Floods are one of the most devastating forms of natural disasters. With the ability to not only kill thousands upon thousands of people with powerful rushes of unnaturally high water, as well as violently destroy property, floods can wipe out crops, livestock and other necessities to survival. This means the death toll from a flood can grow far beyond the actual event of the flooding itself, as people starve to death or die from diseases left behind in the waters. There have been some staggering floods over the course of history; here are the top 10 worst floods.
10. Saint Elizabeth’s Flood
Named after Saint Elisabeth of Hungary whose feast day was formerly November 19th, Saint Elizabeth’s Flood brought unimaginable devastation to The Netherlands from November 18th-19th, 1421. As you will come to see, The Netherlands are no strangers to deadly flooding. In this flood surging waters from the North Sea broke the dikes and flooded polder land below. Much of the land remained flooded for several decades, and some of the land is still flooded today. Anywhere between 1,000 to 10,000 people died.
9. Saint Lucia’s Flood
December 14, 1287, the day after Saint Lucia’s Day, saw much of The Netherlands and Northern Germany severely hit by flooding. Anywhere between 50,000 and 80,000 people were killed. A storm broke a dike and permanently flooded entire areas. In The Netherlands the city of Griend was almost completely destroyed; only 10 houses were left standing. The same storm also wreaked havoc on England.
8. 1971 Hanoi and Red River Delta Flood
As if things weren’t bad enough for Vietnam during the Vietnam War, massive flooding in 1971 only made the situation worse. The war left people with diminished resources and the flood diminished them even further. About 100,000 people died as a result.
7. Saint Felix’s Flood
Saturday, November 5th, 1530, otherwise known as Saint Felix’s Day, became known as “Evil Saturday” when over 100,000 people lost their lives in massive flooding in – you guessed it – The Netherlands. Entire parts of Flanders and Zeeland were washed away. An area of land called Verdronken Land van Reimerswaal was lost, with the city of Reimerswaal able to survive on a small island – more or less all that was left – for a little while.
6. 1935 Yangtze River Flood
The Yangtze River, the longest river in China, was slammed during heavy July rainfalls in 1935. It overflowed, destroying massive amounts of crops and leaving disease in its wake. 145,000 people died, a large part of them due to starvation and illness.
5. 1975 Flood in China
The construction of modern dams has helped quell some of the flooding that so plagued particularly susceptible parts of the world for centuries. But not even dams could make a difference – and in fact, may have only made things worse – in China in August of 1975, when a total of 62 dams collapsed in a sort of domino effect during Typhoon Nina. In the flooding that ensued approximately 85,000 people drowned, but another 145,000 died some time after the flood due to famine and disease.
4. 1642 Yellow River Flood
The Yellow River is infamous for its flooding, even though the Yangtze River has flooded more often (about 1,000 times!). But some of the world’s most tragic floods have taken place along the Yellow River, which gets its name from vast deposits of yellowy silt. In 1642, a rebel named Li Zicheng was making the Ming Dynasty nervous. To ensure the balance of power was kept in their favor, they brought devastation down upon the people along the Yellow River, opening a dike and causing mass flooding. Familiarly, due to disease and famine, approximately half of the area’s residents were killed.
3. 1938 Yellow River Flood
Reprising a tactic that had worked well for the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese Nationalist government decided to open a dike along the Yellow River to prevent the Imperial Japanese Army from strolling in unhindered at the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The hitch in the plan? The 500,000 to 900,000 Chinese people who were not warned and who died in the ensuing flood.
2. 1887 Yellow River Flood
In 1887 heavy downpours saw much of Northern China flooded when multiple dikes on the Yellow River collapsed. The floods rendered over 2 million people homeless. With the loss of crops and necessities of life, between 1 million and 2 million people died from September to October of 1887.
1. 1931 China Floods
Note the distinction: floods, plural. In 1931 from July to November three rivers flooded: the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and the Huai River. The rivers rose to dangerous levels due to long periods of heavy rainfall. The epicenter was the Yellow River, where 1 million people are said to have died in flood alone, and additional deaths due to post-flood starvation – up to as many as 4 million. July flooding on the Yangtze caused approximately 145,000 deaths while August flooding on the Huai caused some 200,000. Overall 80 million people were left homeless from the floods.