Climate crisis: the worst floods in history

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
1/37 SLIDES © Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The devastating effects of Mother Nature

While water can be stunningly beautiful, it can also be extremely dangerous, as proven by the most extreme weather events around the world. Here we take a closer look at some of history’s most deadly, dramatic and destructive floods, from 1900 to the present day impact of Hurricane Ida in the USA. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
2/37 SLIDES © Bain News Service/Library of Congress/CC0

1900: Galveston hurricane, Texas, USA

On 8 September 1900, a deadly Category 4 hurricane, with winds estimated to be up to 145 miles per hour (233km/h), tore through Galveston, in southeastern Texas. The hurricane triggered severe flooding, with angry waves pounding the little island city and leaving great swathes of it underwater. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
3/37 SLIDES © Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/CC0

1900: Galveston hurricane, Texas, USA

The damage was particularly severe since residents were caught unawares: US meteorologists had underestimated warnings from Cuba about the incoming storm and its direction. More than 3,600 buildings were destroyed and this photo shows a house on the city’s Avenue N, uprooted by flooding and high winds. While the estimated death toll reported at the time was between 6,000 and 12,000, the exact number of lives lost remains unknown today. However, it’s still often cited as the worst natural disaster in US history. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
4/37 SLIDES © Collection personelle Scanne par Calude/Wikimedia Commons/CC0

1910: Great Flood of Paris, Paris, France

During the winter of 1909–1910, the French capital was battered by unusually heavy downpours, causing the Seine River’s water levels to rise dramatically. They reached dangerous highs on 21 January 1910 and the river eventually broke its banks, causing catastrophic amounts of water to surge through the city. The powerful gushes overflowed Paris’s metro tunnels and sewers leading to widespread damage.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1910: Great Flood of Paris, Paris, France

The destructive floods swamped the city for 35 days, forcing people to travel by boat or via temporary wooden walkways above the water. The disaster also cost over 400 million francs’ worth of damage (around $1.1bn/€1bn/£904m at today’s value). Only one death was recorded, though modern historians think there could well have been more. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
6/37 SLIDES © Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1931: Central China Flood

From July 1931, China experienced what’s considered one of the most lethal natural disasters in modern history, when a series of devastating floods submerged the center of the country. A combination of severe rainfall and a series of cyclones eventually caused the lower basin areas of the Yangtze River (the longest in Asia) and the Huai River to burst with deadly results. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1931: Central China Flood

It’s thought that around 52 million people were affected by the waters, which smothered an area roughly the size of England and half of Scotland combined. The horrific death toll was incalculable – estimates ranged between 400,000 to four million people from flood-related deaths, as well as the widespread famine and disease outbreaks, including cholera and typhus, that occurred in the aftermath. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1953: North Sea flood, Europe

The North Sea’s worst storm on record surged through Europe on 31 January 1953. In the Netherlands the waters plowed through 400,000 acres of land and killed at least 1,800 people. The sea in eastern England breached protecting walls and flooded 160,000 acres, while 133 people lost their lives when the ferry MV Princess Victoria sank in the North Channel.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
9/37 SLIDES © CO ZEYLEMAKER/AFP/Getty Images

1953: North Sea flood, Europe

According to the UK Environment Agency, 307 people died in southeastern England, while it’s estimated that 24,000 homes were destroyed. The county of Essex was especially hard hit losing 58 people at Canvey Island and 35 from the village of Jaywick alone. It was Britain’s worst natural disaster of the 20th century.

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climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1966: Arno river flood, Florence, Italy

On 4 November 1966, following heavy rainfall, the banks of the Arno river dramatically swelled and water flooded through Florence’s city center. The floodwaters submerged the streets and overflowed sewers, carrying waste and debris through one of Italy’s most important historic cities.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1966: Arno river flood, Florence, Italy

The powerful floodwaters – which were as high as 22 feet (7m) in parts according to some reports – killed at least 35 people and severely damaged buildings and homes, leaving thousands without power. Treasured artworks and manuscripts from the Uffizi Gallery were also badly water-damaged, and residents and tourists took to the flooded streets to help salvage the priceless pieces.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1993: Great Flood, Midwest, USA

During the summer of 1993, the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers overflowed causing catastrophic damage and destruction across the Midwest. Ongoing storms, coupled with abundant rain and snow during the previous autumn and winter, were believed to have been the root cause. More than 17 million acres of land were flooded over three months, with nine states affected. (These were Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota).

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1993: Great Flood, Midwest, USA

Hundreds of levees along the rivers failed and burst, forcing thousands across the country to evacuate. The waters claimed at least 50 lives and destroyed roughly 10,000 homes. Millions of acres of Midwestern farmland were also submerged and remained unusable in the years that followed. The Great Flood was one of the deadliest and most expensive river floods to occur in the US, costing an estimated $15 billion in damages at the time, about $26 billion (£20bn) today. 

Read on to learn about America’s most violent storms

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
14/37 SLIDES © United States Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons/CC0

1999: Vargas tragedy, Venezuela

On 14 December 1999, torrential rain triggered flash floods that swept over the coastal area of Vargas State in Venezuela. The flooding sparked deadly mudslides, including water, debris and boulders, which destroyed the town of Caraballeda. Death tolls were estimated at between 10,000 and 30,000 people across the region.

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climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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1999: Vargas tragedy, Venezuela

Over just a few days, a devastating 60 mile (100km) stretch of the Vargas state coastline was completely devastated. The Vargas tragedy remains Venezuela’s worst modern-day natural disaster.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2002: European flooding

Destructive heavy rainfall swept across Europe in the summer of 2002, leading to catastrophic flooding. Germany, Austria, Russia and the Czech Republic were among the countries most affected by the dramatic weather event, with Prague (pictured here) experiencing some of the worst damage of all.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2002: European flooding

Receding waters from the Vltava river engulfed Prague’s buildings and displaced at least 45,000 residents from their homes. It’s thought that the floods claimed 110 lives in total. The cost of water damage throughout the affected countries was also estimated to be around €15 billion (£12.8bn) at the time.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2010: Yangtze river floods, China

After non-stop rainfall, the Yangtze river swelled again in early May 2010, triggering catastrophic floods and causing deadly quantities of water to wreak havoc throughout South and Central China. The floods and the subsequent landslides are likely to have claimed over 1,000 lives, the worst death toll that the country had experienced in a decade.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2010: Yangtze river floods, China

Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed thanks to waters that reached a staggering flow rate of up to 70,000 cubic meters per second. It’s one of the world’s most costly floods, with damages estimated at $31.1 billion (£24bn) according to figures from 2014.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2010-2011: Heavy rainfall, Queensland, Australia

Some of the worst flooding in Australia’s history overwhelmed the state of Queensland in November 2010. A combination of unusually heavy rainfall and strong La Niña winds caused monsoon waters to drench the state. Total rainfall was in the range of 16 to 24 inches across the majority of Queensland’s east coast, with some areas seeing record-breaking levels.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2010-2011: Heavy rainfall, Queensland, Australia

Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes and at least 22 towns were estimated to have been completely inundated by the intense waters. Roughly 200,000 people were affected and 33 were killed by the extreme weather. Around $440 million AUD ($315m USD/£243m) was spent on the recovery effort alone.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2013: Monsoon, North India

In June 2013, the worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami hit North India and Nepal, after heavy monsoon rains triggered both flooding and landslides across the region. Around 5,700 people were reportedly killed and over 60,000 were left stranded as the rainfall swamped cities, washed away cars and blocked roads. Entire villages were completely obliterated by the extreme events.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2013: Monsoon, North India

Over 4,000 villages and towns in the state of Uttarakhand were affected and more than 100,000 people were forced to flee from the devastation. Thousands were also declared missing as many were trapped in the nearby valleys awaiting rescue teams, which were blocked by the landslides. Although the heavy rain lasted a matter of days, the damage was so catastrophic that it took Uttarakhand years to recover.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2014: Monsoon, India and Pakistan

Both Pakistan and India were hit by powerful monsoon rainfall during September 2014. The historic flooding was the worst the region had experienced in 60 years, trapping thousands and killing hundreds in both countries as buildings and roads were swept up and submerged by the powerful currents. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2014: Monsoon, India and Pakistan

Roughly 80,000 people had to be evacuated or rescued from the ravaged areas until the waters finally subsided in late September. As the catastrophic floods ripped through over 4,000 villages, 2.5 million people were affected. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2018: Heavy rainfall, Kerala, India

Between July and August 2018, Kerala, one of India’s southern states, experienced its worst floods since 1924. The region is home to 44 rivers, and is used to intense rainfall during its two monsoon seasons. However, in 2018, vast amounts of rain fell during a significantly shorter period than normal, causing destructive landslides.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2018: Heavy rainfall, Kerala, India

The flooding and mudslides swamped 13 out of 14 of Kerala’s districts, killing at least 400 people in flood-related incidents and displacing thousands. The cost was an estimated 400 billion rupees ($5.6bn/£4.3bn) in damages.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2019: Acqua alta, Venice, Italy

Venice’s residents are used to the “acqua alta” (high waters), but 15 November 2019 saw the highest tide in more than 50 years, submerging the tourist hotspot. The floods were exacerbated by a southern wind that pushed water up the Adriatic into the Venice lagoon and water levels peaked at six feet (1.8m), the highest since 1966 when they reached up to 6.3 feet (1.94m). Wooden platforms were built for residents and tourists to travel across the city as, according to officials, more than 85% of Venice was flooded.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2019: Acqua alta, Venice, Italy

At least two people died and authorities voiced fears that, since Venice continues to sink as water levels rise each year, more and more local residents will choose to relocate. The flood damage was estimated to be hundreds of millions of euros as the city and its inhabitants struggled to cope with the sheer scale of the water.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2020: Yangtze floods, China

In 2020, southern China experienced some of its worst flooding in decades, after weeks of torrential rain through June and July. Vast populations along the Yangtze, the longest river in Asia, were forced to evacuate as the mighty waterway overflows and dams fail. This photo, taken on 18 July 2020, shows residential areas submerged in water in the city of Jiujiang, in China’s Jiangxi province.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2020: Yangtze floods, China

Reports at the time estimated that at least 158 people were either dead or missing as a result of the floods. It’s also thought that some 3.7 million people were displaced, and more than 40,000 homes were destroyed. However, some experts fear that the worst is yet to come: it’s thought that the enormous Three Gorges Dam reservoir could soon reach capacity, which would lead to further devastation. This dramatic photo shows Wuhan’s historic Guanyin Temple engulfed by the swollen Yangtze river. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
32/37 SLIDES © INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

2021: Germany and Belgium floods

The images that have emerged recently of flooding in Germany and Belgium are utterly shocking. A wide area of the Rhine region experienced record-breaking rainfall on Wednesday 14 July: parts of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate saw 32.6 gallons (148 liters) of rain in just 48 hours. For context, the region normally has 17.6 gallons (80 liters) in the whole of July.

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
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2021: Germany and Belgium floods

At least 196 people died – 165 in Germany and 31 in Belgium. Rivers burst their banks and swept up buildings, while mobile phone networks have failed and making contact with those unaccounted for is impossible. The spa town of Bad Neuenahr- Ahrweiler, pictured, has been one of the most badly affected areas with housing engulfed and a road bridge collapsing. Scientists and politicians in Germany have said the flooding is a direct result of the climate emergency. 

climate crisis: the worst floods in history
34/37 SLIDES © STR/AFP via Getty Images

2021: Henan province floods, China

Beginning over the weekend of 17-18 July, China’s Henan province was hit with heavy rainfall which caused reservoirs to overflow, leading to flooding in Zhengzhou and other parts of the province. In fact, there was a year’s worth of rainfall in just three days. Shocking images have emerged of commuters stuck on a subway train, where water burst through and filled carriages. Some 500 passengers were trapped, according to local media.

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