Violent natural disasters have devastated humanity over the centuries, but because some of them struck long ago, scientists have been unable to estimate a death count. The Mediterranean island of Stroggli, for example, is believed to have been completely wiped out by a volcanic eruption and ensuing tsunami that eradicated the entire Minoan civilization around 1500 B.C., although the death toll remains uncertain.
The 10 deadliest natural disasters which involve mostly earthquakes and floods for which historians can provide accurate death tolls, however, have killed an estimated total of 10 million people. Here, the 10 deadliest natural disasters, from fewest casualties to most, starting with an earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in Syria.
This earthquake struck Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, on Oct. 11, 1138. Based on geological data, modern estimates give the earthquake a magnitude of 8.5. Historical records suggest that approximately 230,000 people died and the city suffered extensive damage. Aleppo is located in northern Syria, a region that is part of the Dead Sea Fault system because it rests on the boundary between the Arabian geologic plate and the African plate.
On Dec. 26, 2004, an undersea, magnitude-9.3 earthquake, with an epicenter off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, resulted in a devastating tsunami that hit the coasts of several countries in South and Southeast Asia. The Indian Ocean earthquake and its resulting tsunami killed an estimated 225,000 to 230,210 people.
The 8.5-magnitude Haiyuan earthquake hit the Haiyuan County area of the Ningxia Province in the Republic of China on Dec. 16, 1920. It's also known as the Gansu earthquake because Ningxia was a part of Gansu Province at the time. The quake killed 235,502 people, according to the Catalog of Damaging Earthquakes in the World, which is maintained by the International Institute of Seismology and Earthquake Engineering in Japan.
On July 28, 1976, the epicenter of the Tangshan Earthquake struck near Tangshan, an industrial city with approximately one million inhabitants located in Hebei, People's Republic of China. Tangshan's dense population was devastated by the magnitude-8 earthquake. The Chinese government initially reported a death toll of 655,000, but that number was later re-estimated to about 242,000 people.
The Antioch earthquake took place during the mid-spring of 526 AD, estimated to have been between May 20 and 29. The major earthquake hit Syria and Antioch, a city that was near what is now modern-day Antakya, Turkey. Approximately 250,000 to 300,000 people died as a result of the earthquake, according to historical writings. After the quake, a massive fire destroyed most of the buildings that the earthquake had spared.
On Nov. 25, 1839, what became known as the "India Cyclone" hit the harbor village of Coringa, located in Andhra Pradesh, India. The cyclone triggered a 40-foot-wave that destroyed much of the village and most of the ships near the area, with about 20,000 people drowning at sea. An estimated total of 300,000 people died because of the cyclone.
The deadliest cyclone ever recorded, the Bhola cyclone struck East Pakistan (what is now Bangladesh) and India's West Bengal on Nov. 12, 1970, flooding much of the low-lying islands of the Ganges Delta. Approximately 500,000 people died, primarily because of the floods that resulted from the cyclone's storm surge, or a rise in water level that overtakes the shore.
In Jan. 23, 1556, the deadliest earthquake ever recorded occurred in the Shaanxi province and the neighboring Shanxi province, located in northern China. The catastrophic earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 8 and killed approximately 830,000 people. This death toll is believed to have reduced the population of both provinces by about 60 percent.
The Yellow River Flood, the worst flood in human history and the second deadliest disaster ever, occurred in September 1887, when the Yellow River overran the dikes in China's Henan Province. The flood devastated 11 large Chinese towns and hundreds of villages, leaving millions homeless. The flood waters covered 50,000 square miles, killing an estimated 900,000 to 2,000,000 people.
The worst natural disaster in history, the Central China Floods occurred from July to August 1931, when the Yangtze River overflowed and caused a series of floods. As a result of the massive flooding, an estimated 3.7 million people died from drowning, disease and starvation. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 51 million people, or one-fourth of China's population, were affected by the Central China Floods.