The 15 Costliest Natural Disasters in History
September 1st, 2011
Some experts have gone on record to say that 2011 is already the costliest year in history for natural disasters–and that’s with a few months left to go. Anyone who has taken a good look at all of the tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods that the world has had to endure this year can confirm expert estimates.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that previous years did not also endure tough financial fates at the hands of nature’s wrath. Whether due to hail damage or tsunamis, we’ve suffered some costly storms around the world. Here is a list of the 15 most expensive natural disasters in history.
1. Haiti Earthquake (2010) – $7.9 Billion
In 2010, a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti and devastated the country, much of which was built on weak structural foundations. As of May 2011, the earthquake was estimated to have killed between 200,000 and 250,000 people. According to the country’s government report, known as the Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment (PDNA), the total cost of earthquake damage was estimated at $7.9 billion.
2. Hurricane Charley (2004) – $8.479 Billion
Hurricane Charley hit Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina Aug. 13-14, 2004. Peaking with winds that reached 150 mph, this Category 4 storm caused $8.479 billion in damage, according to 2009 estimated insured losses for property coverage by the Insurance Information Institute. At the time, it was the strongest storm to hit the area since Hurricane Andrew 12 years prior.
3. Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami (2004) – $15 Billion
On Dec. 26, 2004, an earthquake shook in the Indian Ocean and shortly thereafter, a monster tsunami hit India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, causing what some estimate to be over $15 billion in loss. But while the financial loss was great, it paled in comparison to the over 110,000 lives lost and more than 700,000 who were displaced or orphaned.
Damage from Hurricane Ike--NY Times
4. Hurricane Ike (2008) – $20 Billion
Hurricane Ike was another devastating storm, affecting a whopping nine states, most of which were located away from any coastline. Occurring Sept. 12-14, 2008, the storm was deemed the largest hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic Ocean. There are numerous estimates regarding the damage the storm caused, but according to the Insurance Information Institute in 2009, Ike caused $12.648 billion in the U.S. with another $8 billion in costs to the Caribbean.
5. Izmit Earthquake, Turkey (1999) – $26 Billion
Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes and even tsunamis, earthquakes don’t offer the luxury of storm reports or the ability to prepare for the worst. Unfortunately, Turkey learned this the hard way after it was hit with 7.6-magnitude earthquake at 3 a.m. on Aug. 17, 1999.
The 37-second tremor tore through the country, claiming the lives of an estimated 17,000 and injuring another 44,000 (some say the totals are even higher). As for the financial cost, it was estimated that damage totaled $26 billion.
6. Hurricane Wilma (2005) – $29.1 Billion
Hurricane Wilma affected various areas, but made the most impact in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Cuba and even affected Florida. At least 62 deaths were reported. The storm’s cost for damage was figured in 2010 at $29.1 billion as determined by the National Hurricane Center. At the time, this made it the fourth costliest storm in U.S. history.
7. Chuetsu Earthquake, Japan (2004) – $32 Billion
Unlike some earthquakes that hit with one massive force, the Chuetsu earthquake was actually several major tremors rocking Japan minutes apart in 2004. Just in the first 66 hours, a total of 15 major quakes hit the region, killing 40 and injuring over 3,000. The damage to the property in the region was also overwhelming. According to some estimates, damage totaled $32 billion.
8. Yangtze River Floods, China (1998) – $40 Billion
In the spring of 1998, China suffered continuous downpours for three months straight. The constant rain resulted in floods in China’s northern provinces, which killed as many as 4,000 people and drove an overwhelming 14 million people from their homes. It is estimated that 18.3 million acres of country had to be evacuated and the sum of financial damage caused in the area was $40 billion.
9. Hurricane Andrew (1992) – $41 Billion
It is extremely rare that we encounter a Category 5 storm, be it a tornado or hurricane. However, in 1992, we witnessed what has been deemed the most powerful hurricane to hit the United States in the 20th century. Hurricane Andrew caused irreversible damage to areas in Florida and Louisiana and, in the end, was said to ramp up costs for property insurance companies (home and auto insurance) along with other financial entities that exceeded $41 billion.
Collapsed Freeway After Northridge Earthquake--US Dept of Transportation
10. Northridge Earthquake, California (1994) – $42 Billion
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated that a 1994 earthquake that hit Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley in California cost the cities $42 billion in damage. The 6.7-magnitude quake lasted 10-20 seconds, caused more than 5,000 injuries and resulted in 72 deaths.
A whopping 25,000 people were left homeless, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and it became one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
11. Irpinia Earthquake, Italy (1980) – $52 Billion
The Irpinia Earthquake goes down as Italy’s most notorious earthquake. Occurring in 1980, this massive quake killed 3,000 and caused building and infrastructure damage over about 10,000 square miles. While the world poured in hundreds of millions in aid, the total cost of damage reached an unbelievable $52 billion.
12. Hurricane Katrina (2005) – $81 Billion
It’s hard to forget Hurricane Katrina, one of the most tragic disasters to ever hit the United States. The storm hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 25, 2005 and, between the hurricane and subsequent floods, claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 people.
Thousands of people are still displaced in Mississippi and Louisiana as a result of storm and living in temporary accommodations. While storm damage reports vary, a recent one from the NOAA revealed that the storm cost $81 billion in total damage, making it the largest single loss in the history of U.S. insurance.
13. Kobe Earthquake, Japan (1995) – $100 Billion
The Great Hanshin earthquake, also known as the Kobe earthquake, occurred in the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture, Japan on Jan. 17, 1995. While the 6.8-magnitude quake shook the ground 10 miles beneath the epicenter, it caused an unbelievable amount of damage. Nearly 6,500 people were killed and it caused approximately $100 billion in destruction, according to the World Bank.
14. Sichuan Earthquake, China (2008) – $147 Billion
An 8.0-magnitude quake hit Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, in 2008. This earth-shattering event resulted in the untimely deaths of 70,000 people and left more than 18,000 missing. While the World Bank estimated that the cost of damaged added up to about $29 billion, the Chinese government pledged $147 billion over the following three years to rebuild the shattered area.
15. Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (2011) – $235 Billion
One of the costliest and most devastating natural disasters on record happened this year in Japan. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast near Sendai, Japan causing what the World Bank estimates to be $235 billion in damage with the number expected to climb. To date, over 8,000 residents are confirmed dead and over 10,000 are still missing.
The world has seen a lot of destruction over the years with tornado damage as well. In fact, 2011 was labeled the deadliest year for this type of storm since 1950. But since its damage is typically localized, it doesn’t cause damage of the same magnitude as the disasters placed on this list–thank goodness!