Disasters waiting to happen

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The death toll has reached 40,000 in the China earthquake. Another 32,000 people are missing according to Xinhua, the official news agency in China.

The numbers are staggering, to be sure, but even if all of the missing are presumed dead, the disaster that’s dominated the news doesn’t come close to making the list of all-time worst natural disasters.

Of course, measuring “worst” is subjective. For some it’s death toll, for others it’s damage, or both. One scientist, for example, puts Hurricane Katrina on his “top 10″ list, even though “only” 1,100 people were killed.

When it comes to natural disasters, no place beats China.

Here, according to Wikipedia, are the highest-death-toll natural disasters.

1. 1931 China floods. Officially, 400,000 people were killed although other estimates range from 1 million to 4 million dead.

2. 1887 Yellow River flood in China. 900,000 to 2 million dead.

3. 1556 Shaanxi (China) earthquake. 830,000 people dead

Two other China disasters — the 1975 Banqiao Dam failure (242,000) and 1976 Tangshan earthquake (231,000) round out the top 10.

If the projected death toll in the most recent case is accurate, it would be the 19th or 20th deadliest earthquake in history.

For the United States, for the record, the worst natural disaster — death toll-wise — was the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, when 3,000 people died. The 1980 U.S. heat wave, however, is blamed for the deaths of anywhere between 1,200 and 10,000 people. Running second — or third — is the Peshtigo fire in this neck of the woods.

  • Dave

    I believe the worst natural disaster in U.S. history was actually the hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900. The death toll is estimated to be 8,000.