• 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. 

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  • Photo: Hoogheemraadschap Amstel, Gooi en Vecht / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    1287 St. Lucia's Flood

    Date: December 14, 1287
    Location: Holy Roman Empire
    Death Toll: Over 50,000

    The Netherlands is no stranger to flooding. The small but influential nation is known for its boggy terrain and elaborate system of dams and dikes. Much of the country sits on land reclaimed from the sea, but not all floods can be fought. In 1287, a massive storm hit the Dutch coasts and sparked a flood that would eradicate several villages. The flood was so powerful that the inland village of Amsterdam suddenly became a coastal town, and the modern city still rests on the shore today. Areas of England were also affected by this storm, but the casualties were not nearly as high as those in the Netherlands. 

  • Photo: Francisco Anzola / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    1949 Eastern Guatemala Flood

    Date: September 27, 1949
    Location: Guatemala
    Death Toll: 40,000

    A tropical storm turned into a hurricane off the southern coast of Guatemala, leading to one of the region's most devastating natural disasters. Information regarding the extent of the damage done is scarce, but some estimates put the death toll as high as 40,000. The flood was part of a particularly intense hurricane season that struck North America from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. 

  • 1954 Yangtze River Flood

    Date: June - September 1954
    Location: Hubei Province in China 
    Death Toll: More than 30,000

    Foods of China's Yangtze River are common. In 1954, one of the deadlier Yangtze River floods occurred due to a rainy season that was both unusually long and heavy. In late spring, the waters began to rise. The government made several efforts to stop the flooding, such as opening flood gates, but these attempts were unfortunately unable to stop the flood as the waters rose to historical heights. Over 30,000 people died in the disaster. 

  • 1974 Bangladesh Flood

    Date: April - June 1974
    Location: Bangladesh
    Death Toll: 28,700

    Heavy rainfall led to a series of floods in Bangladesh's Brahmaputra River between April and June of 1974. In the initial flood, an estimated 28,700 people lost their lives. However, that was only the beginning of the tragedy. The floods wiped out crops throughout the country, leading to one of the deadliest famines in world history. At the time, the United States had placed a food embargo on Bangladesh, which severely limited the country's ability to import food. As a result, millions went hungry. The famine following the flood left roughly 1.5 million people dead.