Natural and Man-Made Disasters
Worst American Disasters of the Last Century


Natural and man-made disasters have claimed the lives of thousands over the past century. Listed below are a few of the more well-known catastrophic events.

The Great Hurricane of 1780
October 10-16, 1780

The Great Hurricane of 1780 is considered the deadliest Atlantic tropical cyclone of all time. About 22,000 people died when the storm swept over Martinique, St. Eustatius and Barbados between October 10 and October 16. Thousands of deaths also occurred offshore.

The Perfect Storm
October, 1991

In October 1991, the atmosphere seemed to go crazy. Three separate weather elements (including Hurricane Grace) crashed together to form a storm of mammoth proportion--a blockbuster nor'easter--off the New England coast. As Halloween neared, the storm played tricks that veteran meteorologists had never seen a typical nor'easter perform, such as backing up into the Eastern Seaboard to unleash its titanic waves on bewildered beach towns. meteorologists James West and Chris Vaccaro look day-by-day at a meteorological bomb that seemed so complete it was dubbed the "perfect storm.".

1825: October 7: Miramichi Fire, Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick: burned 3 million acres, killed 160 people and left 15,000 homeless.

1849: May 17: The St. Louis Fire, St. Louis, Missouri: the first fire in US history in which a firefighter was killed in the line of duty. Captain Thomas B. Targee was killed while a fire break was being made. steamboat fire, the White Cloud; death toll, 3.

1865: April 27: Worst Ship Disaster: Riverboat Sultana, Mississippi River: Sultana's boiler exploded, engulfing the ship in flames; transporting 2,300 war-weary Union troops home, only 600 survived. More people died in the Sultana disaster than on the Titanic or the Lusitania.

1871: October 8: The Peshtigo Fire Wisconsin/Michigan: estimate at least 1,500 people dead - eight hundred died in Peshtigo, Wisconsin alone; the Peshtigo Fire killed more people than any fire to date, but was overshadowed at the time by the Great Chicago Fire, which began the same day. Estimiated 3.8 million acres burned.

1871: October 8: The Great Chicago Fire, Chicago, Illinois: at least 300 people were dead, 100,000 people were homeless, and $200 million worth of property was destroyed.

1888: March 11-14: Great White Hurricane, East Coast: The Blizzard of 1888 killed 400; accumulation of up to 5 feet of snow. Damage estimated at $20 million.

1889: May 31st: The Johnstown Flood, Johnstown, Pensylvania: the result of several days of extremely heavy rainfall, exacerbated by the failure of the South Fork Dam; over 2,200 dead; over $17 million (USD) in damages.

1894: September 1: The Minnesota Forest Fire, Hinckley, Minnesota: "The Day the Air Caught Fire"; at least 418 killed; over 307,000 acres burned.

1900: September 8: The 1900 Galveston Hurricane, Galveston, Texas: estimated winds of 135 miles per hour cat. 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.; extimated death toll between 6,000-12,000 Deaths; Deadliest hurricane to hit the United States.

1903: December 30: Iroquois Theater Fire, Chicago Illinois: The Iroquois Theater was supposedly fireproof - 602 dead

1903: June 14: Flash flood - Heppner, Oregon: The entire village of Heppner was swept awy by a sudden flash flood when Willow Creek overflowed into the town centre. 200-225 people died. No weather records were kept as the weather officer and his entire family were killed.

1904: February 8: Baltimore Fire, Baltimore, Maryland: destroyed downtown Baltimore; fire burned over 30 hours, destroying 1,526 buildings spanning 70 city blocks.

1904: June 15: General Slocum Paddleboat Fire, New York City, New York: 1,031 dead; a "floating fire trap"

1906: April 18: The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire, San Francisco, California: registered 8.25 on the Richter scale; estimates range from 700 to 3,000 dead or missing, approximately 225,000 injuries and $400,000,000 in 1906 dollars.

1907: December 6: Monongah Mining Disaster, Monongah, West Virginia: "The worst mining disaster in American History" death toll 362 men and boys.

1910: March 1: Avalanche, Wellington, Washington: 2 trains snowbound in Stevens Pass in Cascade Range swept off tracks into canyon 150 ft below, killing 96.

1910: September 10: The Big Burn of 1910, Wallace, Idaho: at least 7 people died along with 78 firefighters.

1911: March 25: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York City, New York: 146 dead.

1913: December 1-5: Flood, Central to North Texas: 177 dead.

1913:: Great Flood of 1913, Ohio River Basin: 467 persons drowned; 147 million dollars damage; ". . .second mostly deadly of record for the nation." (David Ludlum)

1915: May 7: Sinking of the Lusitania, New York City, New York: departed from New York May 1st for Liverpool, carrying 1959 passengers; torpedoed by German U-boat; 1,200 dead

1915: July 24: Excursion Steamer Eastland, Chicago, Illinois: Eastland Disaster "reputation for being top-heavy and had at several times in the past been reported as listing in an alarming way"; rolled over while still in port with 2,572 persons on board; 844 perished--making this Chicago's worst single disaster.

1918: March - November: Spanish influenza , Nationwide: outbreak of Spanish influenza killed over 500,000 people in the worst single U.S. epidemic.

1918: October 12: The Cloquet-Moose Lake Disaster, Cloquet Minnesota and 25 other communities: destroyed by forest fire, 559 die

1918: July 9: Train collision, Nashville, Tennessee: 101 killed in a 2-train collision near Nashville

1921: September 8-10 Flood, Central Texas: Thrall: 32" in 12 hours (record); 215 deaths

1925: March 18: Tri-State Tornado, Montana, Illinois, Indiana: The most violent single twister in U.S. history. It caused the deaths of 695 people and injured over 2,000. Property damage was estimated at $16.5 million.

1927: April 1: Flood, Mississippi River: flooded over 18 million acres killing 313; 670,000 homeless; river levees broke at 47 spots; 750,000 homes underwater

1928:: The Hurricane of 1928, Okeechobee, Florida: category 5; atmospheric pressure at landfall was measured at 929 mbar (hPa) and winds "in excess" of 150 mph; "at least" 2,500 deaths; the second-deadliest natural disaster in United States history behind the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 (as of 2004)

1930's:: Many States "The Dirty Thirties": Longest drought of 20th century. Peak periods were 1930, 1934, 1936, 1939, and 1940. During 1934, dry regions stretched solidly from New York and Pennsylvania across the Great Plains to the Calififornia coast. A great "dust bowl" covered 50 million acres in the south-central plains during the winter of 1935-1936.

1935: September 2: Labor Day Hurricane, Florida Keys: category 5 winds on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale; strongest hurricane to hit the United States coastline last century, wind gusts 150-200 mph; 400+ casualties

1937: March 18: Texas School Explosion, New London, Texas: over 300 students and teachers died

1938: May 16: Terminal Hotel Fire, Atlanta, Georgia: 35 dead

1938: September 21: Long Island Express - The Great Hurricane of 1938, New England: category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale with maximum sustained winds of 161 mph; claimed 600 lives

1942: November 28: Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire, Boston, Massachusetts: 499 dead

1944: July 17: Port Chicago Naval Magazine Explosion, San Francisco, California: 320 casualties

1946: April 1 1946: Aleutian Tsunami, The Hawaiian Islands: generated by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in the Aleutian Islands if Alaska; city of Hilo, Hawaii hardest hit with 96 killed; before dissipating, the tsunami it took the lives of more than 165 people and caused over $26 million (1946 dollars) in damage

1947: April 16 & 17: Texas City Disaster, Texas City, Texas: ship explosion; started with the fire and detonation of approximately 17,000,000 pounds (7,700 tonnes) of ammonium nitrate on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp; the SS Highflyer (or High Flyer), moored about 600 feet away from the Grandcamp and contained an additional 2,000,000 pounds (900 tonnes) of ammonium nitrate and 4,000,000 pounds (1,800 tonnes) of sulfur, exploded about 15 hours after the Grandchamp; considered the worst industrial accident in United States history; more than 516 lives lost

1955: August 3-20: Atlantic hurricane of 1955, Northeastern United States: Hurricane Connie begins pounding U.S. for 11 days; Hurricane Diane, following Hurricane Connie floods Connecticut River killing 190 and doing $1.8 billion damage; Hurricane Diane kills 200; first billion $ damage storm (N.E. U.S.)

1956: July 25: SS Andrea Doria collides with eastward-bound SS Stockholm, Off Nantucket, Massachusetts: collision caused 51 deaths; 2 rescuers were also killed - total death count 53; one of history's most famous maritime disasters

1957: June 27: Hurricane Audrey, Texas and Louisiana: peak of 145 mph winds before making landfall near Sabine Pass, Texas on June 27 - Category 4 hurricane; 12-foot storm surge devastated Cameron, Louisiana, causing $150 million in damage; official death toll 390; unofficial, more than 500; earliest storm of any Atlantic hurricane season to reach Category 4 intensity in recorded history of the basin; Audrey was the strongest storm to form prior to August, and held this record for nearly fifty years before Hurricane Dennis broke it in 2005 (which was itself broken only nine days later by Hurricane Emily). Emily remains the strongest storm ever to form in June.

1958: December 1: Our Lady of Angels School Fire, Chicago, Illinois: fire in a Catholic elementary school; 92 children and three nuns parished; To Sleep with the Angels : A Story of a Fire

1960: December 19: USS Constellation, New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York: a Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier, was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named in honor of the "new constellation of stars" on the flag of the United States; nicknamed 'America's Flagship'; decommissioned on August 7, 2003, after 41 years, nine months and 11 days of naval service; fire swept through Constellation while she was under construction at a Brooklyn Navy Yard pier, injuring 150, killing 50, and doing $75 million worth of damage

1963: April 10: Atomic-powered submarine Thresher sank, North Atlantic: 129 dead

1964: March 27: The Great Alaskan Earthquake and Tsunami, Alaska: 90% of the deaths in Alaska during the 1964 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis were due to the tsunamis; largest earthquake in North America and the second largest ever recorded (largest occurred in Chile in 1960); 9 deaths attributed to earthquake; 8.4 - 8.6 on the Richter Scale; 106 deaths due to tsunamis; 115 total deaths in Alaska; other resulting deaths: Newport, Oregon - 4; Crescent City, California - 11; Kalmath River, California - 1

1967: December 15: The Point Pleasant/Silver Bridge Disaster Silver Bridge spanned over the Ohio River connecting Point Pleasant, West Virgnia and Kanauga, Ohio: suspension bridge constructed in 1928; collapsed claiming 46 lives and injuring 9

1972: June 9: Burst dam, flood, Rapid City, South Dakota: 238 dead

1972: February 26: Coal Refuse Dam Failure, Man, West Virginia: dam gave way killing 125 people, injuring 1,000 and leaving 4,000 homeless in Buffalo Creek in Logan County, West Virginia

1972: July 19: TWA Flight 327 112 Dead, Sioux Gateway Airport, Iowa: interestingly, all information about this incident have been wiped from historical records

1977: May 28: Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire, Southgate, Kentucky: hotel fire; claimed 165 lives

1977: July 19: Burst dam, flood, Johnstown, Pennsylvania: excessive rain in a short period of time caused the dam to burst; the flash flood that ensued killed 77 people and caused $325 million in damage

1978: April 27: Willow Island Cooling Tower Collapse, Willow Island, West Virginia: power plant cooling tower under construction; scaffolding collapsed killing 51

1979: May 25: American Airlines Flight 191, O'Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois: crashed, killing all 271 on board and two on the ground; Flight 191 was the deadliest plane disaster on U.S. soil until surpassed by the crashes of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

1980: November 21: MGM Grand Hotel/Casino Fire, Las Vegas, Nevada: 85 deaths

1981: July 17: Hyatt Regency walkway collapse, Kansas City, Missouri: two skywalks filled with people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri collapse into a crowded atrium lobby killing 114

1985: August 2: Delta Air Lines L1011-1, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas: crashed shortly before landing after encountering a wind shear from a passing thunderstorm; eight of the 11 crew members and 128 of the 152 passengers were killed; one person in a passing car was also killed

1986: August 31: Aeromexico DC-9, Dead, Cerritos, California: collided with a single engine Piper Archer which had made an unauthorized penetration of controlled airspace; all 6 crew members and 58 passengers were killed; the three occupants of the Piper and 18 people on the ground were also killed; total 85 dead

1987: August 16: Northwest MD82 Crash, Detroit, Michigan: crew neglected to properly set flaps for takeoff; aircraft stalled soon after take-off, crashing onto a highway; all six crew and 148 of 149 passengers were killed; two people on the ground were also killed

1987: December 7: Pacific Southwest Airlines BAe146-200, near San Luis Obispo, California: recently fired USAir employee used his now invalidated credentials to board the aircraft with a pistol and apparently killed his former manager and both pilots (USAir had recently purchased PSA); all five crew members and 37 passengers killed

1989: March 24: Oilspill, Prince William Sound, Alaska: Tanker Exxon Valdez hit an undersea reef and spilled 10 million-plus gallons of oil into the water, causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

1989: October 17: Earthquake (San Andréa's fault), San Francisco, California: magnitude 7.1 earthquake; worst earthquake since 1906; 63 deaths, 3,757 injuries, $ 5,900,000,000 damages - most costly natural disaster in the United States at that time

1989: September 10: Hurricane Hugo, Hit Charleston, South Carolina: Category 5 hurricane that struck Puerto Rico, St. Croix, South Carolina and North Carolina, killing at least 70 people; caused billions of US dollars in damages (mostly in South Carolina), and is still one of the costliest hurricanes in history (surpassed by Hurricane Andrew)

1990: January 25: Avianca Boeing 707, Flight 52, Cove Neck, New York: aircraft crashed while in a holding pattern awaiting landing at New York's Kennedy Airport; bad weather a factor; 73 of 158 killed

1992: August 24: Hurricane Andrew, Dade County, Florida: most destructive United States hurricane of record; peak gust of 164 mph--measured 130 feet above the ground--while a 177 mph gust was measured at a private home; 23 deaths in the United States and three more in the Bahamas; $26.5 billion in damage in the United States, of which $1 billion occurred in Louisiana and the rest in south Florida; majority of damage in Florida was due to the winds (the death toll is controversial as many believe there were thousands in the Everglades never accounted for)

1994: September 8: USAir Flight 427, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: aircraft lost control at about 6,000 feet (1830 meters) during approach; all five crew members and 127 passengers were killed

1994: January 17: Northridge Earthquake, Los Angeles, California: 6.7 magnitude earthquake; 57 dead, 1500 serious injuries

1995: April 19: Oklahoma City Bombing, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a U.S. government office complex in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was destroyed, killing 168 people; largest domestic terrorist attack in the history of the United States and was the largest act of terrorism within U.S. borders until September 11, 2001

1996: May 11: ValuJet Airlines DC9-32, near Miami, Florida: fire in the cargo caused this plane to crash into the Florida Everglades about 15 miles from the airport; 105 passengers and five crew members were killed

1996: July 17: TWA Flight 800, Long Island, New York: catastrophic in flight breakup shortly after departure; all 18 crew and 212 passengers perished

1998: September 2: MD 11 Swiss-Air Flight 111, crashes near Nova Scotia, Canada: aircraft crashed at night in the Atlantic Ocean close to shore about 50 miles southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia; all 15 crew members and 214 passengers were killed

1999: October 31: EgyptAir 767-300ER Flight 990, Atlantic Ocean near Nantucket Island, Massachusetts: aircraft crashed into the ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket Island; NTSB determined that the aircraft departed from controlled flight and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean as a result of flight control inputs by the first officer; all 14 crew members and 203 passengers were killed

1999: August 18-25: Hurricane Bret, Kenedy County, Texas: winds 125 mph, pressure 944, category 4

2000: January 31: Alaska Airlines MD83 Flight 261, Off Point Mugu, California: 83 passengers and five crew members were killed

2001: September 11: Alaska Airlines MD83 Flight 261, New York City, New York; Arlington, Virginia; and Shanksville, Pennsylvania: Hijackers crashed 2 commercial jets into twin towers of World Trade Center; 2 more hijacked jets were crashed into the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania. Total dead numbered 2,992, including the 19 hijackers. Islamic al-Qaeda terrorist group blamed.

Copyright Information: Public Domain.

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