America has suffered several devastating natural events that have impacted countless lives.
1) 1900 Galveston Hurricane • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 12,000-6,000
• Location: Galveston, Texas
Hurricane Galveston - Sept. 8, 1900
Galveston was known at the end of the 19th Century as the "Jewel of Texas" until the single deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history wiped away much of what had been a booming future. The bustling island community had been the hub of the cotton trade and Texas' largest city. Progress bred complacency though, which became apparent when city officials and residents decided against building a seawall to protect the city. When the category 4 hurricane with estimated 135 mph winds made landfall in the early morning, buildings crumbled under the force of 15-foot-high waves. By late afternoon, the entire island was submerged. An estimated 8,000 people perished. Although the city was successfully rebuilt, it never regained the prosperity that earned it a reputation as the "New York of the south."
Why Do Earthquakes Happen?
Earthquakes are usually caused when rock underground suddenly breaks along a fault. This sudden release of energy causes the seismic waves that make the ground shake. When two blocks of rock or two plates are rubbing against each other, they stick a little. They don't just slide smoothly; the rocks catch on each other. The rocks are still pushing against each other, but not moving. After a while, the rocks break because of all the pressure that's built up. When the rocks break, the earthquake occurs. During the earthquake and afterward, the plates or blocks of rock start moving, and they continue to move until they get stuck again. The spot underground where the rock breaks is called the focus of the earthquake. The place right above the focus (on top of the ground) is called the epicenter of the earthquake.
2) 1906 San Francisco Earthquake*** • Estimated Number of Fatalities : 6,000-3,000
• Location: San Francisco, California
Note: These estimates include deaths from both the initial earthquake and the massive fire that followed.
Great San Francisco Fire and Earthquake - April 18, 1906 San Francisco residents were abruptly awakened one spring morning by an earthquake that lasted no more than a minute, but set off a chain of events that caused the city to burn for four straight days. The estimated 7.7- to 7.9-magnitude temblor not only broke natural gas mains, which sparked the fires, but also damaged water mains, leaving the fire department with limited resources to battle the blaze. By the time the fires were doused, flames had devoured more than 500 city blocks, and 3,000 lives were lost. Of those who survived, approximately 225,000 people found themselves without a home.
3) 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 3,000
• Location: Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Florida
Okeechobee Hurricane - September 16, 1928 When the evacuated residents of Lake Okeechobee learned that a hurricane hadn't arrived on schedule, many returned home thinking that they had been spared. The storm, however, slammed ashore later on the evening of September 16th with sustained 140 mph winds. Such intensity broke a small dike at the lake's south end, resulting in weeks of heavy flooding that claimed at least 2,500 lives.
4) 1889 Johnstown Flood • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 2,209
• Location: Pennsylvania
Johnstown Flood - May 31, 1889
During the late 19th Century, the small industrial community of Johnstown in Pennsylvania earned a reputation as a producer of high-quality steel. All that progress was flushed away when the poorly maintained South Fork dam that stood high up in the mountains, 14 miles from the city, failed. Days of torrential downpour caused the dam to burst, unleashing more than 20 million tons of water and debris to crash down on the city with the force of Niagara Falls. The flood leveled 1,600 homes and killed 2,209 people.
5) 2005 Hurricane Katrina • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 1,836
• Location: U.S. Gulf Coast (LA, FL, MS, AL)
Hurricane Katrina - Aug. 29, 2005
The Atlantic storm that began as a category 1 hurricane as it blew across southern Florida wound up being the country's costliest tragedy. Katrina roared into the Louisiana coast with 125 mph sustained winds, causing a storm surge that broke levees that shielded New Orleans from surrounding, higher coastal waters, and leaving 80 percent of the city under water. Katrina killed at least 1,836 people and inflicted damages estimated at around $125 billion.
6) 1980 Heat Wave • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 1,700
• Location: Southern and Central U.S. States
Heat Wave of 1980 - Summer of 1980
The heat wave of 1980 proved to be one of the nation's most catastrophic prolonged weather events. A high-pressure ridge pushed temperatures across the central and southern United States above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer. Agricultural damage tallied an estimated $48 billion due to a massive drought, and 10,000 people died from heat and heat stress-related ailments.
7) 1871 Peshtigo Fire • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 1,200 ( (but it could be as high as 2,500)
• Location: Peshtigo, Wisconsin
Peshtigo Fire - October 8, 1871
A lesser-known fire in Wisconsin that burned on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 turned out to be the nation's deadliest. The drought-stricken city of Peshtigo was set afire when a strong windstorm fueled the spread of a small group of prairie fires by fanning the blaze out over a million acres of forest land. The wildfire even jumped across the Peshtigo River, trapping both sides of the town in flames. By the time the inferno subsided, it had scorched 12 towns and left roughly 1,200 dead.
8) 1893 Sea Islands Hurricane • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 1,000 ( (but it could be as high as 2,000)
• Location: Georgia and South Carolina
In August 1893 a major hurricane, known as the "Sea Islands Hurricane" struck the offshore barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina. Over 1,000 people were killed (mostly by drowning); and 30,000 or more were left homeless as nearly every building along the barrier islands was damaged beyond repair. After the disaster, a 10-month relief effort was run by the American Red Cross.
9) 1995 Chicago Heat Wave •Estimated Number of Fatalities: 739
•Location: Chicago, Illinois
On July 12, 1995, a dangerous hot-air mass settled over Chicago, producing three consecutive days of temperatures over 99 degrees Fahrenheit, heat indices (which measure the heat experienced by a typical person) around 120, high humidity, and little evening cooling. The heat wave was not the most extreme weather system in the city's history, but it proved to be Chicago's most deadly environmental event. During the week of the most severe weather, 485 city residents, many of whom were old, alone, and impoverished, died of causes that medical examiners attributed to the heat. Several hundred decedents were never autopsied, though, and after the event the Chicago Department of Public Health discovered that 739 Chicagoans in excess of the norm had perished while thousands more had been hospitalized for heat-related problems.
10) 1925 Tri-State Tornado • Estimated Number of Fatalities: 695-727
• Location: MS, IL, IN, KY and TN
Tri-State Tornado - March 18, 1925
Over the span of three-and-a-half destructive hours, the Tri-State Tornado became the deadliest twister to rip through the heartland. Along its path which included Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, the tornado demolished more than 15,000 homes. Of the nearly 700 people killed, 613 were from Illinois. In the aftermath, forecasters started to look into developing a tornado warning system that would have spared many lives at the time.