Save the Water™ Answers what are some of current histories worse water disasters?

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Ann Egerton | July 30, 2012 | | Shared as an education material 

Water is required by almost all forms of life in this universe, but it could also be the deadliest substance ever created. Disasters since the beginning of time have proven that water’s force is not one to be messed with. Whether natural or man-made, water-related calamities that continue to plague this planet are not easy to control, and most of the time, humans are powerless to stop them.

The United Nations World Water Assessment Programme’s Global Trends in Water-Related Disasters: an insight for policymakers said that “water-related disasters are undoubtedly the most recurrent and pose major impediments to the achievement of human security and sustainable socio-economic development.” The study said that between 1980 and 2006, 2,163 reported disasters were reported globally to the Emergency Disasters Database. These devastations affected more than 1.5 billion people, killed nearly 300,000, and wrought damage worth more than USD422 billion. Climate change has greatly influenced a lot of water disasters around the globe, and based on the reported global trends, these disasters and the damage they produce are increasing. All natural disasters that have occurred from 1900-2006 also showed that water-related disasters are the world’s most frequent visitors.

The following floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, oil spills, cyclones, and maritime tragedies are among the worst water-related disasters to ever hit the planet. Both natural and man-made, these calamities both destroyed and shaped countries all over the world.

1913 Great Lakes Storm

From November 7 to November 10, 1913, a blizzard hit the Great Lakes Basin and Ontario, Canada, killing nearly 300 people, destroying 19 ships, and flooding coasts.

Considered as one of the most destructive disasters on the Great Lakes, the convergence of two storm tracks (what locals call a “November Witch”) resulted in hurricane force winds producing 50-feet waves and 100-mph winds. The storm ran wild for 16 hours and caused the most devastating shipwrecks ever recorded.

On November 10, a mysterious unknown vessel was spotted floating off the east coast of Michigan. Five days following its discovery, the ship was identified as the Charles S. Price, a 504-foot-long freighter.

Out of all 12 ships lost in that storm, only seven were reportedly found. The bodies from the sunken ships started to float ashore, creating a terrifying and gruesome sight of frozen bodies, some wrapped in each other’s arms. Author Robert J. Hemming described the scene in his book Ships Gone Missing: “Stiff, bloated and battered, their heads capped in ice, they floated in, rolled and pitched by the combers crashing on the beach.”

1931 China Floods

The series of floods that hit China in 1931(during the Nanjing decade) is considered as the most devastating flood of the 20th century. This was way before Asia was reported as having the highest number of flood victims from 1980-2006.

In 1928, two years before the floods, the country went through a massive drought. The weather then started to get irregular between 1930 and 1931. Snowstorms followed by heavy rains swept over the whole country, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The series of flood from the rivers Yellow (July to November), Yangtze (July to August), and Huai (August) claimed an estimated nearly 4 million victims (according to Western sources).


1912 Sinking of RMS Titanic and 1987 Sinking of MV Doña Paz

The sinking of passenger ship RMS Titanic claimed 1,517 lives.

The shipwreck, made more popular because of the movie Titanic, happened on April 14, 1912. The Titanic was on its way to New York City from Southampton, England when its right side was hit by an iceberg and it sank.

The collision of what was once dubbed as “the unsinkable ship” with the iceberg caused flooding in its compartments. The 20 lifeboats stored in the ship had a capacity of only 1,178 people, and was insufficient(There were 3,547 passengers in the ship). Survivor passenger Pierre Marechal recalled the scenario:

“Presently, the gigantic ship began to sink by the bows … suddenly the lights went out, and an immense clamor filled the air. Little by little, the Titanic settled down … and sank without noise … In the final spasm the stern of the leviathan stood in the air and then the vessel finally disappeared.”

Another maritime tragedy— the sinking of passenger ferry MV Doña Paz on December 20, 1987—is considered as one of the deadliest ferry disasters ever recorded.

The ferry, owned by Sulpicio Lines, regularly made trips to Manila, Tacloban, Leyte, and Catbalogan. It had left Tacloban and was on its way to Manila when it collided with MT Vector, an oil tanker carrying barrels of gasoline and other petroleum products. The collision immediately set the ship on fire, and both ships sank within four hours after the collision. Out of the thousands of people said to be on board, there were 26 reported survivors: 24 from the ferry and two from the tanker.

Once dubbed as “Asian Titanic,” by the BBC, the collision and sinking killed at the very least over 1,500 people (some sources put the total number of lives lost at around 4,375). It is considered as the largest non-military loss ever recorded from a ship.

1970 Bhola Cyclone and 2008 Cyclone Nargis

On November 12 and13, 1970, Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and West Bengal in India experienced the deadliest tropical cyclone in recorded history. The unnamed storm, usually referred to as the 1970 Bhola cyclone, killed an estimated half a million people, and destroyed villages in affected islands. An estimated 100,000 people were reported missing.

When the storm made landfall over East Pakistan, a 33-ft high storm surge hit the Ganges Delta, destroying over USD80 million worth of houses, fishing boats, crops, and cattle. In India, the cyclone flooded islands and sank the 5,500-ton freighter MV Mahajagmitra, killing 50 people on board.

A disaster assessment reported that famine as well as several diseases spread along the coastal regions after the storm, including cholera, and smallpox.

Cyclone Nargis, which hit southern Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 2008, is considered to be one of the deadliest cyclones of all time. It killed at least 138,000 people, and about 50,000 people were reported missing. Damage was estimated at USD10 billion.

The flow of relief goods from other countries was delayed due to the military junta’s refusal to accept donations. When the country finally accepted international relief efforts, problems regarding entry started to interrupt the influx of goods. Foreign workers were denied entry because the junta only limited the accepted donations to food, medicine, and money. As a result, the country’s condition became worse. People started dying because of starvation and other types of deadly diseases. Many countries protested against these terms, including the Philippines, where around thirty people protesting in front of the Burmese embassy in Manila.

1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill And The 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 and this year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill are considered to be two of the largest oil spills in history.

On March 24, 1989, more than 10 million gallons of crude oil was spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef. According to, the cleanup required an estimate of 11,000 personnel, 1,400 vessels and 85 aircraft.

The Deepwater Horizon,on the other hand, is an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It exploded on April 20, 2010, creating a leak that released over 4,000,000 US gallons of oil a day in the succeeding days.

While the Deepwater Horizon spill is still ongoing, reports say that the damage done by the Exxon spill could still be felt in some parts of the world, including the continuous poisoning of aquatic wildlife. Both spills also have a relatively slow time of clean-up, as the Deepwater spill continues to dump hundreds of thousands of oil barrels a day. The species harmed by the Exxon Valdez spill remained impaired 15 years after the catastrophe. Many creatures affected by the Deepwater spill, on the other hand, currently remain mired in oil.

2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

On December 26, 2004, an underwater earthquake shook the Indian Ocean off the coast of northern Sumatra,Indonesia, and resulted in a tsunami . The earthquake’s magnitude was measured at 9.0 in 2004 but was later changed by scientists to estimates ranging from 9.1 to 9.3. Its impact was so strong that it reached places as far as Alaska.

This tragedy has been given numerous names, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Asian Tsunami, Indonesian Tsunami, and Boxing Day Tsunami. It engulfed communities with waves that reached up to a hundred feet high, and killed nearly 250,000 people in areas bordering the Indian Ocean. People were caught off-guard for there was no disaster plan, thus resulting in more panic.

The death toll was estimated at 187,000 while the people reported missing were around 43,000. Nearly 150,000 people died in Indonesia’s Aceh province, the closest area to the epicenter. Among the victims were fishermen and their families from the low-lying coastal areas.

2005 Hurricane Katrina

From August 23 to 30, 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people, destroyed more than USD80 billion worth of property, and flooded more than half of a city hit by levee failure.

The hurricane already started taking lives and property from its starting point in the Bahamas up to southern Florida. It then became stronger upon entering the Gulf of Mexico, weakened upon reaching Lousiana, and caused a storm surge that reached from central Florida to Texas. Upon its second and third landfalls in the Gulf Coast region, it reached the level of Category 3 hurricane.

The longest and worst effect of Katrina was on New Orleans. By August 31, 2005, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded. The aftermath included virtually no homes for most residents, as well as widespread looting, gunfires, and robberies. It also brought in a slew of illnesses such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and cholera.

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