When we think about natural disasters we really come to appreciate how fragile humanity can be in the face of gigantic natural forces. So fragile, in fact, that fatalities in the millions are not unknown. Take the central Chinese floods of 1931, which swept through the country that year during the Nanjiing decade in Republic of China history. Thought to be by far the most devastating natural disaster ever, if one ignores disease pandemic events, the numbers of lives lost was thought to be somewhere around four million, and the devastation was immense.
In more modern times, one of the deadliest events occurred in 1970, when the Bhola cyclone struck Bangladesh and West Bengal on November 12, with utterly devastating effect. The deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, Bola was also one of the deadliest natural disasters of recent history, as somewhere in the region of half a million poor victims died in, primarily as a result of the resultant storm surge, which flooded and swept away flooded many of the low-lying islands of the Ganges Delta.
Barely five years after the Bola catastrophe, China once again fell victim to nature’s fury. Both Banqiao Reservoir and Shimantan Reservoir Dams in the Henan Province failed disastrously or were deliberately damaged during Typhoon Nina, in 1975. This double failure caused the abrupt loss of power equal to that generated by nine 9 modern power stations, one third of UK peak demand. A full twelve months worth of rain had fallen in one day, the mass of water pressuring dams built to cope with less than half that. Upon the dams failures, a twenty ft tall wave of water, several miles wide,swept mercilessly over the lands below. Around a quarter of a million victims were killed, but the damage affected eleven million more.
As if China had not suffered enough, the Great Tangshan Earthquake happened only a year later, on July 28, 1976. Believed to have been the largest twentieth century earthquake by death toll, the earthquake was centered on Tangshan, an industrial city of one million inhabitants, where it hit early in the morning, lasting for ten seconds, at a measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. Initial reports suggested that 655,000 had been killed, later revised to about 250,000, whilst 164,000 more were severely injured. The earthquake shook China both literally and figuratively in 1976, later labeled ‘Year of curse’.
December 26, 2004, at just before seven in the morning, the Pacific seafloor about 150 miles off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra was hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Within moments, a huge wall of fast-moving water, a tsunami which is one of the most terrifying of natural disasters, was racing outward from the epicenter. Within hours, shorelines thousands of miles away were struck by 30 ft waves, and unsuspecting people in places such as Hawaii, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, , Thailand, the Maldives, and even Somalia were overwhelmed, because the waves were so ferocious. More than 155,000 people died, and almost two million were made homeless displaced in what was high among the worst events of the last century.
Barely had the world stopped grieving for the victims of that terrible Tsunami, when, on August 28th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southern United States. More than 1,800 victims died horribly, and whole cities suffered terrible damage, more than $81 billion dollars worth. Even today, five years on, much of the damage inflicted has still to be repaired, and many are questioning wether global warming might not cause many more such catastrophic weather events in the future.
The beginning of May of 2008 brought the Nargis Cyclone to Sri Lanka and Burma, leading to unprecedented devastation and loss of life. The flooding in Sri Lanka was so severe that ten different districts of the island suffered landslides, while Burma, Nargis struck the town of Bogale so badly that over 10,000 townsfolk perished.. This truly damaging disaster was entirely responsible for causing $10 billion worth of damage, in the process killing 135,000, while a further 50,000 are still unaccounted for to this day.
Finally 2010 has not passed without a major natural disaster. In January Haiti was subjected to a catastrophic magnitude 7earthquake, with 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater recorded over the following ten days. Three million people were affected, and reports state that an estimated 230,000 victims had been killed, 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 more made homeless. Ten months later, life on the island is still very fragmented.