Eight floods that shook humanity

Some of the most devastating natural disasters in history, which have claimed thousands of lives, have been caused by heavy rains, storms or the failure of dams.

In some cases, they have even permanently altered the geography of the planet.

History has compiled a list of the most destructive floods in history over the past nearly 700 years.

1362, Great Mandrenke

Map from 1652 showing the coastline of the Netherlands before the disaster of 1362 and after. (Wikipedia)

In January 1362, a violent storm in the North Sea swept across part of Northern Europe. It was the famous Grote Mandrenke who influenced England above all. According to an English chronicler, “a powerful wind blew from the north so violently day and night that it leveled trees, mills, houses and many church steeples”.

Many deadly floods were not caused by Mother Nature, but by human action.

The storm further shook the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with dikes unable to do anything to contain the flooding. It is estimated that between 25,000 and 100,000 people drowned, while 60 parishes in Denmark were said to have been “swallowed by the sea”.

In the Netherlands, soil erosion caused by flooding has permanently transformed the coastline and led to the disappearance of entire islands. The Grote Mandrenke, along with other storms of similar size in the 13th and 14th centuries, played a role in the formation of the Zuiderzee Bay and were characteristic of the unsettled and unsettled weather of Northern Europe during the Early Early Ages glacial.

1607, The flood that shook Old Albion

The flood began on the morning of January 30, 1607, when a huge wave covered 200 square miles of southwest England and Wales, drowning at least 20 villages.

The hill of Glastonbury Tor which was once transformed into an island (Wikipedia)

According to one witness, immense and powerful “hills” of water were falling on top of each other, moving at “great speed” across the ground. Such descriptions have led some researchers to believe that the flooding was the result of a massive tsunami triggered by an earthquake.

However, others argue that it was more the result of a storm caused by a combination of gusty winds and high tides.

Whatever the cause, the floods proved devastating in the lowlands surrounding the Bristol Channel, killing around 2,000 people.

In Somerset, floodwaters rushed 15 miles inland and briefly transformed the hillside of Glastonbury Tor into an island.

1841, villages and an army are razed from the face of the earth in Pakistan

Indian River

In January 1841, an earthquake triggered a massive landslide on the slopes of Nanga Parbat, a Himalayan peak located in what is now Pakistan.

The rock masses that fell from the mountain blocked the flow of the Indus River, creating a lake 151 meters deep and several dozen kilometers long.

But when they blew up the dam a few months later, in June, the lake emptied at a rate of 540,000 cubic meters per second, triggering a massive flood wave nearly 30 meters high. Casualties from the disaster were not recorded, but it is known that it wreaked havoc across several hundred kilometers of the Indus Valley.

Entire villages were wiped off the map and an entire army of 500 Sikh men was said to have been lost near the town of Attock. It may be the largest recorded flood in the world.

1889, Unprecedented disaster in the USA, but no one is responsible

Shortly after 3 p.m. on May 31, 1889, a dam on Lake Conemaugh in Pennsylvania, United States, failed after several days of torrential rain. The collapse released approximately 16 million tons of water, which quickly turned into a wave of mud and debris 12 meters high and 800 meters wide.

Debris in Johnstown after flood

An hour later, the wave slammed into the town of Johnstown, destroying approximately 1,600 buildings and sweeping away everything in its path.

When the waters finally receded, more than 2,200 people died and many more were injured or left homeless.

The causes of the disaster were attributed to poor maintenance of the dam, owned by hunting and fishing clubs, but no one was ever held responsible for the disaster. Those who went to court were defeated because the law did not cover them, with damages estimated at over $550 million (2022).

1927, the flood that displaced 1% of Americans

Victims of the Mississippi floods (Wikipedia)

During the interwar period, in the spring of 1927, after months of incessant rain, the Mississippi River rose so high that the levees could not contain it.

The resulting floods affected approximately 16 million square meters in seven states. Hardest hit were Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, where the river overflowed its banks, turning more than 75 miles of land into a shallow sea. Thousands of citizens were forced to evacuate their homes by boat.

When the waters receded, they left behind at least 250 dead and a million displaced people, or 1% of the American population at the time.

3.7 million dead… somewhere in China

Flood victims in China after the catastrophic floods of 1931 (Wikipedia)

In the summer of 1931, heavy snowmelt, torrential rains, and seven different storms – accompanied by cyclones – “combined” to cause the most devastating flood in Chinese history. In July alone, central China was deluged with as much rain as it normally receives in a year and a half.

By August, the Yangtze, Yellow and Huai rivers had breached their poorly constructed embankments and flooded an area the size of England.

Thousands of people drowned during the initial phase of the flood, but many more followed due to widespread famine and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery. An estimated 3.7 million people died.

It is considered the deadliest flood in human history.

The artificial flood that killed hundreds of thousands of people

Chinese soldiers fighting in a flooded landscape of the Yellow River during the Sino-Japanese War in 1938 (Wikipedia).

In an attempt to thwart the invading Japanese forces, during the Second Sino-Japanese War in June 1938, Chinese Nationalist troops deliberately destroyed several embankments on the Yellow River.

By employing scorched earth tactics, the Chinese hoped to prevent the Japanese from gaining access to a railway line, thereby slowing their westward advance. What happened instead was an environmental disaster.

Once the muddy river released, it diverted its course and flooded an area of ​​21,000 square miles in the central provinces of Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu.

An estimated 4 million people were displaced from their homes and 800,000 died of drowning, disease or starvation after the deluge continued unchecked.

“Residents who did not die in the floods are perishing in misery,” wrote a Chinese government report in 1940. “Those who fortunately remained alive are already panting urgently and groaning in agony.”

The devastation lasted until the end of the war, with the Chinese government attempting to blame the damage to the embankments on Japanese bombing. It was not until 1947 that engineers and workers succeeded in restoring the Yellow River to its original course.

The flood that shook up Art in 1966

Manuscripts from the National Library are washed and dried in the boiler room of Florence Santa Maria Novella station, after the flood (Wikipedia)

The deluge began on November 4, when a period of continuous rain caused the Arno River to overflow, dumping 18 billion gallons of mud onto the streets of Florence.

Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed, but the water also reached several art galleries and libraries containing priceless Renaissance relics.

Around 1.5 million books were immersed in the Biblioteca Nazionale. Elsewhere in the city, the torrent washed away 1,500 murals, sculptures and paintings.

Following the disaster, a group of volunteers from around the world, the “Mud Angels”, came to Florence to save works of art.

Groups have saved countless works of art, but in many cases the restoration process has taken decades. Work on a famous painting, the 1546 “Last Supper” by Giorgio Vasari, was only completed in 2016.

Cenni di Pepo’s masterpiece, The Crucifixion, submerged during the floods of 1966 (wikipedia)

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