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10 Most Lethal Natural Disasters in Human History

Sad man on ruined house. Hopeless, homelessness, result of military conflicts and natural disasters concept.

10 Most Lethal Natural Disasters in Human History

The most lethal natural disasters in history aren’t quite what you think. They aren’t massive heatwaves or climatic tsunamis. Instead, some are somewhat mundane and normal occurrences. Despite this, these natural disasters racked up massive body counts. Today’s recap takes a closer look at the fury and ire of nature.

1920 Haiyuan Earthquake

most lethal natural disasters
Landslides buried villages, with buildings and people caught in between.
  • Date: December 16, 1920
  • Location: China
  • Death Toll (Estimated): 273,407

A devastating earthquake in Haiyuan ranks among the most lethal natural disasters. The early evening of December 16th an 8.25 magnitude earthquake rocked the region, which set off aftershocks for the next 3 years. Almost 300,000 people would lose their lives in the aftermath with entire villages wiped off the map.

1139 Ganja Earthquake

most lethal natural disasters
This earthquake took place in modern Azerbaijan.
  • Date: September 30, 1139
  • Location: Seljuk Empire
  • Death Toll (Estimated): Around 300,000

The 12th century saw an estimated 7.7 magnitude earthquake devastate the Seljuk Empire. An estimated 300,000 people would lose their lives across multiple cities around the Caucasus Mountains. Six lakes would form in the wake of one of the most lethal natural disasters in recorded history.

1737 Calcutta Cyclone

most lethal natural disasters
The storm’s path carved through the Calcutta coast.
  • Date: October 1737
  • Location: Bengal, India
  • Death Toll (Estimated): Around 300,000

The very first super cyclone on record in the North Indian Ocean ended up being one of the most lethal natural disasters in recorded history. The cyclone touched down on land on the morning of October 11th, 1737, and resulted in a massive storm surge. Over a quarter million people would lose their lives as extensive damage and record rainfall of 15 inches in six hours swept across the land.

1839 Coringa Cyclone

most lethal natural disasters
Coringa would be renamed Hope Island in the aftermath, a shadow of its former self.
  • Date: November 25, 1839
  • Location: Andhra Pradesh, India
  • Death Toll (Estimated): Around 300,000

November 25th, 1839 saw the second most lethal natural disaster in Indian history strike. A massive tropical cyclone moved inland toward the port city of Coringa, destroying homes and boats alike. A 40-foot storm surge destroyed the city outright, with survivors opting not to rebuild in the wake of the storm.

526 Antioch Earthquake

most lethal natural disasters
The vibrant city of Antioch saw untold destruction in the earthquake’s aftermath.
  • Date: May 526
  • Location: Byzantine Empire
  • Death Toll (Estimated): 300,000

The seventh year of Byzantine Emperor Justin I’s reign saw one of the most lethal natural disasters in recorded history strike. Antioch is in a precarious position when it comes to tectonic plates, and is no stranger to earthquakes. Mid-morning of the end of May, 526 saw a catastrophic earthquake ravage the area with over a quarter of a million people losing their lives.

2010 Haiti Earthquake

Haiti Earthquake
Nothing was safe from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.
  • Date: January 12, 2010
  • Location: Haiti
  • Death Toll (Estimated): 316,000

The most recent of the most lethal natural disasters occurred in the late afternoon of January 12th, 2010. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake started in the town of Leogane, roughly 16 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince. The Haitian government would put the death toll at 316,000 and nearly 3,000,000 people were affected by the damage inflicted by the earthquake.

1970 Bhola Cyclone

Tropical Cyclone
The Bhola Cyclone was the most lethal of an already dangerous 1970 storm season in East Pakistan.
  • Date: November 13, 1970
  • Location: East Pakistan
  • Death Toll (Estimated): 500,000

The deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded also ranks among the most lethal natural disasters of all time. The 1970 Bhola Cyclone saw an estimated half a million people lose their lives as a storm surge swept across the Ganges Delta. The district of Tazumuddin would see nearly half its population die during the disaster.

1976 Tangshan Earthquake

Tangshan Earthquake
Tangshan would be destroyed in mere minutes after the earthquake started.
©National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Public domain - Original / License
  • Date: July 28, 1976
  • Location: China
  • Death Toll (Estimated): 655,000

The deadliest earthquake in recorded history struck on July 28th, 1976. A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck around Tangshan in China in the wee morning hours. Within minutes, Tangshan’s infrastructure was destroyed, and nearly all of its major buildings collapsed. An estimated 655,000 deaths would occur in the wake of the earthquake.

1887 Yellow River Flood

The Yellow River had flooded numerous times throughout history, just never to this extent.
©"Painting of Da Yu Controlling the Yellow River Floods" by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D. is licensed under CC0 1.0. - Original / License
  • Date: September 1887
  • Location: China
  • Death Toll (Estimated): 2,000,000

The devastation wrought by floods is something that seldom gets discussed. The 1887 Yellow River flood was one of the most lethal natural disasters to strike Qing China, with a death toll estimated to be around 2,000,000. The flooding itself wasn’t the sole contributor to deaths, but rather the disease and famine that resulted in its aftermath.

1931 China Floods

Hankou saw record water levels of 53 feet above the average for the area.
©新浪博客「武汉一中老校友」(轉載讀者稿件)/ public domain - Original / License
  • Date: July 1931
  • Location: China
  • Death Toll (Estimated): 4,000,000

China’s issues with river dikes had been the leading cause of the 1887 Yellow River flood. The swelling waters burst through on August 25th, 1931 with devastating results. 140,000 people would drown under the rising waters and the death toll of around 4,000,000 came about as a result of famine and disease. Cholera would sweep through the area the following year, creating even more deaths.

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