The Worst Natural Disasters In US History

A house turned on its side from the force of the disastrous Galveston Hurricane in 1900. Editorial credit: Everett Historical /
A house turned on its side from the force of the disastrous Galveston Hurricane in 1900. Editorial credit: Everett Historical /

The United States has been ravaged by its share of natural disasters that have resulted in an exorbitant loss of property and tragic loss of life as well as injuries. The disasters have been a result of natural causes such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding, while human actions, including terrorism, have also contributed to these disasters. The worst natural disaster in US history was the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. Some of the other worst disasters in the history of the United States are listed below.

Three Worst Disasters in US History

1900 Galveston Hurricane - 12,000 Deaths 

At the time of the 1900 disasters, Galveston was thriving as the largest city in Texas. However, with the bustling activities and progress that the town was undergoing, many claimed the authorities were being complacent by not building a seawall to protect the city. On September 8, 1900, the city witnessed a high category four hurricane with an estimated wind speed of 145 miles per hour. The storm’s origin has never been clear because there was limited observation ability in 1900. The hurricane caused loss of lives estimated between 6,000 and 12,000 making it the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. After the storm, survivors were sheltered in temporary US army tents along the shores. Homes were rebuilt from salvaged material and within weeks the shipping of cotton began again.

1988 United States Heat Wave - 10,000 Deaths 

In 1988, the United States was affected by a stifling heat wave that brought with it dangerously high temperatures and drought. The highest temperatures were concentrated around the Eastern and Central United States. Deaths from heat stress numbered at around 10,000. Elderly populations were particularly vulnerable to heat sickness. 

1901 Eastern United States Heat Wave - 9,500 Deaths

Another terrible heat wave occurred in 1901 and was responsible for 9,500 deaths. The heat wave endured for half of June and half of July in the eastern seaboard of the United States. The heat wave, which happened more than 100 years ago, remains one of the worst heat waves of all time. 

1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire - 6,000 Deaths 

In the spring of 1906, San Francisco residents were awoken by an earthquake. Although this earthquake lasted less than one minute, it set devastating chains of fire that lasted four days. The perceived shaking of the earth resulting from the release of energy created seismic waves. The magnitude of the earthquake was estimated at 7.7 to 7.9 and not only broke the gas pipe that sparked the fire but also broke the main water pipes, which made it difficult for the fire department to put out the fire. The fire left a trail of destruction with 500 city blocks burnt down, 3,000 to 6,000 lives lost and 225,000 people left homeless. An estimated property worth $400 million was lost during the fire. It is the second worst natural disaster to have ever occurred in the US.

1928 Okeechobee Hurricane - 3,000 Deaths 

The Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 was one of the deadliest hurricanes to have ever occurred in the United States. It particularly hit Puerto Rico and Florida hard. The hurricane development was first reported on September 6 of 1928 and with the continued observation the hurricane was quickly developing in different places, including Dakar, Senegal. Residents of Puerto Rico were advised to relocate to safer places, but when the hurricane did not arrive at the estimated time, they returned to their homes. On the evening of September 16, a storm with a sustained wind speed of 160 miles per hour hit Puerto Rico killing over 3,000 people and destroying property worth over $50 million. Due to initial preparation, the cyclone caused minimum damage as compared to the effects of other cyclones.

Turning Back the Tide on Disaster in America

In US history, natural disasters have led to significant loss of life and damage to property. The US government has put into place strategies to counter and prevent such disasters from happening. For example, seawalls have been built along the shores to control effects of cyclone and storms while the public is continuously informed of any looming dangers especially those living near water bodies.

The Worst Disasters In US History

RankNatural DisasterDeath TollYear
1Galveston Hurricane 12,0001900
21988 United States Heat Wave10,0001988
31901 Eastern United States Heat Wave9,5001901
4San Francisco Earthquake6,0001906
51928 Okeechobee Hurricane3,0001928
6Peshtigo Fire2,5001871
7Johnstown Flood2,2091889
81893 Cheniere Caminada Hurricane2,0001893
9Hurricane Katrina1,8362005
101980 Heat Wave1,7001980

More in Society