10 Worst Natural Disasters
10. TYPHOON TIP. Pacific typhoons are generally more powerfulthan Atlantic hurricanes because the former have much more water over which they cangather strength. On October 12, 1979, Typhoon Tip madehistory with the lowest air pressure ever recordedat sea level on earth: 870 mbars. Standard sea-level air pressure is 1013. 25mbars. Hurricane Andrew only made it to 922 mbars. Tip had one-minute sustained winds of 190 mph. It killed 99 people, a low numbercompared to some of the others on this list, but this must be placed in the perspectiveof a long warning before the typhoon strikes. Of the fatalities, 44 were fishermen in the open Pacific. Tip sank or grounded eightships. One of these was a giant freighter thatthe storm broke in half. Not only was it the strongest cyclone ever recorded, it was alsothe largest at half the size of the continental United States. 9. THE LAKE NYOS LIMNIC ERUPTION. Limnic eruptions are some of the mostbizarre natural disasters known. The criteria required for one to occur make them veryrare. Lake Nyos is in a very remote area of the Cameroonian jungle. It is not very large,only 1. 2 miles by 0. 75 miles, but it is quite deep, at 682 feet. Under the lake bed, amagma chamber is leaking carbon dioxide into the water. This changes the water intocarbonic acid. Carbon dioxide is 1. 5 times denser than air, which is why it will notrise from the bottom of a lake, unless shoved upby another force. There are only three such lakes known on earth. On August 21, 1986, the carbon dioxide at the bottom of the lake suddenly erupted allat once, 1. 6 million tons of it, and released acloud of carbon dioxide from the water. This cloud, being heavier than air, hugged theground contours and blew out of the lake at 60 mph; it then went downhill throughoutthe area at up to 30 mph and displaced all the oxygen in several small villages, suffocatingbetween 1700 and 1800 people, not counting all their livestock. The force of the gas expulsion also blew out the lake water itself, in an 80-foot-hightsunami that stripped the trees, shrubs, and soil off one side of the shore. 8. THE 1960 CHILE EARTHQUAKE. The most powerful earthquake ever recordedstruck near Valdivia, Chile, on May 22, 1960, at 2:11 p. m. local time. As many as 6000people were killed. Many more would have been, had it not been for Chile’s preparednessfor earthquakes and the remote location of the epicenter. Eyewitnesses reported that it appeared as if God has seized the entire world from oneend like a rope and swung it as hard as he could. Forty percent of the houses in Valdiviawere razed to the ground. Cordon Caulle, a nearby active volcano, was ripped open andforced to erupt. The quake measured 9. 5 in magnitude,and 35-foot-high waves were recorded 6000 miles away. Of all the seismic energy of the20th century plus the 2004 Indian Ocean quake, 25 percent was concentrated in the1960 Chile quake. It caused 82-foot-high waves to traveldown the Chilean coast. Hilo, Hawaii, was destroyed. The quake possessed twice thesurface-energy yield as the 2004 Indian Ocean quake, and equaled 178 billion tonsof dynamite. This would have powered the entireUnited States, at 2005 energy consumption levels, for 740 years. 7. THE 2003 EUROPEAN HEAT WAVE. Europe is not accustomed to hot summers. Give them a break—hot summers almost never happen there. But in 2003, they gothit with one that would make the southeasternUnited States or the Australian outback sit back and marvel. In Europe, most of the homes built within the last 50 years before 2003 did not haveair conditioners because none had ever beenneeded. Now, well over half of them have equipped themselves for the future. There were at least 14,802 deaths from the heat in France alone, most of them oldpeople in nursing homes or in single-family homes without the ability to cool off. Theheat dried up most of Europe, and severe forest fires broke out in Portugal. Some 2000people died there from the heat. About 300 died in Germany, where theweather is usually very cold to delightfully mild; 141 died in Spain, where the temperatureactually gets into the 90s once in a great while; 1500 died in the Netherlands. Multipletemperature records, having lasted since the 1700s, were broken, then brokenagain a week later: 106. 7°F in Brono, Switzerland, which melted a lot of Alpineglaciers into flash floods; 104. 7 in Bavaria, Germany; 103 in Paris. The new record inEdinburgh, Scotland, is now 91. 2°F, which isunheard of there. 6. THE STORM OF THE CENTURY. From March 12 to 13, 1993, a cyclonic stormformed off the East Coast of the United States so vast in size that it caused a uniquehodgepodge of severe weather. Rarely does a single storm system causeblizzards from the Canada-U. S. border all the way down to Birmingham, Alabama, butthis one did, and Birmingham received 12 to 16 inches of snowfall in one day and night. This was accompanied everywhere with hurricane-force wind gusts. The Florida panhandlereceived up to four inches of snow, and the strange thing is that five peoplewere killed by tornadoes in the middle of thisblizzard. The Appalachians of North Carolina, Virginia,and West Virginia received as much as 3. 5 feet of snow, with drifts up to 35 feet. Throughout the eastern half of the country, 300 people froze to death when the electricalpower was knocked out by falling trees. Wind gusts of 100 mph reached all the wayto Havana, Cuba. 5. THE GREAT FLOOD OF 1931. The deadliest natural disaster ever recordedoccurred through the winter, spring, and summer of 1931 in central China. There arethree major rivers draining this area: the Yangtze, the Yellow, and the Huai. All threeflooded catastrophically because the winter snowstorms were particularly heavy in themountains around the river basins, and when spring began, all this snow melted andflowed into the rivers. Then the spring brought particularly heavyrains. Then the cyclone season, which usually brings only two storms per year,brought ten, seven of them in July. All this water swelled the three major rivers, especiallythe Yellow River, and because they drain a very large, very flat area of China,somewhere between 3. 7 and 4 million people were drowned or starved. Nanjing City, China’s capital at the time, became an island surrounded by over100,000 square kilometers of water, more area than the state of Indiana, or all ofPortugal. 4. THE TUNGUSKA EXPLOSION. On June 30, 1908, at about 7:14 a. m. localtime, an asteroid or comet plummeted over the lower Tunguska River in Krasnoyarsk,Russia, a remote area of Siberia, and detonated at an altitude of three to six miles. It exploded with the energy of the largest thermonuclear bomb the United States hasever tested, the Castle Bravo bomb, at 10 to15 megatons. This is one-third the power of the largest thermonuclear weapon ever detonated,the Tsar Bomba. The airburst toppled about 80 million trees over 772square miles of Siberian taiga, and would have registered at 5. 0 on the Richter scale. Thankfully, no one was killed, because the nearest eyewitnesses were about 40 milesaway from ground zero. They reported seeing a bright blue column of light streakacross the sky, almost as bright as the sun, then a flash, and a report like artilleryfire right beside them. For 100 miles around the epicenter, people were blown off their feet by the shockwave;their clothes were scorched off, windows were shattered, and trees were seared todeath and blown over. Iron locks were snapped off barn doors. This detonation wasmore than sufficient to incinerate the entire population of Japan, the São Paolo metropolitanarea, the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, or the entire United States’ New Englandmegalopolis from Boston to Washington, D. C. 3. THE 1999 BRIDGE CREEK F5 TORNADO. On May 3, 1999, a tornado outbreak lastingfor three days began with a bang when an F5 tornado formed at about 7:12 p. m. local time. This tornado was the most powerful windstorm ever recorded on earth, at 318 mph. Itkilled 36 people and traveled northeast from Amber, Oklahoma, through Bridge Creekand Moore. Moore is a southern suburb of Oklahoma City, and had the tornado veerednorth into the city, it would have probably caused more deaths than any other tornadoin history and become the costliest. The tornado obliterated 8000 houses. Itshredded large vehicles with debris and then wrapped them around telephone poles,threw them completely through warehouses, whipped two-by-fours through wheel hubs,and shot pine straw all the way through eight-inch-thick pine trees. This was the first time that the local weather stations reported over radio thatif residents were not securely underground,they would be killed. Hiding under mattresses in bathtubs, in ditches, or underhighway overpasses was insufficient. 2. THE 1815 TAMBORA ERUPTION. Mt. Tambora is on Sumbawa Island, in southIndonesia. It erupted from April 6 to 11, 1815, but the worst of this was at the end,from April 10 to 11. The power is rated as seven on the Volcanic Explosivity Index,making this eruption the most powerful in recorded history, four times more powerfulthan the 1883 Krakatoa eruption. This means that the Tambora eruption was52,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. All the vegetation onSumbawa was incinerated or uprooted, mixed with ash, and washed out to sea. Thetrees formed rafts three miles across. Pumice ash does not mix well with water, and oneof these rafts of ash and wood drifted all theway to Calcutta, India. In the largest loss of life caused by a volcaniceruption in recorded history, 92,000 people were killed, most by starvation. The finer ash remained in the atmosphere for three years and covered the entire planet,causing brilliant sunsets and the famous “Year without a Summer” in both NorthAmerica and Europe. The ash disrupted the weather and caused global temperatures todecrease as much as 1. 3°F on average, an enormous drop. 1816 was the coldest year of the 1810s, and that was the coldest decade of the centurybecause of the eruption. From June 6 to 10, 1816, 12 inches of snow fell in Quebec City. Crops in the entire Northern Hemisphere were severely damaged. 1. THE 1958 LITUYA BAY MEGATSUNAMI. Megatsunamis were only theoretical untilJuly 9, 1958, when, in Lituya Bay, a very narrowfjord of the Alaskan panhandle, a 7. 7– magnitude earthquake shook 90 million tonsof rock and glacial ice off the mountainside at the head of the bay. It dropped off allat once, almost vertically, and landed as amonolith into the bay’s deep headwaters. This generated the highest wave ever recordedon earth at 1720 feet. That’s 470 feet taller than the tip of the Empire State Building’santenna. It is, in fact, taller than all but the five tallest skyscrapers on earth today,and most scientists agree that it had sufficient power to rip these buildings from theirfoundations. The wave traveled from the head of thebay out toward the open ocean, and because the bay is so narrow, the wave was funneledup the mountainsides. It snapped all the trees off at three to six feet above the groundeverywhere up to 1720 feet high around the bay. Most of these were six-foot-thick sprucetrees. There were a total of three fishing boatsin the bay, near the mouth, and the wave sankone, killing the two on board. The other two were lucky to ride this wave up the mountainsidesand then slosh with it back into the bay. One of the boats was anchored, and the three-foot-thick iron anchor chain wassnapped like thread when the wave lifted the boat. One of the survivors estimated thelength of time between the wave’s overtopping of the island in the bay to its arrival athis boat as two seconds. If this is true, thewave was traveling at 600 mph. The megatsunami stripped away all thetrees, grass, and soil down to the bedrock, and then dissipated in the open ocean.