A list of the worst natural disasters

Written by amy adkins
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A list of the worst natural disasters
Floods are commonly occurring natural disasters. (Peeter Viisimaa/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Natural disasters are sudden, catastrophic events that are caused by changes in the environment; they have occurred all over the world. The effects of these disasters are both immediate and long-lasting. Natural disasters can result in a tremendous loss of life. The environmental and economic impacts of these events can also be devastating, with damages totalling billions of dollars.

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Haiti Earthquake

In January 2010, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale destroyed Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Although there have been stronger earthquakes, the Haiti earthquake occurred only six miles from the Earth's surface, compounding the intensity of the disaster. Buildings in Port-au-Prince were not made to withstand the quake, and many people were trapped as homes, hospitals, schools and hotels crumbled. The Red Cross estimates that three million people were impacted by the disaster. More than 500,000 people were killed or injured, and many more were left homeless. The inter-American Development Bank estimates that this disaster cost £9 billion in damages.

Bubonic Plague

In 1347, a trading ship travelling from central Asia docked in Sicily. Many of the sailors aboard were dead, and those that were not were infected with black boils. They had brought the bubonic plague, or "black death," to the town. The disease spread quickly throughout Europe, reaching major cities like Paris and London. It killed 75 million people: one-third of Europe's population. The bubonic plague was highly contagious and those who contracted it only survived for three to four days. At the time, there was no understanding of what caused the bubonic plague or how to treat or cure the disease. The cause of the disease is now known to be a bacterium that rats and other small animals carry. When fleas infest the animal, they become infected and carry the disease to humans. The major characteristic of the bubonic plague is significant swelling of the lymph nodes.

Yellow River Flood

China's Huang He, or Yellow River, is one of the longest rivers in the world. In 1931, extreme and prolonged rainfall caused the river to flood an area of more than 500 square miles. Although no exact number is known, it is believed that at least one million and possibly 3.7 million died as a result of the flood. Some drowned, while others died from disease and starvation. The Yellow River flood of 1931 is considered to be one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century.

Indian Ocean Tsunami

A massive earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale rocked the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004. It was followed by aftershocks measuring 6.3 to 7.0. The underwater earthquake sent massive and powerful waves of water to the coasts of 11 countries, including faraway countries like Kenya and South Africa. This tsunami was the worst in recorded history. Thousands were left homeless and 230,000 people were killed. Sumatra, Indonesia was closest to the epicentre of the earthquake. There was no warning system to let the residents and tourists know the tsunami was coming. Waves of water reaching as high as 100 feet destroyed the town.

Hurricane Katrina

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. The hurricane began as a Tropical Depression over the Bahamas, and it gained significant strength as it moved to Florida, becoming a Category 5 hurricane. It then moved to the Gulf Coast, weakening to a Category 3 hurricane as it hit Louisiana. When it reached New Orleans, the 140-mile-per-hour winds and 20-foot surges breached the city's levees, flooding most of the city. A little more than 1,800 people lost their lives as a result of the hurricane, and more than one million people along the Gulf Coast were displaced when their homes were destroyed. Hurricane Katrina was the sixth strongest hurricane in the world and the costliest natural disaster as of October 2010. The damages totalled more than £48 billion, and the total economic impact to Louisiana and Mississippi is estimated to be around £97 billion.

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