How Much Do You Know About the Worst Natural Disasters in History?

By: Bambi Turner

Hundreds of WWI vets sent to build a new road in the Florida Keys were killed by a 1935 hurricane. Do you know what holiday this horrific storm was named for?

The Great Depression left many Americans struggling to survive, including WWI vets. The federal government put these veterans to work building a road to connect Key West to the Florida mainland. Sadly, many were killed when a category 5 hurricane swept through the area with winds in excess of 200 mph, knocking a rescue train sent to save the men right off the tracks. Today we remember this event as the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.

Name the southern U.S. city where Hurricane Katrina breached the levees and left 80 percent of the city underwater in 2005.

Hurricane Katrina was such a massive storm that it pretty much covered the entire Gulf of Mexico. By the time it hit New Orleans in August 2005, it was a Category 3 storm with winds of 120 mph of more, according to National Geographic. The low-lying city's levees couldn't hold up to the storm surge, resulting in massive floods that changed New Orleans forever.

What year did a massive earthquake trigger an out-of-control fire that burned 80% of San Francisco?

April 18, 1906 was a bad day for the city of San Francisco. Not only did a magnitude 8.3 earthquake violently shake the city, but the activity ruptured gas lines, resulting in fires that burned 80 to 90 percent of the city, according to the Library of Congress. Around 3,000 people died in the earthquake and the blaze.

Do you know which Texas city was changed forever when a 1900 hurricane swept though?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, calls the 1900 Hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas the "deadliest natural disaster in American history." Between 6,000 and 12,000 people were killed when the Category 4 storm struck this bustling port island. The storm was so damaging that Galveston never again became the hub of business and activity that it was before 1900.

A March 2011 earthquake measuring a staggering 9.0 on the Richter scale struck this Asian nation, resulting in a major nuclear meltdown and thousands of deaths.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit near Honshu, Japan. The largest earthquake to strike the island nation in over a century killed 15,000 people, triggered a tsunami more than 100 feet tall and caused a serious meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant that led to the evacuation of thousands of homes.

Legend has it that Mrs. O'Leary's cow caused the Great Chicago Fire, but it didn't cause the much-worse Peshtigo Fire that occurred the same day in this nearby Midwestern state.

On October 8, 1871, around 3 square miles of Chicago burned in a major fire. The Peshtigo Fire in northeast Wisconsin gets less attention because it started on the same day as the one of Chicago, even though Peshtigo was much more deadly and destructive. Just 250 miles north of Chicago, a forest fire near Peshtigo killed 1,200 people and burned over a million acres, according to the National Weather Service.

Which island nation, the poorest in the western hemisphere, was devastated by a 2010 earthquake?

On Jan. 12, 2010, an earthquake that the U.S. Geological Survey estimated at 7.0 magnitude struck near the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The nation was left in chaos, with few resources to help the victims. At least 100,000 lost their homes, and estimates of those killed range from 100,000 to 300,000 or more.

It may not be as well known as a volcanic eruption, but a limnic eruption has struck in Cameroon at least twice. Do you know what is sent flying into the air during a limnic event?

The rare lake with high carbon dioxide concentration can eventually erupt, spewing a cloud of carbon dioxide into the air that can suffocate people and animals nearby. Known as a limnic eruption, it's happened at least twice in Cameroon, killing 37 people near Lake Monoun in 1984 and 1,700 near Lake Nyos in 1986.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a massive earthquake triggered 100-foot tall tsunamis. Which body of water did these tsunamis form in?

Locals and travelers relaxing at resorts in the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004 were taken by surprise when 100-foot tsunamis swept across the beaches. Caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter near Sumatra, Indonesia, the disaster killed an estimated 280,000 people in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, India and local island nations, according to the World Health Organization.

The deadliest blizzard in recorded history struck this nation, whose capital city is Tehran, in 1972, burying entire villages. Can you name it?

Snow fell pretty much continuously from Feb. 3-8 in Iran in 1972. The New York Times estimated that some areas received 26 feet or more, enough to completely bury local villages and kill all who lived there. Around 4,000 people perished in this deadliest blizzard in history.

While we may not know as much about the events, natural disasters happened in ancient times, too. Which modern-day country was the site of the 526 Antioch earthquake that killed a quarter-million people?

The 526 Antioch earthquake happened near what is now known as the city of Antakya in southern Turkey. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration estimates it was a magnitude 7.0 quake that struck the city that May, killing 250,000 and destroying many of the structures.

Which of these weather events devastated India and Pakistan on Nov. 12, 1970?

The Bhola Cyclone swept through India and eastern Pakistan on Nov. 12, 1970. With winds of 100 mph or more, the storm killed a staggering 500,000 people and left low-lying areas completely under water. In the Upazila region of Bangladesh, around half of the entire population was lost to the storm.

It took almost a year for Puerto Rico to rebuild its power grid after this hurricane hit the island in 2017. Can you identify it?

Maria was a Category 5 Hurricane that hit Puerto Rico, an island of more than 3 million, in September 2017, killing 3,000 people. Three months after the storm, only about half of the residents had power restored, and it took a full year until almost everyone in Puerto Rico had electricity in their homes again.

Do you know which nation is home to Mount Tambor, whose 1815 eruption led many to call 1816 "The Year Without a Summer?"

Indonesia's Mount Tambor erupted on April 5, 1816. The eruption was so extreme that it shrunk the mountain by around 5,000 feet and killed 70,000 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Particulate matter and ash lingered in the air all over the globe for a year, resulting in 1817 being "The Year Without a Summer."

The Johnstown flood is one of the worst flood disasters in U.S. history. Do you know which state Johnstown is located in?

Located 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, PA was the site of a horrible flood in 1889. Lake Conemaugh, which was a man-made lake formed by a massive earthen dam, collapsed after heavy rain on May 31, 1889, sending water rushing downstream and killing 2,200 in the Johnstown area.

Can you guess which year the U.S. experienced a pair of record-breaking blizzards, one of which is known today as the Schoolhouse or Children's Blizzard?

On Jan. 12, 1888, a warm day turned to disaster when a blizzard swept through Nebraska, dropping temperatures to 30 below zero and trapping children in schoolhouses across the plains. A few months later, the east coast was hit by a mid-March blizzard that dropped snow from Maryland to Maine, killing 400 people.

Know what name was given to the California wildfires of November 2018, which killed more than 80 people?

Named for Camp Creek Road, where the fire began, the California Camp Fire burned from Nov. 8-25. It destroyed 14,000 homes and killed 86 people, according to CNN. In 2019, Pacific Gas and Electric alerted media that it was probably a piece of their equipment that sparked the blaze.

In all of recorded history, the top three deadliest natural disasters were of this variety.

If you were to list the worst disasters in history by death toll, the top three are all floods — and all happened in China. The 1931 Yangtze River floods killed as many as 4 million, while 1887 and 1938 floods on China's Yellow River killed up to 2 million and as many as 800,000, respectively.

Name the country that suffered an event known as the Vargas Tragedy in 1999.

Rain fell heavily for three days in December 1999 in northern Venezuela, resulting in flash floods that triggered a major avalanche on Avila Mountain. According to BBC News, between 10,000 and 30,000 people died in what has been dubbed the Vargas Tragedy, in which some neighborhoods were left buried under 10 feet of mud.

Pick the country that experienced a major earthquake of 7.8 magnitude on Dec. 16, 1920 in the Haiyun region.

The 1920 Haiyun, or Gansu, earthquake killed 73,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In some cities in central China, every single home was destroyed, and the quake was so forceful that some rivers even changed course.

In 79 AD, an eruption at Mount Vesuvius buried the city of Pompeii in as much as 65 feet of ash and rubble. Which country can this volcano be found in?

Mount Vesuvius was dormant for around 800 years before erupting in 79 AD, according to the British Museum. The eruption killed 2,000 people and buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In 1748, these cities were rediscovered, preserved in time beneath layers of ash and rock.

Where did the May 31, 1970 Huascaran avalanche kill an estimated 70,000 people — just 8 years after another avalanche in the area killed 4,000 people?

Peru suffered a major avalanche near Huascaran Mountain in the Andes on May 31, 1970. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 70,000 were killed and 80 percent of all local structures were destroyed when an avalanche a mile long tumbled down the mountain.

Do you know which natural disaster turned the retreat of 6,000 soldiers from Sweden back to Norway into what is now known as the Carolean Death March in 1719?

In Tydal Norway, you'll find memorials and an annual service, Karolinerspelet, to honor the men who died in a 1719 blizzard. As 6,000 soldiers retreated from Sweden back home to Norway, a blizzard struck, killing more than half the men before they could make it home.

Choose the U.S. National Park threatened by a wildfire named Chimney Top 2 in November 2016.

Tourism in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee was threatened by the November 2016 wildfire that swept through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park area. An estimated 14 people died and 1,600 structures were damaged, according to "Wildfire Today."

Though the U.S. has the most tornado activity of any nation, the deadliest twister in world history actually struck this Asian nation in 1989.

The Daulatpur-Saturia tornado on April 26, 1989 that struck Bangladesh is the deadliest in history. Carving a path a mile wide and 10 miles long, it killed 1,300 people and destroyed countless homes. As a point of reference, the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. killed around half this number.

An estimated 40 percent of the U.S. population was effected by the Storm of the Century, a blizzard that hit during this year.

The Great Blizzard of 1993 left up to 30 inches of snow stretching from Alabama to Maine. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 30 percent of the U.S. population was effected by this storm, which killed 200 people.

After pounding Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico, a 1928 hurricane decimated the Lake Okeechobee area in this U.S. state.

After powering through the islands, a brutal hurricane struck Florida on Sept. 16, 1928. Winds in excess of 145 mph sent water surging over the banks of Lake Okeechobee. Floods as deep as 20 feet led to the drowning deaths of 2,500 people in central Florida, according to the National Weather Service.

The 1739 Calcutta cyclone caused a 30- to 40-foot storm surge on the Ganges River. Do you know where you can find this river?

The Ganges is one of the biggest rivers in India, and in 1739 a major cyclone caused it to overflow its banks. The University of Rhode Island estimates that 25,000 boats were destroyed and as many as 350,000 people were killed in the resulting floods.

An estimated 20,000 to 35,000 people died in 2003 in Europe, mostly in France, due to this disaster.

July and August 2003 brought temperatures that were 20 to 30 percent above average in western Europe, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The soaring mercury caused glaciers in the Alps to melt and killed as many as 35,000 people — 14,000 in France alone.

Which war was taking place when the White Friday Avalanches of 1916 killed as many as 10,000 people?

On Dec. 13, 1916, a series of avalanches in the Alps killed an estimated 10,000 soldiers fighting in WWI battles. Roughly 300 Austrian troops were killed as the White Friday avalanches sent 200,000 tons of rock and ice down on their barracks, according to the History Channel.

Located in Indonesia, which volcano triggered the loudest noise to ever occur on Earth when it erupted in 1883?

Dormant for 200 years, Indonesia's Mount Krakatoa shot ash miles into the sky when it erupted on Aug. 26, 1883, triggering tsunamis and landslides. The sound of the eruption could be heard 3,000 miles away, and an estimated 35,000 people lost their lives.

Which country is home to the Dadu River, which experienced a major dam burst in 1786 that killed 100,000 people in the Sichuan province?

A 7.75 magnitude earthquake triggered a landslide that blocked the Dadu River with an artificial dam in June 1786. Ten days after the earthquake, the natural dam burst, allowing the backed-up Dadu to rush through the Sichuan region of China, killing 100,000 people.

Can you name the disaster that hit China near the city of Hualien on August 3, 1975, destroying the Banqiao Dam and killing 85,000 people?

Typhoon Nina brought winds of 115 mph or more to Hualien, China on Aug. 3, 1975. Even though the Banqiao Dam had been designed for a 1,000-year flood, the powerful typhoon still managed to destroy it, sending the Ru River crashing along the landscape and killing an estimated 85,000 people.

In addition to Mississippi and Indiana, which third state gives the 1925 Tri-State Tornado its name?

America's deadliest twister was the March 18, 1925, Tri-State tornado that carved a 219-mile path through Mississippi, Illinois and Indiana. The F5 tornado claimed 695 lives, the most of any twister to ever touch down in the U.S., according to the History Channel.

Then known as Shensi, the city of Shaanxi in China experienced one of the deadliest earthquakes in history, but can you guess what year this disaster took place?

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake that struck China to have been around 8.0 magnitude. Its effects were felt hundreds of miles away, and 830,000 people died in the event. Some cities, such as Huaxian, were particularly hard hit, losing more than half of the local population in a single day.

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Image: Wiki Commons by Karl Bryullov

About This Quiz

The attack on Pearl Harbor killed around 2,400 people, while the September 11th terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000, showing us what effect the weapons of war or the atrocities of terrorism can have on the world. As bad as these attacks were, however, they pale in comparison to the power of Mother Nature herself, who can quickly flatten a city, undo hundreds or thousands of years of planning and building, and claim hundreds of thousands of lives in mere moments. While modern satellites and warning systems give us more notice than our ancestors had to prepare for these events, lives are still lost every year to natural disasters ranging from floods to hurricanes, earthquakes to tornadoes, blizzards to avalanches and anything else Mother Nature can dream up.

While you've probably heard all about some of these events — it's hard to miss the story of Hurricane Katrina and its effects on the southern U.S., or the holidaymakers who learned the warning signs of a tsunami in real-time on the day after Christmas in 2004 —you might not know quite as much about other events, even those that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives or destroyed major cities. Take our quiz to see how much you really know about the worst natural disasters to ever strike planet Earth.

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