Special Report

Deadliest Natural Disasters of the Past 50 Years

Source: Mario Tama / Getty Images News via Getty Images

5. Port-au-Prince earthquake
> Location: Haiti
> Date: Jan. 12, 2010
> Est. death toll: 160,000

Of the ten deadliest natural catastrophes on this list, the 2010 Haiti earthquake is the only one outside Asia. The quake, magnitude 7.0, toppled hundreds of thousands of homes and tens of thousands of commercial buildings and was followed by dozens of aftershocks. One-story homes topped with sheet metal fared better than other structures with concrete rooftops, such as apartment warrens, churches, commercial centers, and government buildings lacking earthquake-resistant features.

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images News via Getty Images

4. Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami
> Location: Indian Ocean Basin
> Date: Dec. 26, 2004
> Est. death toll: 227,898

A 900-mile segment of fault line off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where the Indian and Australian tectonic plates meet, slipped, causing an incredibly powerful undersea quake, magnitude 9.1, that lifted a portion of the seafloor to break upwards by as much as 131 feet in a matter of seconds. Within 20 minutes, 100-foot-tall waves from the ensuing tsunami drowned the shoreline of Banda Aceh at the northeastern tip of Sumatra. Successive large waves struck the coasts of Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka and caused deaths as far away as South Africa, thousands of miles to the southeast across open ocean.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. Super Typhoon Nina
> Location: Taiwan, China
> Date: July 30, 1975
> Est. death toll: 230,000

Nina, a category 4 super typhoon, stalled over central China for three days, causing extreme rainfall and catastrophic flooding. This unusually high amount of precipitation was caused by the typhoon’s interaction with another tropical depression. Most of the deaths were caused by the catastrophic failure of a Banqiao Dam on the Yellow River in Henan province that caused a rush of water up to 33 feet high and seven miles wide, traveling at about 30 miles an hour. Dozens of other dams and reservoirs were also breached in the storm.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

2. Tangshan earthquake
> Location: China
> Date: Jul. 27, 1976
> Est. death toll: 242,769

The magnitude-7.8 quake struck the densely populated industrial city of Tangshan, Hebei province, in the pre-dawn hours. Within minutes most buildings in the city toppled or were so severely damaged that they had to be demolished. The quake caused death and injuries in nearby Beijing and Tianjin. Though slightly less powerful than the Sichuan quake of 2008, the Tangshan earthquake remains the deadliest ever recorded in China.

Source: Mondadori / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

1. Cyclone Bhola
> Location: Bangladesh
> Date: Nov. 12, 1970
> Est. death toll: 300,000

Bangladesh has borne the brunt of two of the world’s ten deadliest natural catastrophes. Cyclone Bhola was a category 4 tropical cyclone, and though it was weaker than Cyclone Gorky in 1991, it inflicted more than double the death toll and remains the deadliest natural catastrophe ever recorded. Cyclone Bhola delivered 20-foot storm surges and sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. More than a third of Bangladesh is less than 20 feet above sea level.

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