Thread: World History
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Old Thursday, June 21, 2007
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Default Natural Disasters History

Natural Disasters History

Natural disasters are extreme, sudden events caused by environmental factors that injure people and damage property. Earthquakes, windstorms, floods, and disease all strike anywhere on earth, often without warning. As examples, we've chosen disasters that have occurred around the world throughout history


An avalanche is any swift movement of snow, ice, mud, or rock down a mountainside or slope. Avalanches, which are natural forms of erosion and often seasonal, can reach speeds of more than 200 miles per hour. They are triggered by such events as earthquake tremors, human-made disturbances, or excessive rainfall.

Destruction from avalanches results both from the avalanche wind (the air pushed ahead of the mass) and from the actual impact of the avalanche material.

Where: Italian Alps
When: 218 B.C.
When Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, crossed the Alps to conquer Rome, 18,000 soldiers, 2,000 horses, and many elephants died. Most of the deaths were caused by Alpine avalanches.

Where: United States
When: 1910
The worst snowslide in U.S. history occurred in the Cascade Mountains in Wellington, Washington, when 96 people were trapped when their train became snowbound. An avalanche then swept them to their deaths in a gorge 150 feet below the tracks.

Where: Peru
When: 1962
When tons of ice and snow slid down Huascaran Peak in the Andes Mountains, nearly 4,000 people were killed. Some 30 years later, it is still considered the world's worst avalanche.

Blizzards and Hailstorms

A blizzard is a winter storm characterized by high winds, low temperatures, and driving snow. (According to the official definition given in 1958 by the U.S. Weather Bureau, the winds must exceed 35 miles (56 km) per hour and the must drop to temperature 20° F (-7° C) or lower.)

A hailstorm is precipitation in the form of balls or lumps of clear ice and compact snow. It is not known for sure how hailstones form and grow. We do know that they are spherical or irregularly spherical and usually vary in diameter up to 1/2 in. (1.3 cm); in rare cases hailstones having diameters up to 5 in. (12.7 cm) have been observed. Hail causes much damage and injury to crops, livestock, property, and airplanes.

Where: United States
When: 1888
The worst winter storm in U.S. history, the Blizzard of 1888 surprised the northeastern United States with as much as five feet of snow in some areas. Two hundred boats sank and more than 400 people died due to very powerful winds and cold temperatures.

Where: United States
When: 1978
The blizzard of 1978 was one of the most powerful snowstorms to hit the East Coast. It crippled New York and New England for days, in many areas dumping more than three feet of snow.

Where: Russia (formerly the Soviet Union)
When: 1923
In Rostov, 23 people and even more cattle were killed by hailstones weighing up to 2 pounds each.

Where: India
When: 1939
A hailstorm over a 30-square-mile area in the southern part of the country killed cattle and sheep and damaged crops. Some of the hailstones were said to weigh 71/2 pounds

Droughts and Famines

Droughts are unusually long periods of insufficient rainfall.

Since ancient times droughts have had far-reaching effects on humankind by causing the failure of crops, decreasing natural vegetation, and depleting water supplies. Livestock and wildlife, as well as humans, die of thirst and famine; large land areas often suffer damage from dust storms or fire.

Famines are extreme shortages of food that cause people to die of starvation.

Where: Egypt
When: 1200-02
The Egyptian people relied on the annual flooding of the Nile River to leave soil for growing crops. After a shortage of rain, however, the Nile didn't rise. People were unable to grow food and began to starve to death. The final death toll was 110,000, due to starvation, cannibalism, and disease.

Where: Ireland
When: 1845-49
Potatoes were the mainstay of the Irish diet. When the crop was struck by a potato blight (a fungus that killed the crop), farmers and their families began to starve. The grain and livestock raised in Ireland were owned by the English, and the laws of the time prevented the Irish people from importing grain to eat. This combination of plant disease and politics resulted in the Great Potato Famine, which killed 1.5 million people and caused a million more to move to America.

Where: The Great Plains of the U.S.
When: 1930s
The U.S. experienced its longest drought of the twentieth century. Peak periods were 1930, 1934, 1936, 1939, and 1940. During 1934, dry regions stretched solidly from New York and Pennsylvania across the Great Plains to the California coast. A great “dust bowl” covered 50 million acres in the south central plains during the winter of 1935–1936. Heavy winds caused the dry soil to be blown into huge clouds. Crops and pasture lands were ruined by the harsh dust storms, which also proved a severe health hazard.

Where: Northern China
When: 1959-61
The world's deadliest famine killed an estimated 30 million people in China. Drought was followed by crop failure, which was followed by starvation, disease, and cannibalism. News of the famine was not revealed to the rest of the world until 1981, some 20 years later.

Where: Biafra, Africa (present-day Nigeria)
When: 1967-69
As a result of civil war, famine conditions killed an estimated 1 million people and left another 3.5 million suffering from extreme malnutrition.
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