One of the best things about life is that at any given moment something surprising and unexpected can happen. That’s also one of the most abjectly terrible things about life, though. Throughout history, simply terrible, awful things have happened many times. The more you learn about them, the more you’ll be glad they happened long, long before your birth.
Today let’s talk about a few historical disasters that befell our ancestors. We would not trade places with these ancestors for all the gold in the world.
14.) Peru Earthquake
On Oct 20, 1687, an 8.7 magnitude earthquake occurred and triggered a tsunami that caused damages to the city of Lima. This historical disaster caused the death of over 5000 people.
- The Tsunami completely destroyed the port of Pisco.
- Other areas like Callao and Ica were also affected by the earthquake.
- The incident marked the end of the Peruvian wine-boom.
13.) 1737 Calcutta Cyclone
This devastating historical disaster hit the Bay of Bengal on October 11, 1737. The cyclone, which made its landfall in the Ganges River, caused a lot of damages to areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
- 300-500,000 people were killed.
- The area experienced torrential rain of over 380 mm in 6 hours.
- The exact date is unknown because the Gregorian Calendar was not in use then.
12.) 1931 Hawkes Bay Earthquake
Also known as the Napier earthquake, this 7.8 magnitude earthquake in New Zealand was the deadliest natural disaster in the history of New Zealand with over 200 lives lost.
- The earthquake lasted for less than 3 minutes.
- In the aftermath of the quake, 525 aftershocks happened in the following 2 weeks.
11.) Haiyuan Earthquake of 1920
Also known as the Gansu earthquake, this historical disaster caused a lot of damage. The earthquake was a 7.8 magnitude quake, and the aftershocks were still felt three years after.
- The quake was felt as far away as Norway and several provinces in China.
- It is the seventh deadliest natural disaster in history with a death toll of over 200,000 people.
- Some people believe the earthquake caused some rivers to change course.
10.) 1755 Lisbon earthquake
Commonly known as the Great Lisbon earthquake, this historical disaster was one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of Lisbon.
- The earthquake combined with other natural disasters like subsequent fires and a tsunami.
- The earthquake almost cleared the entirety of Lisbon with the death toll at about 10,000 to 100,000 people.
9.) Peshtigo Fire
October 1871 had one of the most devastating historical natural disasters in American history.
- It was the deadliest wildfire in American history, killing around 1500 people.
- The fire took place in the Peshtigo forest in Wisconsin.
- This historical disaster burned about 1,200,000 acres.
8. 1926 Great Miami Hurricane
A tropical cyclone in September of 1926 caused serious damages in the Greater Miami area of the United States of America. The cyclone caused damage across a huge area including the Bahamas, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana
- This was the costliest hurricane in history. Experts estimate that damages cost $105 million at the time, which would be more than $100 billion today.
- This historical disaster left about 40,000 residents homeless.
7. 1556 Shaanxi Earthquake
This is one of the most devastating historical disasters to happen in Northern China during the rule of the Ming Dynasty.
- With its death toll of 830,000 people, this earthquake was the third deadliest natural disaster in the world.
- The earthquake affected 97 countries.
- In some counties, 60% of the population were killed.
6. The 1931 China floods
This incident was one of the most devastating historical disasters in the history of China. In the early 1930s, China was hit with various natural disasters. This particular flood was the deadliest. The Yangtze River flooded during heavy rain, causing a flood covering 180,000 square km — almost 70,000 miles.
- Although we don’t know have a way to know the exact death toll, some experts think that these floods had the highest death toll of historical disasters. Some people think about four million people died as a result of the floods.
- The disaster happened after a drought for over a year.
- China witnessed 9 cyclones in July of that same year.
5.) Chicxulub Impact event
Let’s not forget the granddaddy of them all, even though no humans were killed when a giant killer death asteroid collided with the Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago.
The impact quickly changed the Cretaceous Period into the Pretty Much Everything Dies Period, thanks to the billions of tons of debris thrown into the atmosphere and the likely dark, frigid years that followed this proverbial celestial kick in the pants.
- The crater’s diameter is over 150 kilometers or 93 miles. This is the second largest known impact crater on Earth (the largest is the Vredefort Dome in South Africa.
4.) The Great San Francisco Quake
The Great San Francisco Quake of 1906 is one of the most intense earthquakes we’ve experienced. The violent shaking lasted more than a full minute – many times longer than a usual quake – and came bearing the gifts of frequent tremors and aftershocks. Oh, and then a huge fire broke out.
- Up to 3,000 people may have died, though the official count is lower (many of the city’s denizens were poor and lived largely in isolated immigrant communities, so many of these people may not have been counted).
- This earthquake happened before the Richter scale was created to measure earthquakes, but some people think that this earthquake’s magnitude was between 7.7 and 8.3.
- About 300,000 people were homeless after the quake and the fires. The fires were perhaps more destructive than the original earthquake.
3.) Great Fire of London
A list of historical disasters can’t leave off the big event in 1666 when London was ravaged by the Great Fire of London. Thousands of homes and shops were destroyed or badly damaged. One of the destroyed buildings, of course, was the bakery of a Mr. Thomas Farriner, whose shop was where the fire started. Needless to say, his popularity dropped after the inferno.
- In spite of the devastating effects on the city, only a handful of people are known to have died in the fire. However, some deaths of poor people may not have been recorded, and the fire may have destroyed many remains.
- The Museum of London has a melted piece of pottery on display. This pottery item was found in Pudding Lane, the starting location of the fire. From this pottery, experts estimate that the fire reached 1,250 °C or 2,280 °F.
- The fire destroyed St. Paul’s Cathedral. Lucky for London tourists and the Anglican church, they rebuilt this important London landmark.
2.) The Black Death
The Bubonic Plague. Yersinia Pestis. This plague rolled out a bit more slowly than a volcanic eruption, but it still exists in some pockets of earth. The worst outbreak peaked around 1350 and killed almost half of Europe’s population, although some experts think that the plague killed as much as 65% of the continent’s population in just a few years.
- Many people think the Black Death started in Central Asia, traveled along the Silk Road, then spread by the fleas on rats that lived on merchant ships.
- It took 200 years for the world population to get back to the population level before the plague.
1.) Mount Vesuvius
The year was AD 79. The place was the Roman Empire. At the time, the Romans were only a few generations into their imperial period, were rapidly expanding their empire and were still largely unaware of the Christianity that would soon be complicating things for the Romans. A giant volcanic eruption made this complicated, too. The Mount Vesuvius volcano blew its top, spreading rock, ash, lava, and death for up to twenty miles, killing some 16,000 people.
- Mount Vesuvius has erupted many times. Before the AD 79 eruption, the volcano had at least three larger eruptions that destroyed several settlements in the Bronze Age.
- This volcano has not erupted since 1944.
- None of the eruptions after AD 79 have been as large or destructive as the one that destroyed Pompei.
So the next time you have a bad day at work or get stuck in traffic, try to put things in historical perspective and realize that if you are not living through a nightmare of unimaginable horror and suffering like what happened during these historical disasters, you just might be doing okay.