Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, storms, volcanoes, and fires- Natural disasters do not have the same impacts.

According to a study published by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, more than 8 million people have died in natural disasters worldwide since 1900.

According to the report, the deadliest natural disaster has been the deadliest flood in China, killing approximately 4 million people. 

This post focuses on the top ten deadliest natural disasters in human history since 1900. 

1. Yangtze River Floods, China, 1931, 4 million death

Yangtze River Floods
Yangtze River Floods | Image Credit – Flickr
Disaster typeFlood
LocationChina
CauseBlizzard and Incessant Torrential rain
Deaths145,000 according to Chinese Source4 million according to Western Source

From 1928 to 1930, China suffered from severe famine. But at the end of 1930 winter, severe blizzards began, and incessant torrential rains and thaws started in the spring.

The Yangtze and Huaihe rivers’ water levels rose excessively. As a result, the river overflowed and reached the city of Nanjing, which was at that time China’s capital city.

Several people drowned and died from waterborne infectious diseases like cholera and typhus. 

There are reports of cannibalism and infanticide among desperate residents and victims.

The flooding killed about 145,000 people, while Western sources claim the death toll due to flood was between 3.7 million and 4 million.

Foreign citizens and international rescue missions came to the aid of ordinary residents. It is known that some assistants sometimes managed to get to the injured by plane, bring food and provide first aid. 

But they could not evacuate citizens from the affected territories. Only by the end of the year, with the help of two million citizens, it was possible to restore the infrastructure and return to their usual life partially. 

The Chinese, with a vengeance, repaired the destroyed dams; however, even after being rebuilt, they did not last long. 

The Chinese survived the next flood during World War II – then the military deliberately blew the water protection structures to prevent enemy armies from passing through. 

New flooding occurred, as a result, more than a hundred thousand people died.

2. Drought in India, 1900, 3.25 million death

The Bengal Famine Of 1943 | Image Credit – Video Credit – Geographics
Disaster typeDrought
LocationIndia
CauseFailure of summer monsoon
Deaths3.25 million

The period from 1899 to 1900 is considered the most devastating famine in India. It was mainly due to the failure of the summer monsoon in central and western India in 1899.

The Central Provinces and Berar were severely affected during the famines of 1896 to 1897. 

However, the period from 1898 to the beginning of 1899 was suitable for sufficient rainfall and agricultural activities. 

But the situation changed after the failed summer monsoon in 1899. Due to this, the prices rose sharply, and Kharif crop production decreased due to water scarcity in the autumn season.

During the latter year, the famine-affected an area of 476,000 square miles and a population of 59.5 million. 

The severity of the famine was observed in the Central Provinces and Berar, Bombay Presidency, minor province of Ajmer-Merwara, and Hisar district of Punjab. 

It created a severe crisis in the princely states of Rajputana Agency, Central India Agency, Hyderabad, and Kathiawar Agency. 

The Bengal Presidency, Madras Presidency, and smaller areas of the North-Western Provinces were extremely famine-stricken. It is estimated that up to 3.25 million Indian citizens died.

3. Bhola Cyclone in India and Pakistan, 1970, 5,00,000 death

Children on the island of Bhola wade through floodwater after a tropical cyclone
Children on the island of Bhola wade through floodwater after a tropical cyclone | Image Credit – NBC news
Disaster typeCyclone
LocationIndia and Pakistan
CauseTropical storm
Deaths5,00,000

Cyclone Bhola was one of the devastating tropical cyclones that struck East Pakistan and Indian West Bengal on November 12, 1970. 

The deadliest tropical cyclone and one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history.

The cyclone flooded many islands in the Ganges delta and killed about half a million people. 

The formation of the cyclone took place on November 8 over the Bay of Bengal, or to be more precise, over its central part. Moving north, it was gaining strength and reached its peak by the evening of November 12. 

On the same night, in the form of a storm tide, it approached the line of East Pakistan and devastated the islands, sweeping away everything in its path.

The worst affected area is called Tazumuddin, where more than 45 percent of the population of 167,000 people died. 

The hurricane preserved the strength of the storm cyclone until November 13, and in the evening of the same day, the storm rapidly lost its power.

The Pakistani authorities were powerless in the face of the scale of the disaster. And the victims and even foreign media accused the authorities of the prolonged elimination of the consequences. 

Human anger soon resulted in a political conflict between East Pakistan and the central government. 

The Civil War escalated into the Third Indo-Pakistani War, which eventually led to the proclamation of Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. 

It was perhaps the first case in history when the natural cataclysm provoked a civil war and the formation of a new country. 

The charity concert of the former Beatle George Harrison also went down in history. To raise funds for the disaster victims, the musician invited the best singers to one stage and collected a quarter of a million in one day. This concert later became a model for future similar events.

4. Tsunami in Indonesia, 2004, 2,80,000 death

Aftermath of 2004 Tsunami in indonesia
Aftermath of 2004 Tsunami in indonesia | Image Credit – Flickr
Disaster typeTsunami
LocationIndonesia
CauseUnderwater earthquake
Deaths2,80,000

An underwater earthquake with a magnitude of, according to various estimates, from 9.1 to 9.3 (the exact magnitude is still disputed) shifted the tectonic plates of the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, forcing the planet Earth to tremble on its axis and accelerate rotation. 

As a result, our day has become shorter by 2.68 microseconds. The earthquake was immediately ranked among the five strongest on the planet since 1900. 

Of the events of a more modest scale, one can only mention that the giant Indonesian island of Sumatra (the sixth largest on the planet) has moved a couple of tens of meters closer to India. 

The epicenter of the tremors lasting for 17 minutes was located 149 kilometers south of the city of Meulaboh in the westernmost Indonesian province of Aceh.

The resulting tsunami immediately struck the shores of the island of Simeulue, which is closest to the epicenter, and then Sumatra, in shafts of water up to 20 meters high, in some places penetrating the land for a dozen kilometers. 

About an hour later, the shock wave spreading at the speed of a jet airliner reached the southwestern coast of Thailand. 

Half an hour later, the tsunami struck Sri Lanka and later swept to the coast of Africa, killing hundreds of Somalis.

Although an average of 50 minutes to several hours elapsed between the earthquake and the tsunami, for most tourists and residents, the appearance of the killer wave was a complete surprise.

Practically none of the affected countries at that time had a tsunami warning system. The disaster killed 2,80,000 people, and millions of people lost their shelter. 

5. Haiti Earthquake, 2010, 2,50,000 death

Haiti Earthquake 2010
Haiti Earthquake 2010 | Image Credit – Flickr
Disaster typeEarthquake
LocationHaiti
CauseEnriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system
Deaths2,50,000

On January 12, 2010, two powerful tremors of magnitude 7.0 and 5.9 shook the capital of the Republic of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. 

The tremor epicenter was located near the coast, at a depth of about 30 kilometers, just 15 kilometers southwest of the capital. 

According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquakes occurred on the border of the Caribbean and North American lithospheric plates. During the day, the tremor shook the capital 30 times. 

The elements in the evening struck the first strongest blow, and the tremors continued throughout the night.

According to various estimates, from 220 to 300 thousand people became victims of the earthquake, about three million people were affected.

The catastrophic earthquake in Haiti was the strongest in the last 200 years. After the first blow, many buildings collapsed in Port-au-Prince, entire quarters of the capital turned into ruins. 

The buildings of the city hospital, the presidential palace, and many residential buildings were destroyed. 

The Haitian government has lost hundreds of civil servants. About 2.3 million people are displaced. 

The earthquake affected one-third of the country’s population. 250 thousand houses were destroyed.

6. Tangshan Earthquake, China, 1976, 242,769 deaths

Tangshan Earthquake
Tangshan Earthquake | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons
Disaster typeEarthquake
LocationChina
CauseConvergent movements of two tectonic plates
Deaths2,42,769

The worst earthquake of the century in China occurred on July 28, 1976. Tremors reached 7.6 on the Richter scale. 

In Tangshan City, Hebei Province, the epicenter was 180 kilometers east of Beijing. 

90% of the buildings in Tangshan were destroyed instantly. The tremors were repeated 15 hours later. This time they reached a strength of 7.1 on Richter’s scale. 

The scale of the destruction and the number of casualties was unprecedented: the city was practically destroyed. 

Later reports came that some incredible lighting effects were visible before the appearance of the disaster. 

On land, in the area of a future underground storm, approximately five and a half hours before its start, the night sky was illuminated by a white glow that lasted 20 minutes. 

30 minutes before the tragedy, a huge fireball flew across the sky, turning into a bright, sparkling strip. 

About 10 minutes before the tremors began, a red arc appeared in the sky, and the electricity supply was interrupted in almost the entire province.

Before the very first fluctuations of the soil at 3:42 a.m. local time, the sky lit up for many kilometers, like in the daytime. 

Numerous lights, mostly white and red, could be seen up to 200 miles away. The lights burned the bushes and crops, the leaves on the trees were charred.

There were no official reports of the earthquake from Beijing, but a Hong Kong newspaper reported that 655,237 people died. 

Years later, the Chinese communist press cited a figure of 242,000 victims. 

Western experts estimate that the number of deaths in the entire province was from 800 thousand to one million people, plus the same, if not more, disabled people.

7. Typhoon Nina and the subsequent flood, China, 1975, 2,20,000 death

The Track of Typhoon Nina | Video Credit – ThePhoneExpert
Disaster typeTyphoon and flood
LocationChina
CauseTropical cyclone
Deaths2,20,000

From July 30 to August 6, 1975, the tropical typhoon (according to the international classification – super typhoon) Nina raged over Southeast Asia, which caused flooding in several provinces of China. 

This flood was severe – disasters of this magnitude do not occur more often than once every 2000 years. 

However, the Banqiao Dam was designed for floods that occur about once every 1000 years. They are accompanied by up to 306 mm of precipitation per day.

2 August 1975, there was a two-thousand-year flood, an annual precipitation rate of 189 mm per hour and 1060 mm per day, and the Chinese meteorological service could not predict it. 

On August 6, due to the rapid accumulation of water in the reservoir, the Banqiao authorities requested permission to open all watersheds, which they were denied due to flooding downstream.

On the morning of August 7, concerned authorities gave the permission. But it came to the Banqiao leadership with a delay due to the interruption of communication.

The dam started to collapse after 1:00 am on August 8. It created a stream of water up to 10 meters high and 11 km wide in some areas, spreading over a distance of about 50 km in an hour. 

Daovencheng City, just downstream, was immediately flooded, and all 9,600 residents were killed. 61 other dams and reservoirs collapsed that day from the typhoon and subsequent floods, including the second largest dam in the flood prevention system, the Shimantan Dam on the Hong River. 

According to official figures, the lack of an early warning system or an evacuation plan exacerbated the disaster, and the flood killed 26,000 people.

In addition, an estimated 145,000 people have died from the epidemics. Caused by water pollution and hunger; some estimates put the total death toll at over 220,000. 

The number of people affected by the natural disaster has exceeded 10 million.

8. Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar, 2008, 1,40,000 death

Cyclone Nargis
Cyclone Nargis | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons
Disaster typeCyclone
LocationMyanmar
CauseLow pressure system in Bay of Bengal
Deaths1,40,000

Cyclone Nargis is a tropical cyclone that struck Myanmar on May 2, 2008, a state of Southeast Asia located in the western part of the Indochina Peninsula. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Thailand were also affected, but to a lesser extent.

The largest city in the country, Yangon, suffered from the rampant elements, and many settlements were wiped off the face of the Earth. 

Most of Myanmar was left without electricity; the streets were littered with rubbish and debris, disrupted telephone communications, and interrupted Internet access. 

1,40,000 people died; however, the official death report of the Myanmar government may have been underreported, and there have been accusations that government officials stopped renewing deaths after 138,000 to minimize political effects.

The second wave of deaths from disease and lack of relief efforts has never been reported.

Damage from the disaster exceeded $ 12 billion. It was the most destructive cyclone in the history of the region.

Indian authorities reportedly warned Myanmar of the danger of Nargis posed 48 hours before it hit the country’s coastline.

Relief efforts were slowed down for political reasons as the military rulers of Myanmar initially scaled back international aid. 

The military junta of Myanmar finally accepted aid a few days after India’s request was received.

9. Bangladesh Cyclone (Marian or Gorky), 1991, 1,39,000

1991 Bangladesh Cyclone (Cyclone Gorky) | Video Credit – Ahmed Habib
Disaster typeCyclone
LocationBangladesh
CauseTropical cyclone in Bay of Bengal
Deaths1,39,000

On April 29, 1991 night, a strong tropical cyclone struck the Chittagong area of southeastern Bangladesh with winds of approximately 250 km / h (155 mph). 

The storm caused a 6-meter storm surge inland over a wide area, killing at least 139,000 people and leaving 10 million homeless.

Most of the deaths were from drowning, with the highest deaths among children and the elderly. 

Although the government built cyclone shelters after the 1970 cyclone Bhola, many had only a few hours of pre-warning and did not know where to go for the shelter. 

Others who knew about the storm refused to evacuate because they did not believe the storm would be as bad as predicted. 

Regardless, it is estimated that over 2 million people did evacuate from the most dangerous areas, possibly mitigating the disaster substantially.

On Sonadia Island, its inhabitants suffered from diarrhea from drinking contaminated water, respiratory and urinary tract infections, scabies, and various wounds with only rice to eat and contaminated drinking water. 

Of these ten wells on the island, only 5 were functional, of which only one provided clean water, with the rest being polluted by seawater.

10. The Great Kanto Earthquake, Japan, 1923, 1,30,000 death

The Great Kanto Earthquake
The Great Kanto Earthquake | Image Credit – Flickr
Disaster typeEarthquake
LocationJapan
CauseMegathrust between Philippine Sea plate and Honshu plate
Deaths1,30,000

On September 1, 1923, the Kanto Earthquake hit at about 11:58 a.m. on the edge of the Sagami Fault, a deep trench in Sagami Bay. 

Maximum intensity was 7.9 on the Japanese intensity scale. In the western part of Kanagawa Prefecture’s mountainous areas near the epicenter, landslides and avalanches occurred, and the tsunami-affected the coastal zone. 

Many buildings collapsed in the Tokyo area. It was pre-lunch time, so food was being prepared in many places, and fires began to spread, burning for about two days.

About 370,000 houses destroyed, buried in rubble, washed away, and burned, and 105,000 people died or went missing, of which almost 92,000 people, or 90% of the total, were due to fires. 

More than 90%, 95,000 people, died within the city of Tokyo and in Yokohama. The fires in Tokyo and Yokohama have caused the greatest damage during the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The Great Kanto Earthquake triggered another horrific result. Already at noon on September 1, the day of the earthquake, there were reports and rumors that the Koreans set up catastrophic fires, poisoned wells, looted destroyed houses, and planned to overthrow the government. 

About 6,000 unlucky Koreans and over 700 Chinese people who were mistaken for Koreans were slashed and beaten to death with swords and bamboo rods. 

Police and military in many places stood in place for three days, allowing vigilantes to commit these killings in what is now the Korean massacre.

Ultimately, the disaster sparked both self-esteem and nationalism in Japan. Just eight years later, the country took its first steps towards World War II by invading and occupying Manchuria.

Conclusion

Natural disasters have not only caused the lives of people and animals, but they have also caused some revolution in the country. 

In the history of humanity, the Yangtze River flood is the worst disaster ever recorded. 

However, the Tangshan Earthquake should be ranked in the third position as the unofficial data indicate around 6,00,000 people have died. Still, the Chinese government, as usual, has hidden the actual reports. 

Whatsoever, people and authorities should learn from history since these natural disasters resulted from nature and man activities.

Comparison Table

RankNatural DisasterNationYearFatalities
1Yangtze River FloodChina19314 million
India DroughtIndia19003.25 million
3Bhola CycloneIndia and Pakistan19705,00,000
4Indonesia Tsunami  Indonesia20042,80,000
5Haiti EarthquakeHaiti20102,50,000
6Tangshan EarthquakeChina19762,42,769
7Nina TyphoonChina19752,20,000
8Nargis CycloneMyanmar20081,40,000
9Bangladesh CycloneBangladesh19911,39,000
10Great Kanto EarthquakeJapan19231,30,000

(Last Updated on April 21, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Ankur Pradhan holds a bachelor’s degree in education and health and three years of content writing experience. Addicted to online creative writing, she puts some of what she feels inside her stormy heart on paper. She loves nature, so she is trying to motivate people to switch to alternative energy sources through her articles.