• World History

The Worst Floods in History

Water can be incredibly dangerous, a powerful force strong enough to wipe entire cities off the map. Floods are one of nature's scariest natural disasters, and the worst floods in history have swept millions to their doom. People killed in floods often drown, but that is not the only source of death. A lot of fatalities are caused by the aftermath of the flood. Starvation due to famine or diseases spread via water contamination have claimed many flood victims historically. 

Flood deaths are a common threat throughout the world, with some places being particularly prone to floods. The deadliest floods in history brought havoc and chaos on towns and cities. Flood waters can disrupt entire ecosystems, destroy economies, and send advanced societies back to the stone age in an instant. These floods live on as legends, an ominous reminder that we should never take the power of nature for granted. To learn more, browse this list of the worst floods around the world. 

  • Photo: Andrew Hitchcock / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    1935 Yangtze River Flood

    Date: 1935
    Location: China
    Death Toll: 145,000

    About 70 to 75 percent of China's floods are thanks to the Yangtze River, the longest river in country. The 1930s were a particularly hard time for the people living on the shores of the Yangtze, as the decade had seen two of the worst floods in human history. While not quite as severe as the 1931 flood, the terrors of that event were still fresh when the 1935 flood struck. Millions of people would suffer at the hands of the Yangtze, and at least 145,000 people lost their lives. Disease and famine followed the water and were responsible for much of the carnage. 

  • Photo: Cronyk van Zeeland / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    1530 St. Felix's Flood

    Date: November 5, 1530
    Location: Holy Roman Empire (modern day city of Reimerswaal) 
    Death Toll: 100,000+

    St. Felix's Flood is still considered the worst flood disaster in European history. The flood completely destroyed the Dutch city of Reimerswaal, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time. A further 18 villages were also destroyed on the day that would eventually be known as "Evil Saturday." Reimerswaal stood slightly above sea level, so the flooding turned the city into an island. Over the years, repeated flooding eventually drove the few remaining stragglers out of the city for good. Today the city has gone the way of Atlantis, completely submerged in the sea. Where the city once stood is now home to a massive population of mussels, and a fishery industry has developed around them. 

  • Photo: dalbera / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    1971 Hanoi and Red River Delta Flood

    Date: August 1, 1971
    Location: North Vietnam
    Death Toll: Estimated 100,000

    Overshadowed by the extended military action in the country, the Red River Delta flood was one of the worst natural disasters in Vietnam's history. This particular flood is shrouded in mystery, as no one is really sure exactly what caused it. We do know that the flood struck in communist North Vietnam and that at least 100,000 people died. Due to the conflict between Americans and North Vietnamese, information from the North was extremely limited. It is likely that heavy rainfall overloaded the dikes of Hanoi, resulting in the torrential flood. The flood would exacerbate issus of famine and disease in the already war torn country. 

  • 1911 Jiangsu-Anhui Flood

    Date: May 16, 1911
    Location: China
    Death Toll: Over 100,000

    The Jiangsu-Anhui flood is often referred to as the 1911 Yangtze River flood, although that is a misnomer. This mega flood was the result of two rivers flooding simultaneously, the Yangtze and the Huai. Intense rainfall raised the water levels of the rivers to a dangerous point, leading to a massive flood. Flood would wipe out the crops of Central and Eastern China, causing regional starvation. Roughly 30,000 square miles of land were flooded in the coming days, creating millions of refugees. Food shortages led to riots and a spike in crime as civil discourse collapsed. Much of the chaos would be exacerbated by the onset of the Chinese Civil War in 1912.