Top 40, now top 66 - World's Worst Natural Disasters
Across Pacific & Asia

World's Worst disasters bnr

Compiled by David B. Hall

The world has seen many disasters over the years. Many were caused by people - wars, terrorists... Others are sometimes referred to as "acts of God".  It's very difficult to rank them because there are different ways of defining "worst" (some would just count the dead, others would include the injured, still others would measure in terms of the amount of dollars required to repair the damages, or somehow calculate the damage to the environment...) and there are different ways of defining "natural". Nevertheless the following is a substantial list of some of the world's worst natural disasters.  All of these disasters took more than 25,000 lives. 43 of these disasters took over 100,000 lives (see second disaster list near the end for death toll rank).

Note: These 66 are listed sequentially, not by amount of lives lost or damage done. Some may have other situations which COULD be included in preference to some of these. Note also, we're only going back less than 900 years here, because there's little record to document natural disasters prior to that.

Also note that many figures are only rough estimates. As we have seen recently, after so many thousands, many people assisting with the disaster relief stop keeping accurate records - they're just too overwhelmed, too tired, too busy doing what has to be done and still survive themselves, that keeping detailed records ceases to be a priority for them. In some cases government authorities for various reasons have tried to hide the true figures (see 1976, China below); other situations involve more deaths from the "aftermath", so there are different reports given by different sources.

The TEN Worst Natural Disasters
in the last thousand years (not counting malaria) - each with a million or more deaths - are coded.  These ten combined resulted in over one hundred million lives lost - mostly through famine or plague.

What lessons can be learned from this information?


Syria, Aleppo - 1138
Earthquake kills 230,000 people

Japan, 1181

A famine wipes out at least 100,000 people.

Egypt and Syria, 1201
The deadliest earthquake in history hit the eastern Mediterranean in July 1201. Approximately 1.1 million people were killed, mostly in Egypt and Syria. This makes it close to one of the ten worst natural disasters in recorded history.

Netherlands, 1228

Estimate: 100,000 lives lost from the flooding after some dykes broke.

Netherlands, 1287

The Zuider Zee flooded after a seawall callapsed. At least 50,000 people were killed in Holland and more than 500 in England as a result.

China, 1290

Earthquake takes at least 100,000 people.

Most of Europe and beyond, 1347-1350
Approximately 25 million lost their lives through the "Black Death" - the bubonic plague. Between 25 and 33% of the entire population of Europe at that time, plus millions in Asia and North Africa lost their lives.

China, 1556
Earthquake in Shansi, China kills about 830,000

China, 1642
Flooding takes about 300,000 lives.

Spain, 1649

Plague takes about 80,000 lives in Seville.

Western Hemisphere, mostly 16th - 18th centuries
Untold millions of lives of American Indians were lost through the various sicknesses brought over from Europe (to which they had no previous exposure or resistance.) It's very difficult to get figures on this that are not politically infected one way or another (very high or very low).

, 1556
The second deadliest earthquake was in the Chinese province of Shaanzi on February 2, 1556. It killed 830,000 people.

England, 1665

More than 100,000 lives were taken by the plague, London was worst hit.

Japan, 1730
Earthquake took the lives of some 137,000 people.

, 1737
First it was thought to be an earthquake, but more recent scientific studies have re-classified it as a typhoon - this tragedy killed some 300,000 in Calcutta.

, 1755
Over 100,000 lost their lives through "the Lisbon earthquake" and resulting tsunami.

India, 1769
About ten million people lost their lives from a famine in Bengal.

North America, 1775-82

Smallpox takes around 130,000 lives.

Iran, 1780

As many as 200,000 were killed in an earthquake near Tabriz.

Iceland, 1783

a volcanic eruption (that included the largest basalt flow in recorded history) poisoned the island's pastures and caused the starvation of about 25% of the population - 30,000+.

, 1815
Mount Tambora (volcano) on Sumbawa Island released about 50 cubic kilometers of magma over at least 500,000 square kilometers of Indonesia and the Java Sea. That eruption and the resulting tsunami took at least 10,000 lives. But the famine and disease that followed took another 82,000 lives - total: over 90,000.

, 1826
Tsunami kills about 27,000.

Ireland, 1845 - 48
"Potato Famine" takes at least a million lives.

France, Germany, America, etc., 1870

approximately 500,000 lives lost as a result of smallpox.

China, 1876 - 1879
The deadliest drought in recorded history was in China between 1876 and 1879. Rivers were dry, so most crops and livestock died. There was no food production in a 1-million km2 area of 9 provinces. The drought caused the death of an estimated nine million people.

Java and Sumatra, 1883
Krakatoa, a small volcano on an uninhabited island between Sumatra and Java (Indonesia), erupted with such fury it could be heard in Australia nearly 5,000 kilometers away. The tsunami that followed took about 50,000 lives.

, 1887

The worst flood in "modern history" happened in China in 1887. The Yellow River overflowed, causing the death of about 900,000 people. (Some reports say it was a million that parished.)

Japan, 1896
About 28,000 people lost their lives from a Tsunami

only survivor

, 1902
Martinique, a small French colony in the Caribbean, has a volcano "Mont Pelee" which unleashed its fury and wiped out the town of St. Pierre. Only one survivor - pictured on right: a prisoner in a basement cell. (There's a good chance he got his life right with God before that day was over!)  But there were actually two others who also survived. see their amazing stories  Around 30,000 people were killed.

, 1908
An earthquake of 7.2 magnitute and the tidal wave that resulted, destroyed several southernmost Italian cities and towns and approximately 123,000 people.

China, 1911
Yangtze River flood - approx: 100,000 deaths.

, 1915
Avezzano, Italy - 7.5 earthyquake takes nearly 30,000 lives.

World-wide, 1918 - 19
Influenza pandemic takes somewhere between 35 million and 75 million lives (some reports estimate around a hundred million, but those can't be confirmed) - at least 16 million people died in India alone. This is clearly the worst disaster - at least in the last thousand years.

, 1920
In the north China there was a drought that caused 20 million victims and took at least 500,00 lives.

China, Gansu - 1920
Gansu, China is hit with an earthquake measuring 8.6 and kills around 200,000 people.

, 1923
A third of Tokyo is destroyed and much of Yokohama in an 8.3 earthquake which between 140,000 and 200,000 people.

, 1927
An earthquake 7.9 - hit Nanshan City and took about 200,000 people.

China, 1931

A flood on the Changjiang River took at least 145,000 people (other estimates go over a million, but we have not confirmed that).

, 1932
Another earthquake, this one northwest Gansu Province, killed about 70,000 people.

China, 1935
Another Yellow River flood "caused 27 counties inundated and 3.4 million victims".  How many actual lives were killed we don't know. If you have facts, let us hear from you

China, 1933

Another Changjiang River flood takes the lives of at least 140,000 people.

, 1935
About 30,000 lost their lives in a 7.5 earthquake.

Chile, 1939
Some 28,000 people were killed from an 8.3 earthquake in Chile.

China, 1939
A flood takes about 200,000 lives.

, 1939
More than 32,000 lives were lost from a 7.9 quake in Erzican Province.

China, 1942 - 1943
A drought in the Henan province took the lives of more than a million people.

Turkmenistan (USSR), 1948
A 7.3 earthquake took over 110,000 lives.

India, 1950
Around 30,000 people lost their lives in a quake of 8.6 magnitude in Assam, India.

World-wide, 1957
At least a hundred thousand people (some reports say over a million) died from the "Asian Flu" - about 70,000 in the USA alone.

China, 1958 - 61
As many as 20 million people died in this famine. *

* We received the following response to this post
Sirs: I would ask that you consider re-characterizing the 20-30 million who died in China during the period 1959-61 as a political blunder rather than a famine. Famines are typically understood to be the result of diminished food production due to weather or other natural disasters. This was not the case in China. Food production was for the most part normal during this period. What changed was the desire of local cadre wanting to look good and reporting increased food production following Mao's politics of "right" practices. Mao's government simply took their share of the harvest, 50%. But since the reported harvest was in fact inflated, what resulted was the entire production being shipped to Beijing. This more accurately could be labeled Mao's Holocaust.  Respectfully, Doug Searles

, 1970
A 7.9 earthquake and resulting landslides killed about  66,000 in Northern Peru.

19 - Bangladesh, 1970
In 1970, a cyclone and related floods killed about 500,000 people. With winds of up to 230 km/h, the cyclone crashed into the heavily populated coastal area of the Bay of Bengal, where several river deltas normally provide fertile land. The terrible winds produced massive waves, which wiped out many entire villages. Millions of people were left homeless in this country that is one of the most densely populated and one of the poorest in the world.

Vietnam, 1971
Red River flood flood leaves about 100,000 dead.

China, Tangshan - 1976
The worst earthquake damage in modern times was in northeast China in 1976. It was July 28 when a massive quake, measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale, shook the industrial mining city of Tangshan. Officially 255,000 people died, and another 164,000 were severely injured. But others (unofficial, but perhaps more accurate?) estimate that about 655,000 perished. Some ninety per cent of the buildings were destroyed. It took at least ten years and massive investment to rebuild the city.

Africa, 1981 - 1984
Rivers and lakes dried up from the drought that had incredible impact on twenty African nations. During one season about 20,000 were starving to death EACH MONTH150 million were facing starvation if help didn't come right away. People from around the world began to respond to this crisis - but for hundreds of thousands of people, it was too late. (If you have figures for this, please let us know. When combined with other relatively recent African famines, the fugure is well over 1,000,000)

Colombia, 1985
Volcano Nevado Del Ruiz claimed the lives of at least 25,000 - mostly from the mudflow which resulted from the volcanic eruption.

Armenia, 1988
An earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale devastated Armenia in 1988. At that time Armenia was a republic of the Soviet Union. The town of Spitak was destroyed and it took the lives of all of its residents. In Leninakan, Armenia's second largest city, eighty per cent of the buildings collapsed, and over 100,000 people perished there.

Iran, 1990
a 7.7 earthquake in northwest Iran killed at least 50,000 people.

Bangladesh, 1991
Flooding again took its toll on this nation. About  139,000 lost their lives.

North Korea, 1995-98
Over 3 million are said to have died from famine and floods in North Korea.

West Africa, 1996
About 25,000 loose their lives from a meningites outbreak.

Iran, 2003
Earthquake in Bam, Iran, officially kills 26,271 people.

12 South Asian Nations, 2004 - 2005

Earthquake of 9.0 and the resulting tsunami creates one of the world's worst disasters.  It does major damage to: Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania, Seychelles, Bangladesh, and Andaman.  Deaths: Between 235,000 and 285,000.
Tsunami Disaster Reports bnr

South Asia, 2005
Earthquake, primarily affecting Pakistan, but also India and Afganistan.  Current figures: over 50,000 dead.

Haiti, 2010
Earthquate - still counting. Most estimates now exceed 220,000 dead.

1 - Worldwide, every year
Malaria takes 2 to 5 million lives. *


11 Extra  -  No charge

Iceland, 1707
Smallpox killed more than 15,000 people (one-third of the population).

, 1780
"The Great Hurricane" as it was known, hit the Caribbean in October 1780. It is still the most deadly Western Hemisphere hurricane on record. It killed some  22,000 people on the islands of Martinique, St. Eustatius, and Barbados...

England, France, Egypt..., 1831-32
Cholera epidemic spreads from Cairo and hits both London and Paris very hard, leaving about 25,000 dead.

, 1871
A massive forest fire destroyed much of Wisconsin: 9 towns and 1,500 people.

Turkey, 1999

the earthquake that struck in Golcuk
killing about 17,000 people.

San Francisco
, 1906
The most famous -- and deadliest -- earthquake to strike the United States was the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The estimation was 8.3 on the Richter scale, but worse than the shaking itself, the earthquake caused fires that burned out of control for three days. Two thirds of the city burned down, and totally wiped out the downtown business district. Tens of thousands of people lost their homes and fled the city and an estimated 3000 people died.

American Midwest, eight year drought
During the Depression the American and Canadian Midwest experienced an eight-year drought. It ruined once-fertile soil, kicked up tremendous dust storms and caused thousands of deaths. The lack of rain left huge areas of farmland without any water. The topsoil was taken up by the wind, creating huge dark clouds of dust that seemed to turn day into night. People died of starvation and lung diseases caused by breathing in the dust-filled air. Thousands of farmers had to declare bankruptcy. 350,000 people deserted the region. It was the worst drought in North American history.

China, 1991
China suffered another massive flood from exceptionally heavy rains. At one point, 40 centimeters fell in two days. The worst of the flooding occurred at Tai Hu, a lake at the mouth of the Yangtze River. This important industrial and agricultural region was devastated. The economic loss and the human toll were costly - over 2,000 people died. In one province, a million homes were swept away. Overall, the flood seriously impacted the lives of over  200 million people.

Florida and Louisiana, 1992
The most costly hurricane in American history was Andrew.  58 people were killed and so many homes and shops were destroyed, the total cost was at least $27 billion.  In terms of dollars, this ranks as the worst natural disaster.

USA and Canada, 1993
Because of the media it became known as "The Storm of the Century" - from snow blizzards of artic air clashing with the warm air from the gulf of Mexico, combined with strong winds and freezing temperatures, it essentially paralyzed the Eastern part of the U.S.  Roofs collapsed, power lines fell, all major airports closed down...  Summary of the damages: 243 deaths, $3 billion.

bird and rainbow

Global, about 3200 BC

"Considerable evidence exists for a major global paleoclimate event that happened around 3000 B.C. It appears to have affected sea-level changes, vegetation and much surface chemistry. There is speculation that this event is in fact the Biblical Flood of the Old Testament. Scientists naturally avoid equating 'natural' disasters with 'Acts of God', but in this case the time coincidence is very suggestive." - Selection by David Crossley, Chair and Professor of Geophysics...


*  "We had malaria defeated in the sixties thanks to DDT.  Since Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" inspired the DDT ban, 60-70 million have died of malaria.  It's hard to find anyone who cares more about a couple million deaths a year from malaria than about 4 birth defects a year that the use of DDT might cause."  Arthur Henry


Recommended Reading:

Disaster Survival Tips - by Doug Copp

Be Ready - Homeland Security and Christian Emergency Network encourage people to be ready

The Big One - What would happen if The Big One came? Are you ready? - by David Hall

What to do when your world crashes - Ten things you can do

10 Major Catastrophes - Each of these natural disasters has taken over a million lives - 6 of them in the last 85 years




44 Disasters of over 100,000 Deaths
Number of Deaths
Disaster Type
1 - Worldwide, every year
2 to 5 million a year
2 - Western Hemisphere, mostly 16th - 18th centuries
unknown millions
European Sicknesses
3 - Africa, 1981 - 1984 unknown millions Drought
4 - World-wide, 1918 - 19 35 to 100 million
Influenza pandemic
5 - Europe and beyond, 1347-1350 25 million
Bubonic plague
6 - China, 1958 - 61 20 million
7 - India, 1769 10 million
8 - China, 1876 - 1879 9 million
9 - North Korea, 1995-98 3 million + Famine and Floods
10 - China, 1935 2 million + ?
11 - Egypt and Syria, 1201 1.1 million
12 - Ireland, 1845 - 48 1 million +
13 - China, 1942 - 1943 1 million +
14 - China, 1887 900,000
15 - China, 1556 830,000
16 - China, 1976 600,000
17 - China, 1920 500,000 +
18 - France, Germany, America, etc., 1870 500,000
19 - Bangladesh, 1970 500,000
20 - World-wide, 1957
400,000 ?
"Asian Flu"
21 - India, 1737 300,000
22 - China, 1642 300,000
23 - South Asia, 2004
Tsunami / Earthquake
24 - Syria, Aleppo, 1138
25 - Iran, 1780 200,000
26 - China, 1920 200,000
27 - China, 1927 200,000
28 - China, 1939 200,000
29 - Japan, 1923 170,000
30 - China, 1931 150,000 +
31 - China, 1933 140,000
32 - Bangladesh, 1991
33 - Japan, 1730 137,000
34 - North America, 1775-82
35 - Italy, 1908 123,000
36 - Turkmensistan (USSR), 1948
37 - Armenia, 1988
100,000 +
38 - Japan
100,000 +
39 - China,  1290
100,000 +
40 - Netherlands, 1228
100,000 +
Flooding from broken dykes
41 - England, 1665
100,000 +
42 - Portugal, 1775
100,000 +
Tsunami / Earthquake
43 - Vietnam, 1971
100,000 +
44 - Haiti, 2010
100,000 +



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