Top 21: Natural Disasters Recorded for Humanity

It is believed that the Universe was created from a cataclysmic explosion, our solar system was itself created in the chaos of clouds of gas and residues from explosions of distant and ancient stars. Our home planet was itself the result of a series of cataclysms at tremendous scale, and it is thanks to such cataclysms that emerged water, atmosphere and a moon, and consequently the ideal conditions for the development of life and its evolution. It will not be wrong, therefore, to say that the man is probably the end result of a series of cataclysms. But this top 21 of greatest natural cataclysms will focus on those who were recorded by man throughout its history.


1. Spanish Influenza (1918)

The first wave of Spanish Influenza, one of the many strains of the influenza virus, may have begun in March 1918, and has spread to Asia, Europe, and North America.

This pandemic disease alone has been responsible for the deaths of between 20 to 40 million people. But there are also studies pointing this number as high as 40 to 100 million!

Even today there is no cure for influenza virus. All the doctors could do back then was to make their patients as comfortable as possible. The bluish color in the skin of patients progressed to brown or purple and their feet got black. The “lucky ones” were drowned with fluid in the lungs.

Others, developed bacterial pneumonia and agonized due to secondary infection. Since antibiotics were not yet invented by that time, the disease could not be treated.

2. The Black Death (1348)

Between 1348 and 1351, an epidemic swept across Europe, killing between 25% and 60% of the population. Some estimates indicate between 75 million to 200 million deaths.

Also known as “the Great Mortality” or “the Pestilence”, this was the second pandemic of plague during the Middle Ages, only comparable to Plague of Justinian during the VI century.
There is still controversy about how the plague reached Europe, but many scholars believe that it has emerged after an attack from Mongols to the Crimean peninsula, specifically the port of Kaffa. From there, it was taken to Western Europe by Genoese and Venetian merchants.
The Black Death got its name probably because of the black spots on the skin of the infected.
The main causative agent was the flea, that by biting the person or animal transmitted the bacteria. It is believed that, in the fourteenth century Europe, the bacteria was transmitted from rats to fleas and from these to humans.

The transmitter plague bacillus is very common in wild rodents such as rats, squirrels and even marmots.

There are over 600 species of mice. Much cause harm to human health by transmitting diseases such as toxoplasmosis, hantavirus, leptospirosis, murine typhus and bubonic plague.

3. Gujarat Earthquake (2001)

It was January 26, 2001, during the celebration of the 51st Republic Day, that happened the terrible earthquake in Gujarat. With a magnitude of 7.6 to 7.7 on the Richter scale, the earthquake lasted over 2 minutes and the epicenter occurred 9 km from the village of Chobari.

The count reached the number of 20,000 dead, 167,000 wounded and 400,000 homes destroyed. Shock waves traveled more than 700 km and were felt in 21 districts, leaving 600,000 people homeless.

Tectonic context: This earthquake occurred along a tectonic boundary that is characterized by intense seismic activity. This boundary was formed due to the accumulation of high tensions that led to the collision between the Indian and Eurasian plate, thus forming a convergence zone. This earthquake was also considered intraplate, as it is located within the plates.

Although this earthquake occurred near the western coastline of India, there was no tsunami as expected, since they usually form in subduction zones, and as both are continental blocks, they have the same density equipment. That would require a collision between an oceanic plate and a continental plate.

Curiosities / observations: In the days and weeks following the great earthquake, strong aftershocks (about 300) continued to reach Gujarat. One of them reached a magnitude of 5.3 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter in northeast Bhachau town that was badly damaged.

4. The Great White Plague (1600s)

The tuberculosis epidemic during the seventeenth century, which lasted nearly 200 years, was the leading cause of death in 1650. Its high spread is due to unsanitary conditions and poor and scanty food.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.3 million TB deaths are recorded annually and nearly 9 million people contracted the disease during the same period.

According to the UN Radio, Ban said that the tragedy is even bigger due to the fact that tuberculosis is a curable disease, and one third of patients, 3 million people, do not receive any treatment.

The UN secretary general said that treating the patients who haven’t received medical care promotes a better future for all mankind. He added that most patients is poor, many of them belonging to marginalized classes by society, as migrants, refugees and IDPs.
Still on the list are prisoners, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.

5. North American Smallpox Epidemic (1775)

While the American Revolution changed the face of society and politics in the western coast, the great smallpox epidemic went through the entire North American continent, with terrible consequences in the years 1775 and 1776. The highly contagious virus known as “Variola Major” is responsible for the disease.

The first symptoms only appear 12 days after infection. Headaches, back pain, vomiting and ill feeling are the first signs. Although there were several devastating epidemics of smallpox since the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, this only started to be rigorously documented during the Revolution, between 1775 and 1776.

The pox virus is one of the viruses that most infects humans. Its genome is double stranded DNA and is one of the most complex to affect humans.

The virus enters the body via the respiratory tract, and implants itself in the epithelial cells of the oropharynx and pulmonary mucosa. These cells are the sites of accumulation of viruses and their active replication. At the beginning of infection, patients are highly infected by transmission through air due to the high concentration of viral particles existing at the beginning of the respiratory tract.

6. Mozambique Flood (2000)

The catastrophic floods of 2000 in Mozambique occurred during the months of February and March, and were caused by a continuous rain that lasted five weeks – leaving countless people homeless, also affected more than 1,400 square miles of farmland, killing more than 800 people and 20,000 head of cattle.

In response to the 1999-2000 floods in Mozambique, the Grant Activity Resettlement helped families to return to their homes and farms, and rebuild their lives while boosting the recovery in economic activity and the restoration of effective demand and supply of goods and services.

From December 2000 to April 2000, grants were distributed in cash to more than 106,000 rural households. Each householder received 1,500,000 meticais (Mozambique’s currency), about 92 dollars.

The distribution of 9.7 million dollars was made at 167 distribution sites, which covered more than 730 villages in 30 districts of the five provinces affected. The donations were given to the women of the households, and families could choose for themselves the goods and services, or even savings that were their highest priorities.

Grant recipients were given to poor people, predominantly subsistence farmers living in villages near their farms, in areas often affected by extreme natural conditions.

7. Yangtze River Floods (1931)

When the rains hit southwest China in August 1931, the Yangtze River flood killed almost 3.7 million people. This was and is considered the largest natural catastrophe of the twentieth century.

The Yangtze River, known as Blue River is the longest river in Asia, covering over 6.300 km from its source in Tibet to the East China. Along the river we can find Zangboer Yarlung ravine, the world’s largest.

It is a very important river in China. Not only irrigate their most fertile land, but also the barrage of 3 ravines, whose function is to prevent flooding, produce energy and facilitate river transport.

Along the river we can find major Chinese cities such as Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing and Shanghai, who use the river as transport of goods and people.

8. European Heat Wave (2003)

Much of Europe is not accustomed to torrid and long summers, so, when in 2003 it was hit by a massive heat wave, the result was a huge public health crisis and a drought that has caused most European harvests to be lost, especially in Ukraine, where 75% of the wheat crop was lost.

Being the hottest summer since 1540, in France at least 14,802 people died due to complications with extreme heat. Most of the victims were elderly people in nursing homes and single family homes without air conditioning. Drought and high temperatures were responsible for huge numbers of forest fires and even floods.

With an index definition of heat wave duration (HWDI – Heat Wave Duration Index) according to the World Meteorological Organization (WCDMP-No.47, WMO-TD No. 1071), it is considered that a heat wave occurs when a interval of at least 6 consecutive days, the maximum daily temperature is 5 ° C higher than the daily average for the reference period.

We must say that this definition is more related to the study and analysis of climate variability than properly with the public health impacts of extreme temperatures that can be seen in a shorter period.

However, it is from the 90s that has been observed more frequently this phenomenon.

9. North Korean Famine (1994)

Known as “Arduous March”, this wave of famine devastated North Korea from 1994 to 1998 with an estimated people mortality between 240,000 to 3,500,000 million. The discrepancy in numbers is due to the difficulty in obtaining accurate official figures, by hunger and diseases associated with malnutrition.

With 24 million people, 5 million suffer from malnutrition. 800,000 were children, 80,000 of them in situations of severe hunger.

The impact of hunger was felt in the whole country, but those who were farther from the capital suffered the greatest deprivation.

Japan, South Korea, United States, China and Europe have provided food aid, which lasted until 2002, when the North Korean government called for the end of food assistance.

10. East Africa Drought (2011)

Since the middle of July 2011 until the present day, the Horn of Africa faces its worst drought for 60 years.

It is estimated that the number of people needing emergency food aid is 12.4 million. A massive food crisis devastates Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Djibouti, threatening the lives of over 9.5 million people, causing death and hunger.

United State of America and Europe are concerned about the high rates of malnutrition in the Horn of Africa, especially in southern and central Somalia and in the Somali refugees camp, now that the region is facing one of the worst droughts recorded.

The intervention of large-scale multi-donor is going on to prevent the further decline of an already severe situation, but there will be no quick fix


11. Afghanistan Blizzard (2008)

This was the second biggest snowfall in modern history, after the Iranian snowfall, considering the number of fatalities. It caused an estimated number of 1337 deaths due to temperatures of 30° negative and 18cm of snow in mountainous areas.

An impressive number of people died just frozen, others died inside their vehicles blocked by snow and ice. Many had to suffer amputations due to cold. It is also estimated that more than 100,000 to 315,000 goats and sheep died.

12. New Zealand Earthquake (2011)

The February 22, 2011 occurred one who is also known by the earthquake Christchurch. With a magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale, devastated the second largest city in New Zealand, killing 185 people, causing 238 disappearances and 164 injured. This is one of the biggest disasters recorded in this Country in peacetime. The earthquake destroyed much of Christchurch and caused widespread damage in central Canterbury with an estimated cost of $ 16 billion.Even so, this earthquake was lower in intensity compared to the one occurred on 4 September 2010 with an intensity of 7.1 on the Richter scale.

13. Bhola Cyclone (1970)

Having the winds reached the speed of 185 km/h, the Bhola cyclone in Bangladesh caused losses of over U.S. $490 million, destroying 85% of homes in the region. A brutal storm swept away entire villages and killed 45% of the population of Tazumuddin. Around 500,000 people died during the cyclone.

14. Antioch Earthquake (526)

The 3rd worst earthquake in the history of mankind took place between 20 and 29 May in the year of 526.

However, there aren’t reliable records. This event occurred in Syria and Antioch, and the death toll is estimated between 250,000 and 300,000 people.

15. Haiyuan Earthquake (1920)

Also known as the Earthquake Gansu, this was the 4th largest earthquake recorded in the history of man, only comparable to the earthquake of Antioch in the year 526. With a death toll of over 240,000 people, this earthquake occurred on December 16, 1920. Its epicenter was in Haiyuan County, Ningxia in the Province of China.

16. Aleppo Earthquake (1138)

The most deadly earthquake in human history occurred on 11 October 1138 in the ancient city of Aleppo Syria now called Halab. The death toll was higher than 230,000 people. The city was completely destroyed by the earthquake, as well as the surrounding areas.

17. Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami (2011)

An earthquake in the Pacific Ocean with a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale followed by a tsunami hit the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011 with an impressive destructive power, becoming the largest earthquake in recorded history in Japan.

Regarded as the 7th largest earthquake in the history of the Earth, causing the death of 15,884 people, 6,148 injured and 2814 missing. This earthquake affected 18 prefectures and was responsible for a partial meltdown at three of the Fukushima reactors, triggering one that is the largest nuclear accident in history immediately after Chernobyl.

The radioactive material dumped to the sea by the Fukushima nuclear crisis is over three times more substantial than the amount calculated by the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

18. Hurricane Andrew (1993)

Meteorologists who followed the evolution of “Andrew”, over 21 years ago, still remember the destructive passage of this storm through Florida, one of the only three of category five that reached American soil. On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the occurrence of the hurricane, celebrated on Friday, Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) of the United States, told Efe that, if learned something, “is not having to wait that the hurricane comes close.”

“Andrew” caused the death of 23 people in Florida and Louisiana, three in the Bahamas, and damages in the amount of U.S. $ 26.5 billion, of which $ 25 billion corresponded only to the Florida peninsula, according to the NHC. “Andrew” was the third most costly hurricane in U.S. history, after “Katrina” (2005) and “Ike” (2008). Mayfield noted that, despite the magnitude of the tragedy, that was not the worst hurricane in the history of South Florida because “only affected a small area, although with great force,” while there were other tornadoes that “even not being so powerful, affected a greater area”.

Reaching category five, the maximum range of the Saffir-Simpson intensity, “Andrew” arrived in Florida, the U.S. state more buffeted by this type of phenomenon, with wind faster than 265 km / h.

19. Tangshan Earthquake in China (1976)

The Tangshan Earthquake, July 28, 1976, was the most severe earthquake which afflicted the modern world, concerning to the lives lost. It reached 7.5 degrees on the Richter scale. This earthquake hit the city of Tangshan, Popular Republic of China at 3:52 am, killing 242,419 people, according to official figures. But according to some sources, this number is estimated to be three times higher. Many of the people who survived the earthquake were trapped under the felt buildings, but not resisting the replica of magnitude 7.1 15 hours after the main quake.

Many people reported seeing strange lights in the night before the earthquake, which became known as the lights of the earthquake.

The Tangshan Earthquake is the second deadliest one that was recorded, followed by the 1556 earthquake in Shanxi, also in China, which killed 830 000 people.

20. Nevado del Ruiz Volcano Eruption (1985)

The eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, in November 1985, was not entirely unexpected. Since 1984, mainly in the 51 weeks preceding the disaster, there was a significant precursor activity (seismicity, fumarolic activity, phreatic explosions, etc..). This activity was sufficient to worry the population. However, authorities have not viewed these clues as something that could really come to threaten the people living on the slopes of the volcano.

It is known that that Colombia had not, at the time, adequate monitoring of the volcano, or geologists with adequate preparation for the end equipment. However, following a study visit to a scientific committee conducted in February 1985 the volcano, which was accompanied by some journalists, a report on the volcanic activity which was released in early March by the newspaper La Patria was prepared.

As it is know, on November 13, signs that the volcano was active were evident, among which refer to seismic activity, volcanic explosions, falling phreatic materials in various cities located dozens of kilometers from the crater. However, local authorities of Armero have always tried to diffuse the situation, making appeals for calm and advising people to remain in their homes.

But the eruption was actually happening! The subsequent development and progression of lahars took the lives away of 25,000 people, making this the second volcanic eruption most deadly of the twentieth century worldwide.

21. Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake

On December 26 2004 the world witnessed a tragedy. After a quake of 9.3 on the Richter scale off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, three giant waves erupted in Southeast Asia changing forever the landscape. As the days went by, increased the number of victims: in the end were counted 230,000 dead and many thousands of homeless.

Concerning number of victims, Indonesia was the hardest hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

This was the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph, and had longer duration of shaking ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes.

It triggered other earthquakes in remote parts of the epicenter, such as Alaska, United States. Its hypocenter was at about 30 km depth and the epicenter was between Simeulue and Sumatra.

The worldwide community donated more than 14 billion dollars in humanitarian aid.


The Catastrophism was the most accepted principle until the mid-eighteenth century, and its main proponent was Cuvier. According to this theory, the major changes in the Earth’s surface, were interpreted as a result of sudden, violent (catastrophic) and non-cyclic phenomena associated with divine intervention.

The neocatastrophism is a new theory that recognizes uniformitarianism as the main guide that helps us understand the geological phenomena, but does not preclude occasional catastrophic phenomena have contributed to any changes in the earth’s surface located. The neocatastrophism associates catastrophic uniformitarian ideas to explain certain phenomena such as the extinction of the dinosaurs.
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