Since the dawning of life on earth, humans and animals have been dealing with natural disasters. While we don’t necessarily have records of all the havoc Mother Nature has wreaked on the planet, archaeological findings have given us a pretty good idea of some major disasters that have happened in the past. A good example is the wiping out of the entire Minoan civilization in 1500 BC after a tsunami followed a volcanic eruption.
Here are some examples of natural disasters throughout history that have resulted in significant loss:
Hurricane Katrina in 2005
Hurricane Katrina is one of the most memorable natural disasters to hit the United States in recent history. The Category 5 hurricane struck the Gulf Coast and caused over $125 billion in damages to communities in Florida and eastern Texas, and most notably the city of New Orleans. New Orleans sustained the most destruction, with 80 percent of the city becoming flooded due to the failure of surge protections surrounding the city, which lies below sea level. More than 1,800 deaths were attributed to the storm.
Haiti earthquake in 2010
In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island of Haiti in the Caribbean. The epicenter of the quake was located just southwest of the country’s capital Port-Au-Prince, and it was reported that nearly 230,000 people were killed. However, that number has been disputed by many different international agencies. In spite of these discrepancies, sizeable humanitarian aid efforts were undertaken, with over $300 million in aid going to the island country.
Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004
The Indian Ocean earthquake, also known as the Boxing Day Tsunami, occurred on December 26, 2004, off the western coast of Sumatra. While the magnitude of the quake was estimated to be between 9.1 and 9.3, the quake lasted only 10 seconds. The most damage came from the tsunami that was triggered by the quake. It flooded 14 countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. It is estimated that nearly 230,000 people were killed. The quake triggered further tremors in Alaska. Countries around the world donated $14 billion in humanitarian aid.
Bhola cyclone in 1970
In 1970, a cyclone struck what was then East Pakistan, killing an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people. Winds reached 115 mph, and the storm destroyed crops and villages in its path.
The storm occurred a month before a primary election in the region. Unsatisfactory relief efforts, which were criticized by local media in Pakistan as well as international media, led to the Bangladesh Awami League taking control of the region. Unrest in the area resulted in the Bangladesh Liberation War, which further devastated the populations in the area. The Bhola cyclone is considered the first natural disaster to trigger a civil war.
China floods in 1931
China experienced significant droughts from 1928 to 1930. However, a harsh winter in 1930 led to large snowpacks in the mountains. The excess snow caused massive runoff in the spring of 1931, which caused the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and the Huai River to overflow into the surrounding areas. The floods inundated 180,000 square kilometers of the country. Those living in low-lying areas were forced to evacuate their homes, leaving millions homeless. Estimates put the death toll in a range from 422,000 to more than 4 million.
Nearly 53 million people were affected by the flood in some way. Many people died of diseases related to the flood, such as malaria, cholera, dysentery, and the measles. Many rice crops were destroyed in the floods leading to widespread famine. Many people died of starvation, and to survive, people sold their children for food and even turned to cannibalism.
Haiyuan earthquake of 1920
The 1920, the Haiyuan Earthquake struck China. It is also known as the Gansu Earthquake and considered the fourth worst earthquake ever recorded. It’s estimated that over 273,000 people were killed in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake. The quake caused damage in seven different regions of the country, with a landslide even burying the whole village of Sujiahe in Xiji County.
The earthquake was so strong that geological features in the surrounding regions changed. Landslides and ground cracks appeared, while some rivers changed course or became dammed.
Coringa Cyclone in 1839
A cyclone hit the port city of Coringa in India in 1839. Nearly 20,000 vessels in the port were lost, while approximately 300,000 people were killed. The port city was no stranger to this kind of disaster, as it had been hit in 1789 by another cyclone that killed nearly 20,000 people. An official from the British East India Company, Henry Piddington, coined the word “cyclone” after seeing the resulting destruction to this area.
Shaanxi earthquake in 1556
The Shaanxi earthquake is known as the deadliest earthquake on record. The quake hit on January 23, 1556, killing an estimated 830,000 people. Approximately 100 counties were affected by the earthquake, with death tolls nearing 60 percent of the population in some counties. At the time, many people in the area lived in caves which were made of silt that had accumulated over time. When the earthquake hit, many of these caves collapsed, which was one of the leading causes of death.
Aleppo earthquake in 1138
The city of Aleppo in Syria sits on top of the fault line where the Arabian and African geologic plates meet. Since the earthquake was so long ago, there are no records of the magnitude of the earthquake. However, the houses and citadel in the city, as well as the surrounding areas, crumbled. The death toll is estimated to be around 230,000.
Antioch earthquake in 526 AD
This earthquake hit the city of Antioch in the Byzantine Empire in May of 526 AD. Reports state that the quake struck at mid-morning and killed an estimated 250,000 people. Buildings that survived the earthquake were subsequently burned by a fire triggered by the quake.
Antioch sits in a triple junction where six different geologic plates meet: the Dead Sea Transform (the boundary between the African and Arabian Plate), the Cyprus Arc (the boundary between the Arabian and Anatolian Plate), and the East Anatolian Fault (the boundary between the Anatolian and Arabian Plate). Since the region is rife with so many tectonic plates, the area has continued to be affected by a variety of geological disasters.
While the world is still greatly affected by natural disasters, modern technologies have given governments and people a better chance of preparing for these calamities. Loss of life can never entirely be prevented in the event of a disaster, but with more technology and resources, governments have been able to handle humanitarian aid and utilize resources to fend off disease and other sufferings that can run rampant following disasters of the past.