The Most Devastating Natural Disasters In History

Published August 26, 2011
Updated January 9, 2018

From an earthquake that killed over 250,000 to the flood that killed over 4 million, we look at history's most devastating natural disasters.

History's Most Devastating Natural Disasters

The Great Tangshan Earthquake, China, 1976

Great Tangshan Earthquake

Based on the death toll, the Great Tangshan Earthquake is the largest earthquake of the 20th century. On July 28, 1976, the earthquake ravaged the industrial city of Tangshan in Hebei province, killing around 255,000 people and injuring 164,000.

The earthquake hit early in the morning and lasted for ten seconds, its magnitude estimated to be between 7.8 to 8.2.

It was followed sixteen hours later by a 7.8 magnitude aftershock, which significantly increased the death toll. Railway lines, roads and buildings were completely destroyed, but the Chinese government refused to allow foreign aid into the country.

China Earthquake

Great Tangshan Earthquake

Mount Tambora Volcanic Explosion, Indonesia, 1815

Explosion of Mount Tambora Volcano

The eruption of Mount Tambora on Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, was the most powerful explosion recorded in history, measuring 52,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima Bomb of WW2. The eruption occurred from April 6 to April 11, 1815, and was rated a number seven on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

Over 92,00 people were killed, and all of the crops on the island were incinerated, trees fell and ash washed out to sea, drifting all the way to India. The finer ash remained in the atmosphere for three years, caused spectacular sunsets across the planet, and dropped temperatures across the world, resulting in the ‘Year without summer’ in America and Europe.

Mount Tambora

Devastating Natural Disasters: Aleppo Earthquake, Syria, 1138

Earthquake In Aleppo In 1138

Landscape of Aleppo Syria

An earthquake shook the sleepy region of Aleppo, northern Syria on October 14, 1138 and is considered one of the most devastating earthquakes of human history. The town of Aleppo is located along the Dead Sea Transform system of geological faults, a plate boundary that separates the Arabian and African plate, so the earthquake activity was predictable.

Less predictable was the earthquake measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale, and resulting in the death of an estimated 230,000 people.

Earthquake of Aleppo Syria

All That's Interesting
A New York-based publisher established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science to share stories that illuminate our world.