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What are the World's Deadliest Natural Disasters?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
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The world's ten deadliest natural disasters in recorded history are as follows:

Rank EventLocationDeath Toll (Estimate)
11931 Yellow River floodChina 1,000,000–3,700,000
21887 Yellow River floodChina900,000-2,000,000
31970 Bhola cycloneBangladesh500,000-1,000,000
41556 Shaanxi earthquakeChina830,000
51839 India Cyclone300,000+
61642 Kaifeng Flood300,000
72004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunamiIndian Ocean283,100
81976 Tangshan earthquakeChina242,000
91975 Banqiao Dam failureChina231,000
101138 Aleppo earthquakeSyria230,000

Because of low population levels in prehistory, it is unlikely that natural disasters then surpassed modern natural disasters in death toll, although the explosion of Mt. Toba 70,000 to 75,000 years ago in modern-day Indonesia may be one contender.

Of the ten deadliest natural disasters, four are floods, four earthquakes, and two cyclones. One of the floods (1975 Banqiao Dam failure) was actually a dam failure rather than a natural disaster, and one of the earthquakes (2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake) achieved its destruction primarily through the large tsunami it created, which pummeled the coasts of Thailand, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka.

The term "natural disaster" refers to an abrupt event, and does not include pandemics or famines, which may have a similar or much higher death toll. Some of the deadliest pandemics include smallpox, which killed over 300 million people in the 20th century alone, the Bubonic Plague, which also killed over 300 million, malaria, which has killed 80 - 250 million, tuberculosis, killing 40 - 100 million, the Spanish flu, which killed 20 - 100 million in just 18 months, and AIDS, which has killed over 25 million. The greatest famines have a death toll similar to AIDS, with the largest claiming 10 - 40 million lives.

There is the potential for a natural disaster even more deadly than any we have yet experienced. Possibilities include a large asteroid impact, which could kill over a billion people, or the possibility of a plague genetically engineered for optimal lethality and ability to spread, which might kill a similar number. Because of the existence of very isolated communities on Earth, it is unlikely that such a virus could kill everyone, although the possibility should not be ruled out.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By OceanSwimmer — On Nov 13, 2010


The Bhola cyclone was a terribly devastating tropical cyclone that hit East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh, and India’s West Bengal on November 12, 1970. It was the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded.

Almost 500,000 people died as a result of this storm, primarily the storm surge. It reached a strength equivalent to a Category 3 Hurricane.

By GardenTurtle — On Nov 13, 2010

Does anyone have any information on the 1970 Bhola Cyclone that you could share?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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