Deadliest u. S. Disasters top fifty



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DEADLIEST U.S. DISASTERS -- TOP FIFTY
Wayne Blanchard, Ph.D., CEM,

FEMA Emergency Management Higher Education Program Manager

September 21, 2008 Update


  1. Influenza Pandemic, September 1918 – April 1919 -- <675,000 (Armstrong,

-- 675,000 (Billings)

-- 675,000 (Redican)

-- <600,000 (PBS)

-- <500,000 (Pocock)

-- ~500,000 (HHS 2004)


  1. Smallpox, 1775-1782 -- <130,000 (Fenn)

  2. Influenza Epidemic, 1957 -- 70,000 (Johns Hopkins)

-- 70,000 (Armstrong)

-- ~69,800 (HHS 2004)



  1. Influenza Epidemic, 1968 -- 38,800 (HHS 2004)

-- 28,000 (Armstrong)

  1. Yellow Fever, 1878, Mississippi Valley -- <13,000 (Pocock)

  2. Galveston Hurricane, 1900 -- 6K - 12,000 (Hess; CNN)

-- 8K – 12,000 (Larson, 1998)

-- 8,000 (Blake)1

-- 6,000-8,000 (Pocock)


  1. Cholera Epidemic, 1849-51, Midwest -- <11,000 (Daly)2

  2. Heat Wave/Drought (June-Sep 1980) Central/East US -- 10,000 (Lott & Ross)

-- >1,300 (Karl & Quayle, 1981)

  1. Heat Wave (Summer 1988, central/eastern U.S --~5K - 10,000 NCDC 2007)

-- 7,500 (Lott/Ross, NCDC 2005)

  1. Yellow Fever, New Orleans, 1853 -- 7,790 (Pocock)

  2. Cholera Epidemic, 1832 -- <7,000 (Pocock)

  3. Polio, 1916 -- <7,000 (Pocock)

  4. Polio, 1949-1952 -- <6,000 (Pocock)

  5. Yellow Fever, Philadelphia, 1793 -- <5,000 (Pocock; Steffano3)

-- ~4,000 (PBS)

  1. Yellow Fever, New Orleans, 1867 -- 3,093 (Pocock)

  2. San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, 1906 -- <3,000 (Hansen)

-- ~3,000 (USGS, 2008)

-- 3,000 (Spignesi, 140)

-- 700-800 (NOAA 1972)

-- <500 (Pocock)

-- 498 (Greely 1906)


  1. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001 -- <3,000 (9/11 Com.)

  2. SE FL/Great Okeechobee Hurricane and Flood, 1928 -- 2,500-3,000 (Blake)

-- 1,836 (Barnes4; Larson, 1998)

  1. Johnstown Flood, 1889 -- 3,000 (Frank Leslie)5

-- 2,209 (Kutilek)

-- 2,209 (NPS)6

-- <2,200 (Pocock)

-- 2,200 (Armageddon)



  1. Illinois Heat Wave, July 1-31, 1936 (access deaths) -- 2,696 (Noji 1997 p. 250)

  2. Peshtigo Firestorm, Wisconsin, 8 October 1871 -- 500-2,500 (Gess/Lutz, 211)

-- <2,200 (Frank)

-- 1,500 (Forces of Nature)

-- ~1,500 (Boise State)

-- 1,200-2,400 (Hipke)

-- <1,200 (Pocock)

-- 1,152 (NFPA, Key…)



  1. Cheniere Caminanda LA Hurricane of 1893 (Oct) -- 2,000 (Heidorn 2005)7

-- 1,100-1,400 (Blake)8

-- 799 (Heidorn 2005)9



  1. Riverboat Sultana Explosion and Sinking, 27Apr1865 -- 1,800 – 2,000 (American Her…)

-- 1,450 - 1,900 (Coggins)

-- 1,800 (Hendricks 2007)

-- <1,700 (National Steam…)

-- 1,547 (NFPA, Key; Spignesi)

-- <1,500 (Elmwood 1989)

-- 1,450 (History.com)



  1. Sea Islands Hurricane (GA & SC), August 1893 -- 1,000 - 2,000 (Blake)

-- <1,000 (Pocock)

  1. Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana, MS, AL, FL, 2005 -- ~1,833 (NCDC July 2008)

-- ~1,500 (Blake)

-- 1,132 (Heidorn 2005)



  1. General Slocum Excursion Steamer Fire, June 15, 1904 -- 1,204 (Brooklyn Daily)

-- ~1,200 (Cussler)

-- 1,030 (History.com; NFPA)

-- 1,021 (Kirschman; Haberman)


  1. Illinois Heat Wave July 1-31, 1966 (“excess deaths”) -- 1,148 (Noji 1997, p. 250)

  2. New York City Heat Wave Aug 9-15, 1986 -- 1,001

  3. Cloquet, MN & WI Forest Fire, October 13-15, 1918 -- 1,000 (Pocock)

  4. Florida Keys, LA, AL, TX Hurricane, Sep. 2-15, 1919 -- 600-900

-- 287 (Blake)

  1. Eastland Excursion Steamer sinking, Chicago, 1871 -- 844 (History.com)

  2. Tornadoes, February 19, 1884, MI, NC, TN, IN -- ~800

-- < 600 (Forces of Nature)

  1. Chicago Fire, 1871 -- 766

-- 250 (NFPA, Key)

  1. Tri-State Tornado, IL, MO, IN, March 18, 1925 -- 747 (Newspaper)

-- 695 (Doyle, 2008)

-- 689 (Pocock)

-- 671 (Enzler 2006)


  1. Heat Wave (Particularly Chicago) 1995 -- 739 (Pocock)

-- 465 (Basu and Samet, 2002)

  1. New England Hurricane (Long Island Express), Cat 3, 1938-- 600-720

-- 700 (Mandia; Tucker 2008)

-- 600 (Pocock)

-- 256 (Blake)


  1. Georgia-South Carolina Hurricane of 1881 -- 700 (Blake)

  2. Ohio River Flood of March 26, 1913 -- >700 (Forces of…)

  3. Iroquois Theater Fire, Chicago, December 30, 1903 -- 602 (NFPA Key…)

  4. Wildfire, MN (Hinckley) & WI, September 1, 1894 -- 600

  5. Natchez, MS Tornado, May 6, 1840 -- 586 (Newspaper)10

  6. Texas City Grandcamp Freighter Explosion, 1947 -- <576 (History.com)

-- 468 (NFPA, Key…)

  1. East Heat Wave / Drought (Summer 1999) -- 502 (Lott and Ross 2005)

  2. St. Francis Dam Failure, Ventura County CA, 1928 -- 500

-- 450 (Pocock)

-- 408 (Ferguson 2007, 4)



  1. Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire, Boston MA Nov 1942-- 492 (NFPA, Key…)

  2. Florida Keys Hurricane, Cat 5, September 1935 -- 423 Ferguson 2007, 18)

-- 409 (McDonald)11

-- 408 (Blake)



  1. Tupelo, MI, Gainesville, GA Tornadoes, Apr 5-6, 1936 -- 419 (Forces of Nature)

-- 400 (Newspaper)

  1. Hinckley MN Forest Fire, September 1, 1894 -- 418 (Forces of…)

  2. Hurricane Audrey, SW LA to No. TX, June 25-28,1957 -- 416 (Blake)12

-- 390 (Pocock)

  1. Louisiana Hurricane (Last Island), Category 4, 1856 -- 400 (Blake; Pocock)

  2. East Coast “Blizzard of 1888,” March 11-14, 1888 -- 400 (Pocock)



  1. St. Louis, MO Tornado, May 27, 1896 -- >400 (Forces Nature)

  2. Northeast US “Great Atlantic Hurricane,” 9-16Sep1944 -- 394

-- 390 (Pocock)

  1. FL Hurricane (Miami/MS/AL/Pensacola, Cat 4, 1926 -- 372

  2. Grand Isle, LA & MI Hurricane Cat 3, 10-21Sep1909 -- 350 (Blake; Pocock)

  3. East U.S. “Super Tornado Outbreak” (184) 3-4Apr1974 -- 330 (Pocock)

  4. Munitions Ships Collision/Explosion, Port Chicago, CA, 1944 -- 322 (NFPA, Key…)

  5. LA to GA Tornado outbreak (18), April 24-25, 1908 -- 320 (Enzler 2006)

-- 330 Newspaper)

-- 310 (Pocock)



  1. Ohio State Penitentiary Fire, Columbus OH, April 1938 -- 320 (NFPA, Key…)

  2. Wisconsin Wildfire/Forest Fire, July 1894 -- <300 (Forces of)

  3. Brooklyn, NY Theater Fire, December 1876 -- 295 (NFPA, Key…)

  4. Consolidated School Gas Explosion, New London, TX, 1937 -- 294 (NFPA, Key…)

  5. Galveston TX/ New Orleans, LA Hurricane, Cat 4, 1915 -- 275 (Blake; Pocock)

  6. Coal Mine Explosion, Mather, PA, May 1928 -- 273 (NFPA Key…)

  7. Eastern Seaboard Storm/Blizzard of 1993 (March) -- ~270 (Lott; NCDC)

  8. St. Paul Coal Mine Explosion, Cherry Hill, IL, 1909 -- 259 (NFPA Key…)

  9. Hurricane Camille (MS/SE LA/VA), Cat 5, Aug 14-22, 1969 -- 256 (Blake; Pocock)

  10. Southern Heat Wave/Drought (Summer1998) -- 200 (Lott 2005)

  11. Blizzard of '96 Followed by Flooding (Jan 1996). -- 187 (NCDC 2007)

  12. Heat Wave (Spring-Sum 2000). So. central, SE States -- 140 (Lott and Ross)



DEADLIEST U.S. DISASTERS – Excluding Epidemics


  1. Galveston Hurricane, 1900 -- 6,000-12,000

  2. San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, 1906 -- 498-<3,000

  3. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001 -- <3,000

  4. SE FL/Great Okeechobee Hurricane and Flood, 1928 -- 1,836-3,000

  5. Johnstown Flood, 1889 -- 2,200-3,000

  6. Illinois Heat Wave, July 1-31, 1936 (access deaths) -- 2,696

  7. Louisiana Hurricane of 1893 -- 2,000+

  8. Peshtigo Firestorm, Wisconsin, 8 October 1871 -- 2,200+

  9. South Carolina-Georgia Hurricane of 1893 -- 1,152-2,000

  10. Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana, Miss. AL, FL, 2005 -- ~1,833

  11. Illinois Heat Wave July 1-31, 1966 (“excess deaths”) -- 1,148

  12. New York City Heat Wave Aug 9-15, 1986 -- 1,001

  13. Cloquet, MN & WI Forest Fire, October 13-15, 1918 -- 1,000 (Pocock)

  14. Ship Fire, NYC Harbor, 1904 -- 1,000

  15. Florida Keys, LA, AL, TX Hurricane, Sep. 2-15, 1919 -- 600-900

  16. Wildfire, MN (Hinckley) & WI, September 1 -- 894

  17. Tornadoes, February 19, 1884, MI, NC, TN, IN -- ~800

  18. Chicago Fire, 1871 -- 766

  19. Heat Wave (Particularly Chicago) 1995 -- ~739

  20. New England Hurricane, 1938 (Long Island Express) -- 700-720

  21. Georgia-South Carolina Hurricane of 1881 -- ~700

  22. Ohio River Flood of March 26, 1913 -- >700

  23. Tri-State Tornado, 1925 -- 695

  24. East Heat Wave / Drought (Summer 1999) -- 502 (Lott 2005)

  25. Heat Wave (Spring-Sum 2000). So. central, SE States -- 140 (Lott and Ross)


DEADLIEST U.S. DISASTERS – CHRONOLOGICAL




  1. 1775-1782 -- Smallpox -- 130,000

  2. 1793 -- Yellow Fever, Philadelphia -- 5,000+

  3. 1832 -- Cholera Epidemic -- 7,000+

  4. 1840 -- Natchez, MS Tornado, May 6, 1840 -- 586 (Newspaper)

  5. 1849 -- Cholera Epidemic, Mississippi Valley -- 5,000+

  6. 1853 -- Yellow Fever, New Orleans -- 7,790

  7. 1856 -- Louisiana Hurricane (Last Island) -- 400 (Blake; Pocock)

  8. 1865 -- Riverboat Sultana Explosion/Sinking, MS River -- 1,547-~

  9. 1867 -- Yellow Fever, New Orleans -- 3,093

  10. 1871 -- Peshtigo Firestorm, Wisconsin -- 2,200+

  11. 1871 -- Eastland Excursion Steamer sinking, Chicago -- 844

  12. 1871 -- Chicago Fire -- 766

  13. 1876 -- Brooklyn, NY Theater Fire, December 1876 -- 295 (NFPA, Key…)

  14. 1878 -- Yellow Fever, Mississippi Valley -- 13,000+

  15. 1881 -- Georgia-South Carolina Hurricane -- ~700

  16. 1884 -- Tornadoes, MI, NC, TN, IN -- ~800 (Pocock)

  17. 1888 -- East Coast “Blizzard of 1888,” March 11-14 -- 400 (Pocock)

  18. 1889 -- Johnstown Flood -- 2,000-3,000

  19. 1893 -- Cheniere Caminada Louisiana Hurricane -- 2,000+

  20. 1893 -- Sea Islands Hurricane SC-GA Hurricane (Aug) -- 1,000-2,000

  21. 1894 -- Wildfire, MN (Hinckley) & WI, September 1, 1984 -- 600

  22. 1896 -- St. Louis, MO Tornado, May 27, 1896 -- >400 (Forces of… )

  23. 1900 -- Galveston Hurricane -- 6K - 12,000

  24. 1903 -- Iroquois Theater Fire, Chicago, December 30 -- 602 (NFPA)

  25. 1904 -- General Slocum Excursion Steamer Fire, June 15 -- 1,000- 1,350

  26. 1906 -- San Francisco Earthquake and Fire -- 664-3,000

  27. 1908 -- LA to GA Tornado outbreak (18), April 24-25, 1908 -- 310 (Pocock)

  28. 1909 -- Grand Isle, LA & MI Hurricane (Sep 10-21), Cat 3 -- 350

  29. 1909 -- St. Paul Coal Mine Explosion, Cherry Hill, IL, 1909 -- 259 (NFPA Key…)

  30. 1913 – Ohio River Flood of March 26, 1913 -- >700

  31. 1915 – Galveston TX/ New Orleans, LA Hurricane, Cat 4 -- 275 (Blake; Pocock)

  32. 1916 -- Polio -- 7,000+

  33. 1918 – Cloquet, MN & WI Forest Fire, Oct. 13-15, 1918 -- 1,000

  34. 1918-19 -- Influenza Pandemic, September -- April -- 675,000

  35. 1919 -- Florida Keys, LA, AL, TX Hurricane, Sep. 2-15, Cat 4 -- 600-900

  36. 1925 -- Tri-State Tornado, IL, MO, IN, March 18, 1925 -- 689-747

  37. 1926 – Florida Hurricane (Miami/MS/AL/Pensacola, Cat 4 -- 372

  38. 1928 -- SE FL/Great Okeechobee Hurricane and Flood -- 1,836-3,000

  39. 1928 -- St. Francis Dam Failure, Ventura County CA -- 500

  40. 1932 – SE Tornado Outbreak, AL, MS, GA, TN, March 21-2 -- 330 (Newspaper)

  41. 1935 -- Florida Keys Hurricane, September -- 405-423

  42. 1936 -- Illinois Heat Wave, July 1-31 (access deaths) -- 2,696 (Noji 1997, 250)

  43. 1936 – Tupelo, MI, Gainesville, GA Tornadoes, Apr 5-6, 1936 -- 400 (Newspaper)

  44. 1937 -- Consolidated School Gas Explosion, New London, TX -- 294 (NFPA, Key…)

  45. 1938 -- New England Hurricane (Long Island Express), Cat 3 -- 600-720

  46. 1938 -- Ohio State Penitentiary Fire, Columbus OH, April 1938-- 320 (NFPA, Key…)

  47. 1942 -- Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire, Boston, MA, Nov. 1 -- 492 (NFPA, Key…)

  48. 1944 -- Northeastern U.S. “Great Atlantic Hurricane,” Sep. -- 394

  49. 1944 -- Munitions Ships Collision/Explosion, Port Chicago, CA-- 322 (NFPA, Key…)

  50. 1947 -- Texas City Grandcamp Freighter Explosion -- 516

  51. 1949-1952 -- Polio -- 6,000+

  52. 1950 -- Eastern U.S. “Storm of the Century,” Nov 25-27, 1950 -- 383 (Pocock)

  53. 1955 -- Hurricane Diane (NE U.S.), Category 1 -- 184 (Blake)

  54. 1957 -- Influenza Epidemic -- 70,000

  55. 1957 -- Hurricane Audrey, June -- 390-416

  56. 1966 -- Illinois Heat Wave July 1-31 (“excess deaths”) -- 1,148 (Noji, 250)

  57. 1968 -- Influenza Epidemic -- 28,000

  58. 1969 -- Hurricane Camille (MS/SE LA/VA), Category 5 -- 256 (Blake)

  59. 1974 -- Eastern U.S. “Super Tornado Outbreak” (184) April 3-4-- 330 (Pocock)

  60. 1980 -- Heat Wave/Drought (June-Sep 1980) Central/East US -- 10,000 (Lott & Ross)

  61. 1986 -- New York City Heat Wave Aug 9-15 -- 1,001

  62. 1988 -- Drought/Heat Wave (Summer 1988, central/eastern U.S--~5K - 10,000 NCDC 2007)

  63. 1993 -- Eastern Seaboard Storm/Blizzard of 1993 (March) -- ~270 (Lott; NCDC)

  64. 1995 -- Heat Wave (Particularly Chicago) -- ~739

  65. 1996 -- Blizzard of '96 Followed by Flooding (Jan 1996). -- 187 (NCDC 2007)

  66. 1998 -- Southern Heat Wave/Drought (Summer1998) -- 200 (Lott 2005)

  67. 1999 -- East Heat Wave / Drought (Summer 1999) -- 502 (Lott 2005)

  68. 2000 -- Heat Wave (Spring-Sum). So. central, SE States -- 140 (Lott and Ross)

  69. 2001 -- 9/11 Terrorist Attacks -- ~3,000

  70. 2005 -- Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana, Miss. AL, FL -- ~1,833 (NCDC July 08)

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1 Authors note that deaths “Could be as high as 12,000.” (p. 7, Table 2 Note a)

2 Dr. Daly writes that “In the 1849-51 outbreak, St. Louis lost 4,557, Cincinnati 5, 969, and Detroit 700. In each outbreak, deaths totaled 5-10% of the population.”

3 Steffano-Davis, and others, have noted that “In three months, some 5,000 residents died…” (p. 13; citing Pernick 1972)

4 Barnes writes “…at least 1,836 dead in Florida, as well as another 1,575 in the Caribbean. At the time of the catastrophe, many in South Florida said the actual death count there was over 2,300; some say it may have been as high as 3,500…” (pp. 127-28)

5 “Nearly 3,000 internments have been made, and a fair estimate of the dead in the Conemaugh Valley is from 7,000 to 10,000. It is reasonable to believe that thousands of bodies were carried down the river or were burned or torn to pieces in the wreck above the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge. A reliable estimate of the loss, based upon the belief that not more than one in three or four of the bodies of the dead could be recovered, fixes it at from 9,000 to 12,000.

6 National Park Service notes that the 2,209 death toll number “is seen as more symbolic today.” (p. 327)

7 Heidorn writes that “The estimated of fatalities have been given as high as 2000, though most lists of deadly US natural disasters do not include it.”

8 Authors note “Total including offshore losses near 2000.” (p. 7, Table 2 Note c)

9 Heidorn states that 779 died in the town of Cheniere Caminanda.

10 317 people were killed in Natchez, MI and 269 others on boats in Mississippi River.

11 McDonald: “The best estimate of mortalities, furnished by the American Red Cross, places the total at 409, of which number 244 are known dead and 165 missing.”

12 Authors add note “at least,” page 7, table 2, note h)


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