Earthquakes, Floods, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and other
natural phenomena could not be regarded as disasters if no civilisation
were affected by these hazards. Contemporary generations here in the
21st century may be forgiven for thinking that recent times have been
the toughest due to the awe of the events we have witnessed (as in the
302 recorded disasters in 2011). This would include the recent terrifying
earthquake/tsunami in Japan and the damage to their nuclear power
plant facility. However, records show that 2011 was a particularly quiet
year compared to the last 10 years and there are far greater horrific
historical events that dwarf any perils of the 21st century.
In developed countries of the world human fatalities of natural disasters
tend to be much less than developing countries due to their ability to
react and state of preparedness. However, developed countries usually
incur significant economical losses whilst developing countries do not
have the resources and rely on international assistance. Population
density also plays a significant role in disastrous events.
A natural disaster is typically defined as an occurrence which triggers
the consequence of natural events that overwhelm the capacity of l0cal
response as well as significantly affect the region’s economical/social
If you are seeking to gain more insight into how to handle emergencies and
how best to protect yourself and others, consider taking course in emergency
management at AMC Online.
The International Disaster Database (EM-DAT) do not consider any
events as a ‘disaster’ unless there is a declaration of a state of emergency;
there is a call for international assistance; involves ten or more reported
human fatalities or a report of 100 humans affected in any event.
10.Banquiao Dam Failure 1975 China &
Aleppo Earthquake Syria 1138:
We have two contenders for the #10 natural disasters of the world
spot because the death tolls involved in both calamities are so closely
similar. There is only consistency with China’s death record inaccuracy
throughout most of the available literature. Therefore both events
deserve place at this position.
Aleppo in Syria
Aleppo is situated to the North of the Dead Sea. Aleppo was hit by an
earthquake which was the first of a sequence of two intense earthquakes
(the first in 1138 & the second in 1139). Harim is where the citadel had
been built by the Crusaders and it was the worst hit area. The castle and
church were destroyed as was the Muslims fort of Atharib. The citadel
killed hundreds of the castle guard as it collapsed upon them. This was a
brutally powerful earthquake that took 230,000 lives.
Banquiao Dam Failure
This Chinese dam was designed to withstand a 1-in-1000-yr flood
(basically a 12 inches rainfall velocity per day). However, in 1975 a 1-in-
2000-yr flood took hold (in other words in 24 hours an excess of a year’s
precipitation occurred). The system was unable to withstand this volume
of waterfall especially the movement of sediments that caused fatal
blockages. This resulted in the failure of 64 dams which consequently
burst unleashing a 3-7 meter high and 6 miles wide wave to transcend
downward onto the lower plains at a velocity of 31 mph (50 kilometres
per hour). This wiped out a vast expanse of lands creating 4,600 sq
miles of lake. No excavation orders had been given either because of
inadequate communications as well as unfavourable weather conditions.
231,000 estimated lives were lost in this disaster.
9. Haiyuan Earthquake in China 1920 (Ningxia-Gansu):
This devastatingly powerful earthquake hit China at 8.5 magnitude
(Richter scale) killing 273,400 people in the Haiyuan County (an
Autonomous Region) but it also rocked neighbouring provinces namely
Gansu and Shaanxi. This was one of the most intense and highest
magnitude earthquakes recorded in the 20th century to hit China. The
damage was severe and the death toll was not established until 1921.
8. The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004:
The US Geological Survey estimated that this earthquake delivered the
equivalent amount of energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-like atomic bombs.
This unleashed giant killer waves that moved at jet airliner speed across
the Indian Ocean. The energy behind these phenomena (between 9.1-
9.3 magnitude) was actually enough to cause the entire planet Earth to
vibrate 0.5” or 1cm+. The death toll was estimated to be in the region of
between 230,210-300,000 human fatalities across the bordering land
masses of the Indian Ocean.
7. The Tangshan Earthquake in China 1976:
A million inhabitants populated this Chinese industrial city that got
struck directly by a 7.8-8.2 magnitude (Richter scale estimate) in the
early hours. This is one of the biggest earthquakes to directly hit a major
city which caused anything between 234,117-300,000 human fatalities
over a period of just 15 seconds.
The Chinese government turned their backs on international aid and
were met by a lot of criticism about incompetence and because they
ignored scientific warnings before the event.
6. Antioch Earthquake 526
This disaster is perhaps the most fascinating yet as devastating as an
earthquake can get. This event was recorded in detail in the style of
that period. Antioch was a great exciting city, a place controlling a key
trading route between Europe and the entire East. It is situated about 20
miles from the Mediterranean coast on the Orontes River.
A busy Roman styled cosmopolitan setting steeped with history. This
city was always busy but it was Ascension Day at its height of bustling
human activity. The earthquake struck at a time when all were feasting
in buildings that viciously collapsed upon the dwellers crushing them
Fear wreaked amongst those that barely survived the crush but they
would have been better off engulfed by rubble and put quickly out of
their misery. Unforgiving aftershocks rumbled and battered the city
all the more but this time mustering up a devils fire that engulfed this
meeting place of death, whilst survivors to this misery burned while alive
trapped by rubble in a hellish scream.
The cursed sky erupted in a melee of strange hot fiery bright flashing
cinders that seemingly rained down shrouding all under a burning
blanket of wicked doom. Nothing appeared to escape from under that
wretched hot rubble save those that the story described, like it was a
birth of miracles and other bizarre poetic justices that followed.
Maybe these were stories to bury the memory and to sooth the pains.
To give hope to those bewildered and torn peoples at those times or
perhaps a truth that few today may never believe. An estimated 250.000-
300,000 people died in that carnage and perhaps there was truth behind
this elaborate tale. Who knows, it’s an interesting read all the same.
5. The Haiti Earthquake 2010
This earthquake was recorded at 7.0 magnitude and consequently also
delivered a minimum of 52 aftershocks (measuring 4.5+ magnitude).
At least 3 million people were terrorised by this power blasting event. It
is thought that 316,000 people had died, 300,000 injured and millions
ended up homeless. This awesome phenomena left around 280,000
building structures levelled to the ground.
The following two disasters may well have taken this spot at #5 but until
there is reliable clarification on validity of the death toll recorded they
remain mentioned here as realistic contenders:
The 1839 Coringa Cyclone & The Calcutta Cyclone 1737:
Both of these disasters appear to mention fatality figures in the region
of 300,000 human deaths (& the destruction of 20,000 ships). There is
no clear evidence to suggest whether there had been a mix up with the
records. It was widely believed that the 1737 Calcutta disaster was the
cause of an earthquake but contemporary belief is that it was a tropical
cyclone. One thing is very clear in that this region has been hit by many
devastating cyclones and popular records indicated the quoted figures.
The 1839 cyclone was described as a 40ft tidal wave which wiped out the
harbour and 300,000 inhabitants.
4. Bhola Cyclone in Bangladesh 1970
It is interesting to note here that in theory there are 3 potential
contenders for this #4 devastating natural disaster spot. This is
mainly down to the uncertainty of the accuracies of the death toll
figures associated with this Bhola cyclone in 1970, the 1976 Tangshan
earthquake in China and the Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004. Either
way this cyclone is known to be one of the deadliest disasters to hit the
Bay of Bengal. The 1991 Bangladesh cyclone was recorded to be even
stronger than the Bhola cyclone; consequently killing at least 138,000
people and making 10 million people homeless. One would like to think
that lessons were learnt in 1970 when the tropical Bhola cyclone struck
killing somewhere between 500,000-100,000 people in East Pakistan.
3. The Shaanxi Earthquake 1556 (The ‘Jiajing Great
It is perhaps not so surprising that China is historically plagued by
disastrous earthquakes because it is situated within the most seismically
active regions in the world. Since the 1900s it had suffered 8 very
destructive earthquakes and again in 2008 in the province Sichuan.
In 1556 China was ruthlessly delivered the Shaanxi Earthquake
measuring estimated ranges from 8.0-8.1 on the Richter scale. Central
China consequently had 8 provinces and 98 of its countries destroyed
killing approximately 60% (830,000 people) of its populations. This
has been known as the most devastating earthquake ever. The second
most destructive earthquake occurred in China in 1976 (the Tangshan
earthquake) which killed an estimated 242,419-655,000 people and
injuring a further 780,ooo people. It is because of uncertainties in the
death toll records that the Tangshan earthquake is not listed as the 4th
most devastating natural disaster.
2. The Yellow River Flood in China 1887:
This region of China (Huang He) is a huge expanse of flat lands
which are susceptible to flooding. Over the centuries dykes had been
constructed by local farmers in order to control rising water levels
brought about by the nature of the river bed silt accumulation. The
dykes were breached in 1887 due to heavy rainfall, consequently rapidly
flooding this Northern area of China covering a land mass of 50,000
sq miles (approx.). Many were killed in the flood which left 2 million
people homeless and as many lives that perished from the flood died in
a resulting pandemic. The total estimated recorded death figures are set
between 900,000-2,000,000 people.
1. The Yellow River Flood in China 1931 (Hung He Flood often
called ‘China’s sorrow’):
This 20th century event is commonly regarded as the most deadly of all
natural disasters (outside of pandemic fatality records that possibly do
not include all those that died from the Asian flu worldwide between
A land mass area of 88,000 sq km was completely wiped out by the flood
plus an additional area of 21,000 sq km of partial flooding resulting
in the numbers of between (approx.) 1-4 million human deaths in that
We are all familiar today with the recent Japanese 2011 earthquake
which involved the destruction of 140,000 sq km of land mass (as well
as the $210 billion loss), the destruction of 114,500 sq km land mass
of the Pakistan flood 2010 or the Thailand flood in 2011, the Haiti or
Chile earthquake 2010 or even the 850,000 sq km of Australian lands
destroyed in their 2010 flood. The total combined human fatalities of all
these events amounted to 246,033 (approx.), therefore compared to the
millions of human fatalities involved in the Yellow River Flood in 1931;
those latter death figures are trivial.
When we consider pandemics over time into any disaster equation, we
are dealing with numbers of human deaths so large it is mind-blowing:
The Black Death 1300s-1720s death totals (approx.) 100,000,000
Spanish Flu 1918-1920 death totals (approx.) 50,ooo,000-100,000,000
Plague of Justinian 540-590 death totals (approx.) 40,ooo,000-100,000,000
3rd pandemic of Bubonic Plague 1850s-1850s death totals (approx.) 12,ooo,000
Antonine Plague 165-180 death totals (approx.) 5,ooo,000
Asian Flu 1956-1958 death totals (approx.) 4,ooo,000
Smallpox 1900-1980 death totals (approx.) 300,ooo,000
Measles last 150 years death totals (approx.) 200,ooo,000?
Malaria 20th century-to date death totals (approx.) 80,ooo,000-250,000,000
Tuberculosis 20th century-to date death totals (approx.) 40,ooo,000-100,000,000
AIDS pandemic 1981-to date death totals (approx.) 25,25o,000
Seasonal Influenza since 2009 death totals (approx.) 250,000 per year