The 5 Deadliest Floods in American History

deadliest floods us history

Floods have time and again reminded us of nature’s fury and its destructive capabilities. Throughout American history, they’ve uprooted entire communities, destroyed infrastructure, and more tragically, taken countless lives. This article provides an insight into the five deadliest floods that ever occurred in the United States.

1. The Johnstown Flood, 1889 – Johnstown, Pennsylvania

After prolonged days of torrential rain, the South Fork Dam, located 14 miles upstream of Johnstown, succumbed and unleashed 14 million cubic meters of water. Racing at a speed of 40 mph and surging to a height of 60 feet, this wave of muddy water, filled with debris, razed several towns. The catastrophe took the lives of 2,209 people and inflicted damages worth $17 million.

The Johnstown Flood

2. Hurricane Katrina, 2005 – Southern Louisiana

In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc across southern Louisiana and the greater New Orleans area. This disaster led to the flooding of 80% of New Orleans, with an estimated 1,392 lives lost. The damage was staggering, estimated at nearly $100 billion.

Hurricane Katrina flooding
Commander Mark Moran, of the NOAA Aviation Weather Center, and Lt. Phil Eastman and Lt. Dave Demers, of the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center, all commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, flew more than 100 hours surveying Katrina’s devastation. Eastman piloted NOAA’s Bell 212 Twin Huey Helicopter from August 31 to September 19. All three men took dozens of aerial photos from an altitude of several feet to 500 feet., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3. The Great Mississippi Flood, 1927 – Along the Mississippi River

Known as the most catastrophic flood in American history, the Great Mississippi Flood covered over 27,000 square miles. This mammoth flooding event was the result of consistent and heavy rainfall starting in the summer of 1926 and extending into the spring of 1927. This deluge claimed the lives of about 500 individuals.

The Great Mississippi Flood
National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

4. Sea Islands Hurricane, 1893 – South Carolina’s Coastal Islands

In the late summer of 1893, a Category 3 hurricane tore through South Carolina’s coastal islands. The outcome was disastrous, causing the deaths of an estimated 1,000-2,000 individuals. The destruction was so immense that nearly every building was obliterated, causing damages equivalent to $29 million in 2020 dollars. A whopping 30,000 people found themselves homeless.

5. Big Thompson Canyon Flood, 1976 – Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado

Marking Colorado’s deadliest natural calamity, the Big Thompson Canyon was engulfed by a rapid and unexpected flood in 1976. Over a span of just four hours, the area received more than 12 inches of rainfall, which is approximately 75% of the annual average. This torrential downpour and the resultant flooding took the lives of 144 people and caused damages amounting to $156.3 million.

Big Thompson Canyon Flood memorial
The memorial to lives lost in the 1976 Big Thompson flood. Lvaughn7 via Wikimedia Commons

The events recounted above are not just historical facts but also poignant reminders. They tell us about the unparalleled force of nature and underline the importance of preparedness, resilience, and respect for the environment.

Written by Editorial Team

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