1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Wikimedia Commons

The Deadliest Hurricanes and Other Natural Disasters in the U.S.

View Slideshow
1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Wikimedia Commons

Ruin Nation

Along with everything else 2020 has brought us, this tumultuous year has been marked by a startling number of natural disasters, from deadly wildfires to a slew of hurricanes, all forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes. There have also been typhoons in certain parts of the world and floods, making for a powerful reminder of the power of nature. Here’s a closer look at some of deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history that preceded them.

Related: 16 Emergency Essentials You Don't Want to Be Without

The Great Flood of 1937
Wikimedia Commons

Ohio River Flood

Year: 1937
Fatalities: 350

The worst flooding Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois residents had seen in 175 years in the Ohio River Valley was triggered by record-breaking rains — 14 inches in Cincinnati, nearly 15 inches in Evansville, Indiana, and almost 20 inches in Louisville. It resulted in floodwaters reaching almost 80 feet in Cincinnati and submerging a staggering 70% of Louisville, Kentucky. As floodwaters rose, gas tanks exploded in some places and oil fires broke out in others. Some locations in Cincinnati remained underwater for as many as 19 days, and countless people lost their homes.

Blizzard of 1888, Park Place in Brooklyn NY. March 14, 1888.
Wikimedia Commons

Great Blizzard of 1888

Year: 1888
Fatalities: 400
This March 11 storm brought New York City to a halt by dropping as much as 55 inches of snow in some locations, with wind gusts of up to 85 miles per hour. The drifts of snow left behind by the storm were so massive they reached as high as the second story of some buildings and blocked entrances to train stations, while as many as 15,000 people found themselves stranded on elevated trains. About one in every four Americans lived between Washington, D.C., and Maine at the time, and plenty of other cities in the region were hit with their own record snowfalls from the blizzard: In Keene, New Hampshire, 36 inches of snow was recorded, while New Haven, Connecticut, got 45. Boats sank from the wind and waves, and wild animals and farm animals alike froze to death.

Moose Lake and Cloquet Wildfires, Minnesota
Wikimedia Commons

Moose Lake and Cloquet Wildfires, Minnesota

Year: 1918
Fatalities: About 1,000
The trigger for this natural disaster was a parched landscape and dry gusty winds, combined with a spark from a passing train. The result: The worst wildfire outbreak in Minnesota history. The fire began Oct. 10, smoldering for a few days during the area’s worst dry spell in 48 years. When winds intensified, so did the fire. (At their strongest, winds reached 76 miles per hour.) The fire consumed the small town of Brookston rapidly and moved on to Duluth. Before it was over, 38 communities were destroyed. In addition to the many deaths, there was more than $1 billion in damage.

Heatwave
batuhan toker/istockphoto

Heatwave

Year: 1980
Fatalities: 1,260

With temperatures soaring these days from climate change, the 113-degree peak seen in the heatwave of 1980 may not seem quite as extreme as it once did. Still, this was one of the deadliest weather events in U.S. history, groaning on from mid-July through mid-September across central and eastern United States. Many states suffered through weeks of record-breaking heat; Memphis, Tennessee, recorded a 15-day stretch of temperatures above 100 degrees. The toll couldn’t just be counted in deaths: Agricultural losses totaled some $60 billion adjusted for inflation.

Related: The Coldest and Warmest Cities in Every State

The Okeechobee Hurricane
Wikimedia Commons

The Okeechobee Hurricane

Year: 1928
Fatalities: 1,770 to 2,300
While many coastal residents were well-prepared for this hurricane’s arrival, the residents of Lake Okeechobee, a community some 40 miles inland from Palm Beach, were caught off guard. The rain arriving with the hurricane’s brutal 125 mph winds was too much for the lake to handle, and its dikes crumbled. Water flooded into surrounding farmland and homes, sweeping people away. Despite significant search efforts, not all bodies were recovered, while many that were found were not able to be identified.

Related: Lifesaving Skills Worth Learning for Emergencies

Hurricane Katrina
Wikimedia Commons

Hurricane Katrina

Year: 2005
Fatalities: About 1,836
Likely one of the best-known natural disasters on this list, Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 event that included recorded winds of between 100 and 140 mph. Katrina pounded some 400 miles of land with devastating impact. Perhaps most notably, it triggered levee breaches, resulting in massive flooding that displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Coast Guard ended up rescuing about 34,000 people just in New Orleans. Desperate residents also commandeered boats to save themselves and their neighbors. It’s estimated that the storm caused more than $100 billion in damage.

Related: Once Popular Tourist Hotspots That Are Now Totally Abandoned

Sea Islands Hurricane
Wikimedia Commons

Sea Islands Hurricane

Year: 1893
Fatalities: About 2,000
The first effects of this storm began to be felt Aug. 25 on the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and the barrier islands off South Carolina. The storm ultimately made landfall near Savannah, Georgia, two days later, bringing 120 mph winds and a storm surge so big it submerged the Sea Islands completely. The destruction left in this storm’s wake was massive: Nearly every building on the Sea Islands was damaged beyond repair and some 30,000 people made suddenly homeless. The Red Cross didn’t get to the disaster areas for more than one month, and in the end it took a 10-month relief effort to restore the Sea Islands, where damages were estimated at $22.8 million.

Related: 35 Reputable Charities to Help This Holiday Season

Cheniere Caminada Hurricane
Wikimedia Commons

Cheniere Caminada Hurricane

Year: 1893
Fatalities: More than 2,000
This powerful, Category 4 hurricane barreled into town Oct. 2 with winds of more than 100 mph (some estimates put the winds at closer to 133 mph). About half of the 1,200 people living in the small Gulf Coast community died, and the town was all but wiped out by waters surging nearly 18 feet. Just one house was left standing. There were also hundreds of other deaths in surrounding areas along the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, and an estimated $5 million in damage — close to $136 million, adjusted for inflation.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Earthquake

Year: 1906
Fatalities: More than 3,000
This record-breaking earthquake from a rupture of the northernmost 296 miles of the San Andreas fault began with a foreshock at 5:12 a.m. April 18, followed some 20 seconds later by a legendarily violent earthquake lasting as long as a minute. The impact was felt from southern Oregon all the way to below Los Angeles, and inland as far as central Nevada. As awful as the earthquake itself was, it also triggered fires in San Francisco that lasted for three days and destroyed almost 500 city blocks. Between the earthquake and fires, thousands of people were killed and half of San Francisco’s population of 400,000 was left homeless.

Related: 25 Emergency Items You Should Put in a First Aid Kit

San Ciriaco Hurricane, Puerto Rico
Wikimedia Commons

San Ciriaco Hurricane, Puerto Rico

Year: 1899
Fatalities: 3,400
This hurricane, making landfall Aug. 8, was one of the most devastating in Puerto Rican history, bringing 28 straight days of rain and winds as fast as 100 mph. In the hurricane’s wake, among those who lived were thousands who found themselves without shelter, food, or work. The hurricane also caused massive damage to the island’s farmlands, including many coffee plantations.

Hurricane Maria
Wikimedia Commons

Hurricane Maria

Year: 2017
Fatalities: About 4,600
As the first Category 4 hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years, Maria and its 155 mph winds left nearly the entire population of 3.4 million without electricity. It ripped wooden and tin roofs off homes, and left many people with limited access to clean water and food. Studies found that the Sept. 20 hurricane itself and the aftermath killed thousands and demanded a yearslong recovery.

Related: How to Support Puerto Rico's Recovery Effort

Galveston Hurricane
Wikimedia Commons

Galveston Hurricane

Year: 1900
Fatalities: 6,000 to 12,000
The deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history took place 120 years ago in Galveston, Texas. On Sept. 8, a Category 4 hurricane pounded Galveston with winds of more than 135 mph and storm surges up to 15 feet, destroying more than 3,600 buildings. The disaster was exacerbated by the lack of sophisticated weather forecasting technology at the time — but warnings about the impending event were issued by the U.S. Weather Bureau, including calls for people to move to higher ground, only to be largely ignored by vacationers and residents.