List of the most deadliest floods across the globe

Floods, as one of the most destructive disasters, result in significant loss of life, homes, and livelihoods. They reshape landscapes and leave lasting impacts. Let’s take a look at some of the deadliest floods that have occurred across the globe.

Floods are one of the most destructive disasters that cause big changes and challenges for the people inflicted by it. These massive water calamities strip away homes, and livelihoods, and leave an impact on the landscape. Here are some of the deadliest floods that have occurred in various parts of the world:

1887 Yellow River flood

The 1887 flood of the Yellow River in Qing China began in September of that year and proved to be the single deadliest flood event in Chinese history, killing an estimated minimum of 930,000 people. Catastrophic heavy rainfall unleashed an enormous flood wave along the 4,885-kilometer (3,035-mile) course of the Huang Ho or Yellow River. The flood grew even more severe as dams burst, inundating over 15,000 square kilometres of land.

Beyond the direct deaths from the flooding itself, nearly as many lives were lost due to disease epidemics that broke out in the affected regions in the aftermath. Part of the reason the Yellow River flooding was so destructive is the high sediment and silt content in the river, which frequently causes it to overflow and change course. In the lower reaches, the riverbed has become elevated higher than the surrounding countryside.

Dams and levees have been constructed in attempts to limit the Yellow River’s recurring flood events and allow cultivation of the fertile valley lands. However, the extreme silt loads continue to clog many of these flood control structures. The combination of heavy rainfall, high sediment, and inadequate flood defences in 1887 created the conditions for one of the worst natural disasters in terms of loss of life in recorded history.

1931 China Floods

The 1931 China floods are regarded as one of the deadliest natural disasters on record. Torrential rainfall caused the Yangtze River to overflow its banks, impacting millions of people. Estimates of the death toll from these catastrophic floods range between 1 to 4 million lives lost. Although the floodwaters largely receded by the late fall of 1931, the aftermath of starvation, mass homelessness, and the outbreak of disease persisted at least until the end of 1932 due to the government’s inability to provide sufficient aid and support to those affected.

The proposal for constructing the Three Gorges Dam predated the 1931 floods, intended to help control flooding on the Yangtze River. However, the dam was not completed until 2012 – over 80 years later. As a result, some historians argue that the devastating impacts of the 1931 China floods endured for over eight decades until the dam’s completion could finally provide flood control on the Yangtze.

1938 Yellow River floods

Unlike previous major floods on the Yellow River that were natural disasters, the catastrophic 1938 flood was intentionally caused by the Chinese National Army. From June 1938 to January 1947, the army deliberately breached dikes along the Yellow River at Huayuankou in Henan Province, unleashing floodwaters across the region.

While still devastating, this man-made flood differed from the 1931 floods centred on the Huai River in that it was an intentional act rather than a natural occurrence. The 1938 breach came at an enormous cost to human life, economic destruction, and environmental impacts. In the immediate aftermath, between 30,000 to 89,000 civilians drowned in the provinces of Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu from the initial flooding. Overall, a staggering 400,000 to 500,000 civilians perished from drowning, famine, and plague caused by this intentional inundation.

1935 Yangtze flood

The Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) in central and eastern China has experienced periodic, catastrophic flooding events that have caused widespread destruction of property and significant loss of life throughout history. The provinces most severely impacted by Yangtze River floods are Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, which are located along the middle to lower reaches of the river basin.

The aftermath of major Yangtze floods has proven devastating, with the secondary effects often as deadly as the initial flooding itself. Many survivors of the inundation events went on to perish from resulting starvation and famine. Similar to the 1931 flood, drought conditions in the preceding year compounded the disaster by causing grain shortages. Then when floodwaters washed away existing crops, and seeds, and inundated over 1.5 million hectares of farmland, food scarcity reached catastrophic levels.

The cycle of drought, flooding, agricultural destruction, and famine made recovery efforts extremely challenging after major flood episodes on the Yangtze.

1949 Eastern Guatemalan floods

From October 14-16, 1949, a series of violent and catastrophic floods struck Central America, primarily impacting Guatemala. These floods proved to be among the deadliest on record, with estimated death tolls ranging from 1,000 to a staggering 40,000 fatalities, though more reliable estimates suggest around 4,000 people lost their lives in the disaster. The monetary losses from the flooding were also immense, estimated between $15,000,000 to $40,000,000 in damage.

Landslides and blocked roads disrupted communications and transportation within Guatemala, severely hampering the distribution of food, supplies, and other critical resources to affected areas in the aftermath.


1954 Yangtze River floods

From June through September 1954, a series of catastrophic flooding events struck along the Yangtze River, with the province of Hubei suffering some of the worst impacts. Unusually high precipitation volumes and an extraordinarily prolonged rainy season caused dangerously high water levels in the middle stretch of the Yangtze beginning in late spring. Despite efforts to open three major floodgates to divert the rising waters, the flood levels continued climbing until reaching a historic peak of 44.67 meters (146.6 feet) in Jingzhou, Hubei and 29.73 meters (97.5 feet) in Wuhan.

The devastation from this extended period of extreme flooding was immense. Estimates indicate around 33,000 people perished either directly from the floodwaters or plague outbreaks in the disaster’s aftermath.

Bangladesh Famine of 1974

Beginning in March 1974 and lasting until around December of that year, Bangladesh experienced one of the worst famine disasters of the 20th century. The famine was characterized by catastrophic flooding along the Brahmaputra River as well as staggeringly high mortality rates. An estimated 6 million homes were destroyed by the floodwaters, leaving nearly 1.4 million farm families without tools or draft animals needed to work their agricultural lands.

The flooding completely disrupted transportation and communication systems across the region. Roads were severely damaged, bridges were washed out, and inland waterways were blocked – cutting off access and crippling aid and supply delivery efforts. The scale of the inundation and its aftermath created widespread devastation, destruction of shelter and property, loss of food sources, and loss of life on a massive scale.

1975 Banqiao Dam failure

In August 1975, catastrophic dam failures occurred when Typhoon Nina made landfall, causing the Banqiao Dam and 61 other dams across Henan province to collapse. This triggered one of the deadliest floods in recorded history. The dam breaches inundated an area of 12,000 square kilometers (around 3 million acres) affecting a total population of over 10 million people across some 30 cities and counties.

Estimates of the staggering death toll from this flood range from 26,000 fatalities at the low end to as high as 240,000 lives lost. The floodwaters also demolished between 5 and 6.8 million residential houses, leaving masses of people homeless in the aftermath. This historic dam failure and flooding catastrophe unfolded against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution period in China.

2010 Pakistan floods

Devastating floods began impacting Pakistan in late July 2010, triggered by extreme monsoon rainfall in the regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan that make up the Indus River basin. The heavy rains caused catastrophic flooding throughout the vast Indus River watershed. The scale of the inundation was almost unimaginable, with around 20,000 people losing their lives in the disaster.

2013 North India floods

In June 2013, a devastating cloudburst event centred on the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand triggered catastrophic flooding and landslides, resulting in India’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. The rainfall that month was exponentially higher than typical levels for the region. Debris accumulating in rivers blocked water flow, causing major overbank flooding. The main flood event occurred on June 16th.

While Uttarakhand bore the brunt of the extreme rainfall, some areas of the neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh in India were also impacted, as well as regions of western Nepal and western Tibet that experienced heavy precipitation. However, over 89% of the death toll occurred in Uttarakhand.

As of July 16, 2013, the government of Uttarakhand reported over 5,700 people were presumed dead from the floods, including 934 residents. The overall death toll was later estimated at 6,054 lives lost in this devastating flood disaster triggered by the unprecedented cloudburst rainfall event in the region that June.

Floods are among the most devastating natural disasters, causing immense loss of life, destruction of property, and widespread suffering.


This article has been modified using Artficial Intelligence (AI) tools.