From the dawn of civilization to today, floods have caused more human deaths and wreaked more extensive devastation than any natural force. The same rivers that offer life and the promise of sustainable sustenance can, in a season of floods, wipe out the people who depend on them.
In a work cataloging deadly floods, China would rate its own chapter, if not its own book. The 1931 central China floods alone resulted in an estimated 4 million deaths and affected a quarter of China's population, making it one of the worst natural disasters in history and helping to earn the Hwang Ho, or "Yellow River," the nickname "China's Sorrow." In 1887, its floods killed 2 million people, and the 1931 and 1938 floods took the lives of almost 5 million [sources: Hudec; NOAA News]. However, these resulted from months or years of accumulating drought, rain and storms that combined to create conditions ripe for disaster, and thus didn't constitute a single storm; for similar havoc occurring as the result of a single weather event, we have to turn to 1975's Super Typhoon Nina.
Nina's unparalleled destructive power derived not from its winds but from the catastrophic flooding it triggered. Indeed, the typhoon had already spent most of its strength crossing Taiwan's central mountain range and had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it struck China [source: Weyman]. As it stalled over the mainland, Nina cranked out 42 inches (1,060 millimeters) of rain in 24 hours -- a year's worth of central China's precipitation, delivered in a day. The deluge collapsed the Banqiao Dam and destroyed more than 60 other dams along with it [source: Xinhua].
As the dams buckled, a 6.2-mile-wide (10-kilometer-wide), 9.8-23-foot-high (3-7-meter-high) wave blasted across the lowlands at speeds approaching 31 mph (50 kph), destroying an area 34 miles (55 kilometers) long and 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) wide [source: CCTV]. The floods swept tens of thousands of survivors downstream and submerged thousands of square kilometers of land, killing 26,000 people. An additional 145,000 later died of disease and famine (some estimates place the death toll closer to 230,000) [sources: Goldstein; Xinhua].
In all, Nina collapsed almost 6 million buildings and affected 11 million people, running up an economic toll of $1.2 billion [source: Weyman]. In lives destroyed, and physical and economic impact, Nina truly towers among other typhoons as our most destructive storm.
These 10 storms were major natural disasters that afflicted huge numbers of people. To learn more about the ferocious storms nature throws our way, visit the links on the next page.