1556 in the Chinese province of Shaanxi.

    The chronicles, thanks to which the world knows about this extraordinary event, describe another 26 earthquakes. But it is frightening with stories of accompanying floods, fires that raged for several days, and radical changes in the local landscape. Historical documents claim that the earthquake killed 830 thousand people.

    How accurate this figure is is unknown, but the five-century-old catastrophe is still considered the deadliest of its kind. At least because the level of victims is set too high. The earthquake, which now ranks second in deaths, occurred in Tangshan, China, in 1976 and claimed 225,000 lives.

    After the invention of the Richter scale in 1935, scientists tried to assess the severity of the disaster. They suggested that the magnitude of the earthquake was 8.1-8.3 points. This is not the highest figure in history. Recall the events described above in the Indian Ocean. The largest earthquake in history (magnitude 9.5) in Chile in 1960 killed 5,700 people.

    So why did the Chinese tragedy of the 16th century cause so many deaths? It is believed that the high population density in the region is to blame, as well as the somewhat fragile stone buildings buried under the rubble of many Shaanxi residents. By the way, chronicles claim that after the disaster in the province began to use lighter building materials – wood and bamboo.


    Tropical cyclones, also known as hurricanes and typhoons (the names of this phenomenon differ depending on the region), are destructive and frequent disasters. In the last 50 years, the world has been shaken by about 2,000 such catastrophes. If you count the average number of casualties in the United States during this time, it turns out that in this country alone, hurricanes killed 43 people every day and caused damage amounting to $ 78 million. But the deadliest hurricane occurred in the United States.

    This sad fate befell Bangladesh. Hurricane Bhola came here in November 1970, when the country was not yet on the map, and the territory was considered part of Pakistan. Bangladesh is known for its high population density (1252 people per square kilometer) and for the fact that much of it is located below sea level. Therefore, the hurricane, which brought a destructive wind, which reached a speed of 225 km / h, and floods, caused significant damage to the country.

    Meteorologists warned of an impending disaster, but the local government decided to ignore the threat. Shortly before Bhola in East Pakistan (then the area was called so) came another, weaker hurricane. Authorities ordered to prepare the population for evacuation, but the cyclone subsided without consequences. So before Bhol, she decided not to spend effort and money on it.

    This decision hit the residents hard. The natural disaster and the famine and floods that followed claimed between 300,000 and 500,000 lives.

    However, this is not a complete list of the consequences of Hurricane Bhola. Public outrage over the catastrophic events inspired the beginning of the War of Independence, which ended in 1971 with the proclamation of Bangladesh. In addition, the tragedy was one of the reasons for the founding of the humanitarian organization “Doctors Without Borders”.


    Are you interested in this topic? Let’s learn about “ecological disasters” in Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Spain that happened this summer.

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