9 natural disasters that took the lives of hundreds of thousands

GettyA woman and her 9-month-old daughter sit in wreckage from the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
  • Natural disasters have taken the lives of millions of people throughout history.
  • China is home to some of the deadliest natural disasters of all time.
  • The 2004 tsunami in Indonesia killed 227,898 people.

Natural disasters claim the lives of thousands of people in the world every year.

It’s hard to say which natural disaster is the most deadly. Hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes each have their own classifications, but there is no denying that they all cause major destruction, and take the lives of many.

Here’s a look at some of the deadliest natural disasters that have taken the lives of thousands.


China’s Huang He floods — Millions of deaths

GettyImages/Topical Press AgencyA photo of the severe flooding in Hankou, China, September 1931.

China’s second-longest river, the Huang He (Yellow), is the source of the three deadliest floods in history. Flooding in 1887, 1931, and 1938 killed millions of people and caused an incalculable amount of damage.

The 1931 flood was the most destructive. An area equivalent to the size of England was deluged by flood waters that carried debris, diseases, and destroyed crops.

Severe destruction and chaos prevented officials from determining an exact death toll, but it’s estimated that 850,000 to 4,000,000 people were killed by the flooding and its lingering effects. Approximately 80 million people were left homeless.


1556 Shaanxi province earthquake — 830,000 deaths

Wikimedia CommonsA map of the provinces affected by the Shaanxi earthquake in 1556.

The Shaanxi earthquake is believed to be the deadliest quake of all time, killing an estimated 830,000 people. The tremor decimated the Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces of northern China by 60%, levelling mountains, inducing flooding, and starting fires in mere seconds.

In the months following the quake, survivors began to look for ways to protect themselves from future earthquakes in the area by replacing stone buildings with earthquake-resistant materials like bamboo.


1976 Great Tangshan earthquake — 650,000 deaths

In 1976, the Great Tangshan Earthquake decimated the Chinese coal and industrial city of Tangshan located just 68 miles east of Beijing. Shortly after the initial shock, a 7.1 magnitude aftershock rocked the city and prevented rescue efforts to the original quake site.

The official death toll totaled 242,000 people, but some believe the disaster could have been responsible for upwards of 650,000 deaths.


1979 Bhola cyclone — 300,000 deaths

NOAAA radar image of the Bhola cyclone as it formed.

In 1970, Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, was crippled by the Bhola cyclone – one of the deadliest tropical cyclones in history.

The stormed surge killed at least 300,000 people, including 45% of the population of the Bangladesh city of Tazumuddin.


2010 Haiti earthquake — 300,000 deaths

FlickrBefore and after photos of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake that shook Haiti and the Dominican Republic caused so much devastation and chaos that officials were unable to determine an exact death toll. The Haitian government, however, believes that more than 300,000 people died.


1138 Aleppo earthquake — 230,000 deaths

In 1138, a massive earthquake struck Aleppo, Syria, killing an estimated 230,000 people. The magnitude of the earthquake is unknown, but it is said to have been felt as far as 220 miles away in Damascus.

The earthquake brought major damage to northern Syria; buildings collapsed, homes were destroyed, and several nearby small towns were demolished.


2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — 227,898 deaths

In 2004, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami at the bottom of the Indian Ocean with energy equivalent to 23,000 atomic bombs.

The resulting waves travelled across the ocean at the speed of a jet airliner and swept away entire communities on the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

The disaster affected 14 surrounding countries, including Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and killed 227,898 people.


1920 Haiyuan earthquake — 200,000 deaths

Wikimedia CommonsA map of the 1920 Haiyuan earthquake.

The Haiyuan earthquake, also known as the Gansu earthquake, rocked China in 1920.

One of the deadliest in history, the 7.8 magnitude quake caused rivers to change course and landslides to decimate 10 Chinese provinces, destroying four major cities. An estimated 200,000 people died.


1975 Typhoon Nina —126,000 deaths

YouTubeThe collapse of the Banqiao Dam in China.

Over a three-day period in August 1975, Typhoon Nina brought extreme rainfall causing severe flooding in China.

The collapse of the Banqiao Reservoir and nearby Shimantan Dams resulted in 26,000 deaths initially, and an estimated 100,000 additional fatalities from resulting famine and disease.

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