Astonishing Natural Disasters In History
By | February 27, 2023
Two days after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, a Japanese home which was adrift miles from the coast of Japan, 2011
It seems like there's a natural disaster every other day somewhere in the world, and it's easy to panic about something with "disaster" right in the name. That's not to say there's nothing to be alarmed about---don't take this as discouragement from following your local authorities' evacuation instructions when the big one hits. It's important to remember, however, that Mother Earth is an old broad. She's been there, done that, and she's survived much worse than what's currently being thrown at her. Well, mostly.
The earthquake that hit Japan in 2011 was notable for two reasons: The sheer financial destruction and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Although relatively few people were killed or injured, hundreds of thousands lost their homes, with 50,000 still living in temporary shelter in six years later. The damage to buildings and the local economy was astronomical, totaling up to $235 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history. The nuclear meltdown was particularly catastrophic, causing nuclear material to wash up as far as the shores of California and Canada along with other tsunami debris.
526 Antioch Natural Disaster
Modern earthquakes are no joke, but when was the last time they obliterated a major city? Such was the fate of the ancient city of Antioch. Located in what is now Turkey, it was one of the most important cities in the world at one time, succeeded only by Rome and Alexandria in size and significance. A few hundred years after it was founded by a former general to Alexander the Great, it was already a happening place with a population of around 500,000, and then it became pretty much the birthplace of Christianity when St. Peter showed up and started preaching. It also sat on top of the intersection of four big ol' tectonic plates. Its location was crucial to maintaining the empire's defense against Persia, though, so they just kind of settled in and hoped for the best.
For about 800 years, things went pretty well. They'd had a few geological scares, but nothing Earth-shattering---that is, until May 526 A.D. Sometime between May 20 and May 29 of that year, an enormous earthquake leveled the city to the ground. It was like if modern-day Los Angeles just up and fell into the ocean one day (which it very well might). Almost all of its great buildings, including a 200-year-old church built by Constantine the Great's son, crumbled to ruins at the city's feet. The city's entire population of 250,000 perished either in the earthquake or the raging fire that swept the city shortly thereafter, because it apparently hadn't suffered enough.
Justin I, the Eastern Roman Emperor at the time, was so affected by the destruction of Antioch and other cities in the empire around the same time that he renounced his regal adornments and "appeared for seven days in sack-cloth." He vowed to restore the city and spent a great deal of money in the process, but just a little over a decade later, it was sacked by Persia, so it was all for nothing. The city never again regained its former glory, though various empires fought over the ruins for the next millennium anyway. Today, the city lies mostly beneath the Orontes River, and try as they might, archaeologists have never been able to recover many of the city's most valuable relics, including the ruins of Constantine's church. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try your hand at scuba-diving if you're ever in the area. Hey, free relics.
1138 Aleppo Earthquake
Tectonic plates don't discriminate, so it's perhaps unsurprising that Aleppo, a Syrian city a stone's throw from ancient Antioch, would suffer its own devastation half a millennium later. The Aleppo earthquake of 1138 was one of the five deadliest earthquakes of all time, killing around 230,000 people and turning its great stone walls into a serious security flaw. Naturally, the Crusaders that had been trying to take the city since 1124 took advantage of the breach, and some Muslim factions tagged along. Fortunately, Syria was soon united under the rule of Nur al-Din Zengi, and the country never experienced turmoil ever again.
1839 India cyclone
On November 25, 1839, the port city of Coringa, India fell victim to one of the worst tropical cyclones in history. Coringa was no stranger to tropical cyclones, having endured one 50 years earlier whose death toll numbered in the tens of thousands, but this one was different. 40-foot storm surges demolished the city, including 20,000 ships. It's probably safe to assume their owners didn't have great insurance, but they had much bigger problems, namely a fatality rate 10 times larger than the earlier cyclone. It was tied for the third deadliest tropical cyclone in history, causing as many as 300,000 deaths. The ruins of Coringa were optimistically renamed Hope Island, but it never recovered and exists today as a tiny fishing village of just 400 families.
1871 Peshtigo Fire
Wildfires have become a big concern in increasingly dry forest lands, but they weren't invented by Smokey the Bear. Seventy years before the first appearance of that ursine ambassador, the city of Peshtigo, Wisconsin suffered the most devastating forest fire the country had ever seen before or since. It allegedly began as a brush fire caused by railroad workers that grew out of control during the unusually dry summer of 1871. Within an hour, the city was gone. Across Peshtigo and 16 neighboring cities, 1.2 million acres of land were destroyed and 1,200 people were killed. The worst part is that it received little media coverage after being overshadowed by the Chicago Fire, which happened the same night. It was apparently a big night for the fire gods.
1889 Johnstown Flood
It's never a good thing to find your city underwater, but the 1889 flood of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was exceptionally severe. After several days of heavy rain in late May of that year, a reservoir owned by a country club whose membership included Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Flick burst from the strain, because they apparently couldn't afford to keep up the repairs. As a result, 20 million tons of water killed more than 2,200 people and washed away 1,600 homes. Three decades later, bodies were still being found as far away as Cincinnati. About 750 of those bodies were never identified and rest today in a section of a local cemetery called the Plot of the Unknown, which you have to admit is at least pretty metal.
1893 Sea Islands Hurricane
Modern hurricanes have destroyed entire cities, but at least these days, we can see them coming. When the Sea Island Hurricanes, the worst natural disaster in the history of the U.S. at that time, struck the islands off the coast of South Carolina on August 27, 1893, there was no system in place for predicting such events, so its residents were caught completely unawares. Families climbed trees to escape the 12-foot floodwaters that drowned thousands of people, and after it was over, the suffering continued. The island's residents mostly lived off the land, so famine became a very real threat after the flood destroyed their crops. The government supplied no aid to the survivors, incensing Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, who mobilized her troops to help the affected communities, which just happened to be composed mostly of former slaves and their families.
1903 Frank Slide rock slide, Crowsnest Pass Alberta
Stevie Nicks has done a lot to romanticize landslides over the years, but the reality of it isn't the stuff of wistful pop songs. Ask the residents of Frank, Alberta, a mining town of only 600 who endured the deadliest landslide in Canadian history on April 27, 1903. Thanks to the geological structure of the deceptively innocently named nearby Turtle Mountain, a chunk of rock the height of the Empire State Building slid down on top of their little town, killing 90 people in approximately as many seconds. Only 18 of the victims were ever recovered from the rubble, making Turtle Mountain almost certainly the most haunted mountain.
1906 San Francisco Earthquake
When residents of California talk about "the big one," they're almost certainly thinking in the backs of their minds about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which was one of the worst natural disasters in American history. In less than a minute, the earthquake that was felt across three different states and the subsequent fires that raged across the city for three days killed 3,000 people, left 400,000 more homeless, and destroyed about 500 blocks of the city. The earthquake confounded scientists, whose studies of it are responsible for much of what we understand about earthquakes today, so at least some good came out of it.
1920 Haiyuan Earthquake
Second only to the Tangshun earthquake (we'll get to that one in a bit) in terms of loss of life, the Haiyuan earthquake of 1920 was one of the deadliest earthquakes of the 20th century. Since many of the areas residents lived in caves dug into the earth, the effects were catastrophic. Over 70% of structured were destroyed in 14 counties, causing $20 million in damage in today's money. So many people were killed that it's difficult to put a precise number on it, but we know that it was anywhere from 234,117 to well over 300,000. Since the Chinese Republic was kind of in the middle of the civil war at the time, the earthquake has been largely overshadowed in the history books, but it's safe to say that they didn't exactly need more trouble.
1928 Okeechobee Hurricane
The Okeechobee Hurricane is somewhat inaccurately named, as it actually began in the Caribbean on September 10, 1928. It first swept across Guadalupe and Puerto Rico before heading towards Florida, killing 1,500 people and destroying millions of dollars of land, but the most fatalities occurred after it hit Lake Okeechobee in South Florida. The lake had been a hotbed of agriculture thanks to its fertile soil, so after the winds pushed the lake out over its levees, at least 2,500 people, mostly farm workers, were drowned in its waters. Florida remains plagued by hurricanes to this day, so this will not be its last appearance here.
1976 Tangshan Earthquake
The earthquake that hit the industrial city of Tangshan, just outside Beijing, in 1976 is considered the deadliest earthquake of the 20th century, killing over 240,000 people and leveling the entire city. The region's soft ground and lax construction standards were thought to be responsible for the magnitude of the damage, so when developers set out to rebuild Tangshan, they made sure things were a little up to code this time. However, the area continues to be plagued by seismic activity, and it's possible those modern events are actually aftershocks of the 1976 earthquake that are still happening to this day.
2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake And Tsunami
Earthquakes that occur on land are clearly no small deal, but it seems like a particularly cruel twist of fate when they happen underwater. Such an earthquake---one of a magnitude of 9.1---occurred in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Indonesia in December 2004. As a result, the ocean floor gained about 40 meters in height, pushing waves toward the coast that grew to 100 feet tall by the time they hit the shoreline just 20 minutes later. Over 100,000 people were killed, and that was before the tsunamis continued all the way to Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and even as far away as South Africa. In total, the tsunamis claimed almost 230,000 lives.
2010 Haiti Earthquake
By 2010, Haiti was already in a bad way, having endured decades of social injustice and political upheaval that left many of its residents living in poverty. Then, an earthquake hit that killed 250,000 people, injured 300,000 more, and left a staggering 1.5 million people homeless. Those "lucky" enough to escape with their lives and bodies intact were crowded into camps in such poor condition that they were soon struck by an outbreak of cholera that killed 8,000 more people. The disaster earned the attention of celebrities like Wyclef Jean, although it's hard to say that helped them much, and after years of rebuilding, the residents still suffering its effects.
A Landslide Closed Highway 1 in California, 2011 (US)
Rain in California is usually a good thing, but in May 2011, it had at least one disastrous effect. A landslide that dumped millions of tons of rocks and dirt onto Highway 1, a famously beautiful highway that connects Los Angeles and San Francisco, causing a 40-foot stretch of the highway to break away and fall straight into the ocean. Miraculously, no one was harmed, but the highway had to be closed for several months for repairs, severely inconveniencing the 4,300 people who drove it every day who were then faced with a 100-mile detour that was presumably nowhere near as scenic.
A Wave hitting the port of A Guarda, northwestern Spain, during a storm.
In early 2017, the unusually warm winter Spain had been experiencing was brought to an end by violent storms that swept all around the coasts of Spain and France. This above photo made its photographer very rich as news outlets around the world picked up the story of storms that were bringing waves 11 meters high and winds of up to 148 kilometers per hour. Flights out of the region were cancelled left and right, so there was no escaping the storm that battered the coast of Spain and left hundreds of thousands of people in southwest France without power.
A Young Man Marooned by Flood Waters Seen from a Helicopter, 2010 (Pakistan)
Flooding is always a concern during monsoon season in southwest Asia, but in the summer of 2010, Pakistan endured the worst floods it had seen in 80 years. In the ensuing calamity, 1,985 people were killed, 1.7 million homes were damaged, and a total of 14 million people were affected in the aftermath of the flooding. Although 60,000 troops were deployed in the relief effort, the disaster received little attention and aid compared to others at the time, and the above photo of a young man marooned by flood waters with his livestock became a famous symbol of the world's apathy toward the Pakistani people.
Afghanistan Blizzard (2008)
In the winter of 2008, Afghanistan was hit with the worst blizzard it had seen in three decades. As temperatures of -22 degrees Fahrenheit brought a relentless onslaught of snow and avalanches, 926 people were killed, 231 were injured, 170,000 were hospitalized with pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, and over 1,000 homes were damaged. The population that took the biggest hit, however, were the animals: About 316,000 sheep, goats, cattle, and other livestock were killed by the blistering cold. As most of the area's residents were impoverished peasants who relied on their livestock, this not an insignificant blow to the human population as well.
Alabama's Tornado, 2011
The above photo could very well be a screenshot from the 1996 hit disaster movie Twister, but it was taken in 2011 during a historic tornado outbreak in Alabama. On April 27, a whopping 62 tornadoes swept the state, which usually experiences the same number in entire year on average. Hundreds of people were killed as a direct result of the storm, and thousands more lost their lives in the aftermath, mostly due to the sequence of the storms. The first knocked out power systems and lines of communication early that morning, so many assumed the worst was over and had no way of knowing that a second storm was coming their way later that afternoon.
Blowdown of trees after Mt St Helens erupted in 1980
On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in southwest Washington state, decapitating itself to the tune of about 1,000 feet. The blast destroyed everything within eight miles of the mountain and knocked down trees as far as 19 miles away, as shown in the photo above. It expelled a staggering 540 million tons of ash into the atmosphere, which was found by people in a total of seven different states, and they didn't draw them small in that part of the country. It killed 57 people and destroyed 200 homes, making it the most destructive eruption in the country's history.
California wildfires were a series of 63 wildfires that were active in the state of California during the year 2009
This is why rain is usually welcome in California: Wildfires sweep the dry forestlands every summer, and in 2009, it was particularly intense. The fire that's become known as the Station fire was especially noteworthy, destroying over 160,000 acres in the largest fire in the history of Los Angeles County. Over the course of a little less than two months, it incinerated 209 buildings and cost the local government at least $100 million to contain. As autumn closed in, it brought wetter conditions, which was the only thing that kept 2009 from being an exceptional year in California wildfires.
Central china floods 1931.
In August 1931, unusually heavy rain and snow following an unusually dry couple of years caused a flood that is considered one of the deadliest natural disasters of the 20th century. Several rivers in central China spilled over into the land, leaving an area bigger than the entire country of England underwater. Millions of people drowned and many more died later of diseases like typhus and cholera that was carried in the water, with a total death toll of up to four million people. The region was so physically and economically damaged that tales of cannibalism and the sale of children and wives by desperate people fighting to stay alive emerged in the aftermath.
Colorado Big Thomson flood of 1976 washed out Highway 34.
On July 31, 1976, a sudden torrent of rain struck the mountains of northern Colorado just outside the Rocky Mountain National Park until the Big Thompson swelled from its usual depth of 18 inches to about 20 feet high. The air was so humid that many residents found it hard to breathe, but with the water flooding in, knocking out power lines and toppling bridges, they had bigger problems. Few escapes, and many who tried got trapped in their cars as the water carried them away. In total, the flood took 143 lives and caused $35 million in damage to the surrounding homes and infrastructure.
Cyclone Nargis, Burma, Sri Lanka, 2008.
In May 2008, a Category 4 cyclone passed over Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Bringing winds that were as fast as 130 miles per hour at one point, the cyclone almost directly passed over Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, which at that time had a population of over four million. It's not known how many people died in the ensuing destruction: While the official count numbered about 90,000, many people went missing and were never found, meaning the death toll could be in the millions. It was certainly one of the most expensive natural disasters, causing over $10 billion in damage. Yes, that's with a "B."
Devastation caused by Hurricane Irma
In 2017, Hurricane Irma assaulted the Caribbean and parts of the southern United States with winds that, at one point, sped at 185 miles per hour for 37 hours. As it moved from Barbuda to Puerto Rico to Cuba to Florida, it brought with it as much as 15 inches of rain in some places and caused a total of $50 billion in damage. While it had a relatively low death toll of 129, it was only because so many millions were able to evacuate, but many of them no longer had homes to return to. At one point, 77,000 Floridians were crowded into just 450 shelters, and 60% of the population of Barbuda was left homeless.
Eyjafjallajokull Volcano, 2010 (Iceland)
In April 2010, this unpronounceable volcano erupted in a terrifying mushroom of ash that blotted out the Sun for days across farmland in Iceland. The eruption and ensuing flooding from the snow that melted and ran down the mountain was thankfully a deathless event, but it was disgusting: Residents reported that the sulphuric ash gave off a strong smell of rotten eggs. It was also inconvenient: Flights all around Europe were cancelled after Iceland was declared a no-fly zone, as officials feared the ash would damage aircraft engines. The eruption continued until mid-June but wasn't officially declared over until October just to be safe.
Galveston Hurricane of 1900
Many of these events are considered the deadliest or most devastating natural disasters of their kind or in their time, but there can only be one on top, and that dubious honor goes to the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. No matter what Mother Nature throws at it, it remains the deadliest natural disaster in American history. Between 6,000 and 12,000 people died in what was at the time Texas's most advanced city, mostly because in those early days of the 20th century, the procedure for determining the severity of a storm was "look out the window." The people simply had no way of knowing how bad it was going to be until 15-foot waves completely submerged Galveston Island. They've since built a wall around the island measuring 17 feet, to give themselves some wiggle room.
Gujarat Earthquake (2001)
Imagine you're eating hot dogs and watching fireworks on the Fourth of July when you're suddenly rocked by one of the worst disasters in your country's history. That's what happened on January 26, 2001, India's Republic Day, in the state of Gujarat. In just over two minutes, a giant earthquake killed over 19,000 people and injured 166,000 more. To make matters worse, more than 500 aftershocks occurred over the course of the next two months. Most of the state was destroyed, leaving its residents homeless and its economy in shambles, but the people of Gujarat banded together and rebuilt their state so successfully that their efforts are considered an ideal model for disaster recovery.
Hurricane Andrew (1993)
As has been the prevailing trend for modern hurricanes, Hurricane Andrew caused relatively few deaths, but it was outrageously expensive. After it hit the Bahamas and southern United States in 1992, only 26 people lost their lives, but about 125,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, leaving 250,000 people homeless just in Florida's Dade County. The total cost to insurance companies was $23.7 billion. The hurricane was notable for changing the way insurance companies calculate the price of homeowner's insurance in Florida, which remains to this day one of the most expensive places to buy homeowner's insurance. Whoever wrote that on their roof probably didn't help their claim.
Hurricane Harvey (2017)
The 2017 hurricane season, which included Hurricanes Irma, Marie, and Harvey, broke a lot of records, and Harvey had its fair share. At a total cost of $125 billion in damages, Harvey was the second-most expensive hurricane in the U.S. since 1900, and it poured an unprecedented 51 inches of rain over parts of Texas. In less than a week, southeastern Texas saw as much rain as they usually get in a year. The day after it arrived, the Category 4 hurricane was downgraded to a mere tropical storm, which probably wasn't much comfort to the 30,000 people who were forced to flee their homes as winds of up to 130 miles per hour tore them down.
Hurricane Katrina, USA, 2005
2005's Hurricane Katrina is a legend in New Orleans, a haunting specter that put 80% of the city underwater and killed 1,833 people. It was the most expensive storm in U.S. history, damaging local economies in ways that are still felt to this day. It's most well-known for the political controversy that followed a delayed government response to the largely non-white, impoverished community. As millions of people crowded into insufficient facilities like the local convention center and Superdome, Kanye West famously raged during a Katrina charity concert that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Many government officials were forced to resign in the aftermath.
Hurricane Maria in 2017 at Puerto Rico
Bringing up the rear in the trio of historic storms to hit the U.S. in late summer 2017 was Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster to ever strike Puerto Rico, Dominica, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It's famous for causing the largest blackout the U.S. had ever seen, knocking out power for 1.5 million people in Puerto Rico. It took 11 months to restore power to the entire island. In the meantime, the effects of the damage were felt around the country, as Puerto Rico is a major supplier of medical equipment. Shortages of supplies like IV bags forced hospitals to improvise until the island recovered.
Hurricane Sandy 2012
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy raged from the Caribbean to the southern United States, tearing a path all the way up the east coast to New York. It caused a storm surge that broke records in New York Harbor, which measured waves at all-time highs of 32.5 feet, and shut down the New York Stock Exchange for two days for the first time due to weather in more than 100 years. At $71 billion in damages, it was the second-most expensive storm in U.S. history until the 2017 hurricane season. It killed 146 people in the U.S. and the Caribbean and exactly one person in Canada, who must have been having a very unlucky day indeed.
Mount Asama Eruption-Kanbara August 1783
In 1793, the people of Japan were in the middle of the Great Tenmei Famine, so they were already having a pretty rough go of it when Mount Asama, about 80 miles outside Tokyo, blasted off in a plinian eruption, which is Latin for "really bad." The eruption lasted an exhausting three months, during which time over 1,000 people were killed and four whole villages were destroyed. The mountain has a long history of eruptions that continues to this day, the most recent being in 2015. Although none have been as bad the catastrophe of 1793, the Japanese people still keep a wary eye on it.
Mt. Kilauea poured out lava from 22 fissures across Hawaii’s Big Island, 2018
Mount Kilauea in Hawaii has no chill. It erupted constantly from 1983 to 2018, but that summer, the amount of lava it spewed out was unprecedented. Nearby residential communities were evacuated due to the threat of lava and hazardous gas, and it kept it up from May to September. It was such a huge eruption that it changed the topography of Hawaii, even creating a tiny little baby island about 30 feet across that it proceeded to unceremoniously bury before it could even come to terms with its existence. It has stopped erupting for now, but it's only a matter of time before it gets grumpy again.
Mudslide in Peru, Colombia in 2007
"Mudslide" is a fun word evoking memories of playing outside on warm rainy days and chocolatey cocktails, but the reality is decidedly less whimsical. The country of Peru learned this the hard way in 2007 after a weekend of relentless rain caused catastrophic mudslides that killed at least 16 people, many of them children whose homes were picked up by the mud in the middle of the night. Another 20 people were unaccounted for, and 150 families were left homeless after the mudslides destroyed their homes, left searching the mud for anything they could recover like a really depressing Old West theme park attraction.
Nevado del Ruiz Volcano Eruption (1985)
The 1985 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia shouldn't have been such a big deal. It wasn't a huge eruption, but it melted the glacier it wore as a hat, creating enormous mudflows that raced down the volcano toward the towns below. They were powerful enough to pick up cars and trees that had the misfortune of being in their way, so by the time the mudflows reached the people, they had no chance. In total, 23,000 people were killed, including 70% of the town of Armero. In terms of sheer numbers, the real victim was the coffee: About half a million bags, along with about 30% of other crops, were destroyed.
New Zealand Earthquake (2011)
Around lunchtime on February 22, 2011, many of the people of the bustling New Zealand city of Christchurch were off to get their kiwi sandwiches when they thought "Not again." Just six months earlier, they had been hit by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake, and that February afternoon, they were chosen again. Although less powerful, this earthquake was more destructive because its epicenter was so close to the city. Many of the buildings that were damaged in the previous earthquake couldn't hold on, and 185 people were killed, mostly in the collapse of the Canterbury Television building in Christchurch Central City.
Oct. 12, 1962 The steeple atop historic Campbell Hall, on the Oregon College of Education Campus, Monmouth.
On October 12, 1962, the Columbus Day Storm, as it has come to be known, tore through Oregon in the worst windstorm the state had ever seen. People who saw it describe the sky as a bizarre color of yellow and green, filled with clouds that brought storms strong enough to hurl a truck over the side of the bridge on which it had been stuck in traffic. A total of 46 people died and $1.25 billion of damage in 2012 dollars was done, including the toppling of the steeple on top of Campbell Hall, an 1871 building on the campus of Western Oregon University and the oldest building in the Oregon university system.
On February 6, 2012, at least 52 people were killed when a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit the Philippines
Remember the thing about underwater earthquakes? Yeah, about that. The one that occurred off the coast of the Philippines in 2012 actually didn't cause deadly tsunamis. Alerts for them were issued, but they were called off when none ended up appearing. Instead, the landslides that followed the earthquake caused most of its dozens of casualties. A number of important buildings were destroyed, and telecommunications went down in many already isolated areas, compounding the earthquake's effects. Fun fact: The Philippines is in what's known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire," which sounds a lot cooler than it is, so it's at an increased risk for seismic activity.
Red sandstorm at Broken Hill in Australia in 2010
A good rule of thumb in Australia is to expect the unexpected when it comes to the natural world, but even the residents of Sydney were surprised when they woke up on the morning of September 23, 2009 to find that their city has turned red. No, it wasn't the culmination of the apocalypse clearly forecast by Australia's deposits of huge spiders and snakes: It was just the Sun hitting an exceptionally brimstoney cloud of dust. Strong winds from drought-stricken areas had brought it into the city, and it eventually passed into the ocean, where it encouraged the growth of carbon dioxide--eating phytoplankton. Isn't that nice?
Residents sleep on a building pavement, to escape heat and frequent power outage in their residence area Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2018
In May 2018, a perfect storm of citywide power outages and temperatures climbing to 111 degrees Fahrenheit proved deadly in Karachi, Pakistan. The destruction of much of the city's green space to make room for housing exacerbated the effects of the cyclical heat waves, to the point that one urban designer feared the city would be "unlivable" in another 15 years. Combined with the population's weakened state due to the religious fasting that occurs during the season, up to 65 people died. People were desperate to escape the heat however they could, resulting in the photo above.
Spanish Influenza (1918)
"Spanish flu" is a pretty rude name for a disease that originated in Kansas, but there was a war going on, so it soon spread around the world and no one wanted to report that it came from them. Spain, a neutral party, was the first country where it received significant media coverage, so everyone was more than happy to point the finger at them. It was one of the world's deadliest pandemics, causing 50 million deaths worldwide and infecting 10 times more, one-third of the world's population. There were no vaccines or antibiotics to treat it, so the pandemic had to be contained through vigilant isolation, as seen in the photo above.
Supercell Thunderstorm in Montana, 2010 (US)
The above photo was taken during a storm that caused some of the least damage of anything you'll see here, but boy, it sure looks cool. It's called a supercell, which is a thundercloud that "contains a deep and persistent rotating updraft called a mesocyclone." We don't know what that means, but the result is benignly terrifying. This one happened just west of Glasgow, Montana in July 2010, and pretty much just hung out for several hours, scaring the bejeesus out of the local residents who must have thought they were about to be abducted by aliens, before nonchalantly moving on.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse from the top of the suspension cables in 1940
The Tacoma Narrows bridge was an important bridge, the third-longest suspension in the world at the time, connecting two large cities in Washington over the Puget Sound. It was also constructed during a time when engineers were mostly guessing when it came to how much force their structures could withstand. This proved disastrous on November 7, 1940, just four months after the bridge opened, when high winds knocked a 600-foot section of bridge loose, leaving the rest of it swinging wildly until the whole thing collapsed. Remarkably, the only victim was a dog named Tubby, and what was left of the bridge ended up forming one of the world's largest man-made reefs at the bottom of the Puget Sound.
The 1887 Yellow River Flood
Someone should arrest the Yellow River, because it's killed more people than any other river anywhere in the world. Over the years, mostly the ones between 1887 and 1938, it's killed several million people, earning it the nickname "China's Sorrow." In 1887, the dikes built by nearby villagers were breached by heavy rainfall, killing almost one million people. The flood ended up sinking 50,000 square miles of land, leaving two million people homeless. It was the worst flood the area had ever seen ... until 1931. The Yellow River flood of 1931 killed a staggering four million people. Why does this river walk free?
The 2005 Pakistan earthquake registered 7.6 on the Richter scale
On October 8, 2005, an earthquake hit just northeast of the capital of Kashmir in Pakistan, obliterating huge swaths of the region. In most earthquakes, some buildings are damaged or even destroyed, but in Pakistan, entire sections of town broke off and fell down cliffs as a 7.6-magnitude earthquake rang out across the region that morning. To make matters worse, among the structures destroyed were the roads, limiting emergency service workers' ability to reach the affected residents. It was the worst earthquake the region had ever seen, and it was felt as far away as India and Afghanistan. More than 80,000 people died, and four million more were left homeless.
The aftermath of the Ice Storm of 1998 in Ontario
In January 1998, a perfect storm of weather systems descended upon Quebec and Ontario, begetting an onslaught of ice caused by more rain than they usually see in an average year over the course of five days. As a layer of ice 4 inches thick coated southern Quebec and eastern Ontario, power went out left and right and all the roads were closed, which was fine, because everyone's cars were frozen to the spot. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Quebec were reduced to walking to their headquarters. It was one of Canada's worst natural disasters with a death toll of 35 people, three of whom were just trying to clear the snow and ice off their roofs weeks after the storm was over.
Undersea Volcano in Tonga, 2009 ( Polynesian)
Yes, underwater volcanoes are a thing, and they're a whole lot scarier than anything you'll see in a Pixar short. In 2009, one erupted in the South Pacific between Australia and Tahiti, shooting thousands of meters of smoke, ash, and steam into the sky. It looked downright apocalyptic, but thankfully, it was pretty harmless, as the wind blew the smoke and other pollutants away from the people on the islands. The biggest worry was that the pumice the volcano spewed out would clog up the local beaches, so people were free to stand around and take pictures, as shown in the image above.
Valdivia Earthquake, Chile, 1960
We've seen a lot of powerful earthquakes here---9.0, 9.1---but the biggest of the big daddies was the one that struck Chile in 1960. At a magnitude of 9.5, the Valdivia Earthquake was the most powerful earthquake in the history of the world, crumbling 621 miles of the coast of Chile into dust. The subsequent tsunami reached across the Pacific as far as New Zealand, Japan, and the Philippines, completely destroying an entire town in Hawaii. Shockingly, only 1,655 people died, although two million were left homeless and the estimated damages were more than $2 billion in today's dollars.