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  7. The 10 Most Absolutely Brutal Natural Disasters

The 10 Most Absolutely Brutal Natural Disasters

Respect The Power Of Mother Nature

Hot red lava erupts from the ground


It's sometimes easy to forget how in control Mother Nature is. Other times, not so much. Natural disasters are destructive reminders of the absolute power of forces outside our control. Some disasters are particularly devastating, resulting in calamitous events with a widespread impact, great loss of life, and immense power. Read on to learn more about the top 10 natural disasters below.


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Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Hurricane Katrina as seen from space
Hurricane Katrina as seen from space. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (PD-USGov). Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.


Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane that formed and made landfall during the 2005 hurricane season. This tropical cyclone devastated the Gulf of Mexico, and the actual death toll for this storm is still unknown. Some sources place the death toll at over 1,800, and over 130 people are still officially classified as "missing." Other human costs of the storm were also astronomical: Katrina displaced over 1,000,000 people, and the population of the city over a year after the disaster was half of what it was in pre-Katrina years.[1] In addition to being devastating in its loss of life, Katrina also ties with Hurricane Harvey (2017) as the costliest hurricane. Estimated damages come to about $125 billion USD.



Eruption of the Krakatoa Volcano, 1883

Eruption of Krakatoa
An 1888 lithograph of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. Image published as Plate 1 in The eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena. Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society (London, Trubner & Co., 1888).


The 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa (or Krakatau) volcano made waves—literally. The sheer force of the explosion from this caldera was so intense that it created a pressure wave that traveled all the way around the world more than 3 times! Reports from the time state that people 3,000 miles away from Krakatoa heard its mighty explosion. The eruption itself not only decimated the vast majority of the island this volcano is situated on, but it also claimed more than 36,000 human lives. The fact that this mega eruption caused a volcanic winter, which made the entire world's temperature drop for years after, solidifies the 1883 event as one of the worst natural disasters that humans have ever recorded.



Valdivia Earthquake, 1960

Two people in Hawai'i sit among the ruins of a town from a tsunami caused by an earthquake
Destruction in the Hawai'ian town of Hilo, caused by a tsunami triggered by the earthquake. Image credit: US Navy (PD-USGov).


You can't talk about earthquakes without mentioning the 1960 Chilean earthquake, also widely referred to as the 1960 Valdivia earthquake. This eruption is the most powerful one we've ever managed to record, registering at 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. A rumbling that powerful naturally had wide-reaching consequences. This earthquake triggered not only landslides, but also tsunamis that reached all the way across the ocean to various countries, including Japan and Australia. The Cordón Caulle eruption shortly after is also attributed to this quake.



Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake, 2004

A village near the coast of Sumatra lays in ruin after the tsunami that struck South East Asia
Devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Philip A. McDaniel. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (PD-USGov).


Widely known as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the original event was a sub-ocean quake that was one of the most powerful ever recorded, surpassed by only two other events (including the 1960 Chilean quake). This underwater earthquake naturally resulted in tsunamis that traveled hundreds of miles an hour. The tsunamis hit several countries, with recorded heights of waves reaching over 100 feet tall. The resulting natural disaster claimed almost 230,000 human lives.



Peshtigo Fire, 1871

One example of a firestorm. Image from U.S. National Archives Catalog (PD-USGov).


This 1871 fire was a blaze that ignited in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. While recent wildfire seasons might come to mind when thinking about natural disasters in the United States, this event is actually the deadliest fire in the nation's history: it claimed anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 lives. What helped make this particular tragedy so incredibly lethal was the fact that conditions were met to create a firestorm, with some reports even claiming that a fire tornado had taken place.



Iran Blizzard, 1972

A snowflake is clearly defined amongst snow


The deadliest record blizzard in human history hit Iran in 1972. The estimated death toll is about 4,000 people, with reports saying the storm decimated the populations of entire villages. With sub-zero freezing temperatures and the highest reported snowfall of 26 feet, this storm is definitely one of the worst tragedies to occur by a natural disaster.



Daulatpur-Saturia Tornado, 1989

Map of Bangladesh that shows the area affected by a deadly tornado
Manikganj District in Bangladesh, where the tornado struck. Image credit: Nafsadh on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). 


The deadliest tornado ever recorded struck Bangladesh—one of the most tornado-prone countries in the world—in 1989. The human loss of this storm was estimated to be 1,300 deaths, 12,000 injuries, and 80,000 people becoming homeless. Bangladesh experiences more tornadoes than any other country on the planet, besides the United States and Canada.



Tri-State Tornado, 1925

A school lies in ruins after a tornado
Schoolhouse in ruins after this devastating 1925 tornado struck. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. Image credit: NOAA (PD-USGov).


The United States experiences more tornadoes on an annual basis than any other country on Earth, with some estimates saying the nation experiences about 1,200 of these storms in a given year. Most largely occur in what is known as "Tornado Alley," a large area concentrated in the middle of the country. As such, it comes as no surprise that the longest-recorded path of any tornado occurred in this area. What is known as the Tri-State tornado hit in 1925, traveling up to 73 mph along path that stretched 219 miles. It is so named because it crossed 3 states: Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. The widespread path of this storm resulted in F5 damage, the highest amount on the Fujita scale. It is also the most lethal tornado in the country, resulting in nearly 700 deaths.



China Floods, 1931

A man kayaks across a flooded city
Hankow City Hall affected by the floods. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (PD-old-50).


The devastation of the China Floods of 1931 went far beyond the initial death tolls of the floods themselves, stretching into the extreme disease, famine, and suffering they caused as well. No one is sure of the death toll: conservative estimates say that 300,000 lost their lives while other reports claim that 4,000,000 lives were lost. Official government reports from the time state that the floods affected more than 25 million people, although the actual number could certainly be higher. Besides deaths from the initial flooding, the rising waters triggered widespread disease. Additionally, the massive area covered by the flood meant that crops were ruined, sparking a massive famine. Some accounts claim that the food shortage was so bad that people had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive.



The Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs, 66 m.y.a.

An artist's rendering of the asteroid impact that caused a mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs
Image credit: Made by Fredrik on Wikimedia Commons. Cloud texture from public domain NASA image (PD-USGov).


Anything that wipes out 75-80% of the Earth's population is absolutely brutal; that is precisely what happened during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event more than 66 million years ago. The Alvarez hypothesis states that an asteroid is what ultimately triggered the sudden mass extinctions. The sheer size and force of the impact sparked a type of global winter that devastated plant life, which in turn eliminated the food sources for many animals. The Chicxulub crater, located in Mexico, was created by an impact event around the same time as this extinction event, lending credence to this hypothesis.



[1] Information originally from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. Data compiled by the Data Center.