Top 10 disasters on U.S. soil
Let us not forget these past disasters on U.S. soil, even as we are rebuilding from the latest, Hurricane Sandy.
1. Pearl Harbor
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941—“a day that shall live in infamy”—killed 2,403 Americans and dealt a severe blow to the United States’ military might in the Pacific. The assault on the Hawaii-based naval facility launched the nation into a world war that lasted four years at a cost of nearly 500,000 American lives.
2. September 11
Nineteen Muslim terrorists, backed by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, hijacked four airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and, thanks to the heroism of the passengers, a field near Shanksville, Pa. The action claimed 2,973 victims, severely disrupted the U.S. economy, launched America into the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as the war on terror that continues over a decade later.
3. San Francisco earthquake and fire
The 1906 earthquake in San Francisco leveled large parts of the city, then the resulting fire wiped out much of the rest. Over 80 percent of the city was destroyed, an estimated 3,000 people died, and thousands were forced to live in tent cities amid the rubble. In the time it took to rebuild, San Francisco was overtaken by Los Angeles as the state’s major population and economic center.
4. Galveston hurricane
The 1900 hurricane that slammed into Galveston, Tex., claimed an estimated 12,000 victims, still the highest death toll from a single natural disaster in U.S. history. The Category 4 storm, with winds blowing at an estimated 145 mph, sent a 15-foot sea wave into the city, destroying some 3,600 homes. So many corpses littered the area, that massive funeral pyres burned bodies for weeks following the storm.
5. Hurricane Katrina
While Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 when it came ashore at New Orleans, the city’s unique geography was also to blame for the resulting damage. Winds and ocean waves caused Lake Pontchartrain to breach the levee system, flooding 80 percent of the city. The storm surge caused coastal damage from Florida to Texas, with Mississippi beach towns nearly wiped out. The overall toll was 1,833 deaths and $81 billion in damage.
6. Hurricane Sandy
Damage from Hurricane Sandy is still being assessed, but the initial estimates of $50 billion in damage will likely be revised upwards. The magnitude of the storm was vast—with impact felt from North Carolina to New England and as far west as Wisconsin. The storm, responsible for more than 100 deaths, cut power to over 8 million houses, devastated parts of the Jersey shore and Staten Island, and plunged the nation’s biggest city into a transportation nightmare.
7. Johnstown flood
On May 31, 1889, heavy rain and a breached dam sent 20 tons of water—equal to the flow of the Mississippi River—down the Little Conemaugh River into the city of Johnstown, Pa. The resulting flood killed 2,209 people and caused $17 million in damage. The tragedy prompted an outpouring of support from around the world and was the first major relief effort conducted by the American Red Cross.
8. Hurricane Andrew
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew smashed into South Florida with Category 5 winds and traveled like a buzz-saw through the state before reforming in the Gulf of Mexico and hitting Louisiana, spawning dozens of tornados in Southern states. All told the storm killed 65 people and caused $26 billion in damage, which at the time was the costliest storm in U.S. history. The worst damage was in Miami-Dade County, Fla., where more than 100,000 homes were destroyed.
9. Okeechobee hurricane
After tearing through Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, a deadly hurricane hit South Florida in September 1928 with Category 5 winds. The resulting storm surge breached a dike at Lake Okeechobee, killing 2,500 people and flooding hundreds of square miles of land, with water over 20 feet deep in some areas. All told, more than 4,000 people in the storm’s path were killed.
10. Peshtigo fire
On October 8, 1871, intense winds fanned smaller fires into epic proportions, creating a firestorm that scorched 1,875 square miles—twice the size of Rhode Island—and killed some 1,500 people, the majority from the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Despite being the deadliest fire in U.S. history, the Peshtigo Fire was largely forgotten as it came on the same day as famed Great Chicago Fire, in which some 200-300 people perished.