In spite of all our technological advancements and so-called human ingenuity, we are ever at Mother Nature’s mercy. 2011’s deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri — just one of many to strike the American Midwest that weekend — is a stark reminder of that fact. In total, more than 1,000 tornadoes touched down in the U.S. in April 2011 — the most active month on record.
But while the U.S. is home to the most tornadoes on a yearly basis, advances in research and early detection have helped reduce the number of fatalities from twisters. As a result, the list of the 20 deadliest tornadoes (or tornado outbreaks) ever contains just five from the United States. Here are the full top ten. Some of these totals are estimates of course, owing to time or lack of properly published information.
#1: Daulatpur-Saturia, Bangladesh (April 26, 1989)
Wreckage from the Daulatpur-Saturia, Bangladesh Tornado
An estimated 1,300 people died from this tornado, which was a mile wide and cut a swath of destruction 50 miles long. The injuries were estimated to be around 12,000. Due to poor housing and construction standards, the tornado completely destroyed virtually every structure it touched. The death toll from this twister is nearly twice as high as the second-deadliest on this list.
#2: Madarganj to Mrizapur, Bangladesh (May 15, 1996)
Around 700 people perished and 30,000 homes were destroyed. Many of the victims were blown long distances — up to 0.9 miles — and found hanging in trees. In addition, softball-sized hail pounded the area.
#3: The Tri-State Tornado (March 18, 1925)
The Tri-State Tornado
This is the most infamous tornado to hit the United States in the last century. The continuous 219-mile track it left was the longest ever recorded in the world.
Over three-and-a-half hours, the tornado traveled from southeastern Missouri, through Southern Illinois, then into southwestern Indiana. When it was over, 695 people were dead.
The twister was part of a larger outbreak that day that killed nearly 750 throughout Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana.
#4: Manikganj, Singair and Nawabganj, Bangladesh (April 17, 1973)
Two cyclones joined to form one deadly tornado. Multiple villages were completely flattened, and 681 lost their lives (the unofficial death toll topped 1,000).
#5: Northeast suburbs of Dhaka, Bangladesh (April 14, 1969)
Two (or possible three) tornadoes struck and killed 600 people on this day. According to a government official upon his visit to the scene, “I saw what no amount of words could aptly describe. Damage was colossal. Tragedy was harrowing.”
#6: The Valletta Tornado (September 23, 1551 or 1556)
The deadliest cyclone of this age touched down as a waterspout in the Grand Harbour of Malta. Before making landfall it destroyed an entire armada of ships that was docked and waiting to sail into battle. At least 600 died.
Artist’s impression of the Sicily tornadoes (Chris Chatfield)
#7 (tie): Magura and Narail Districts, Bangladesh (April 11, 1964)
The Magura/Narail twister destroyed more than 30 villages and left 500 dead. All 400 villagers from Bhabanipur were never seen again and presumed dead. While the official death count was 280, hundreds went missing.
#7 (tie): Sicily, Italy (December 1851)
In December 1851, two waterspouts moved onshore at the western end of Sicily, becoming large, violent tornadoes. This was as a pair of tornadoes, but details are very scarce; it may have been a single multiple-vortex tornado. It remains the second deadliest tornado event in recorded European history.
#7 (tie): Madaripur and Shibchar, Bangladesh (April 1, 1977)
The cyclone that struck Madaripur and Shibchar also killed around 500 people, 43 of whom were found floating in the river. No buildings or trees were left standing.
#10: Belyanitsky, Ivanovo and Balino, Russia (June 9, 1984)
Details are not easy to come by, as this outbreak took place during the time of the Soviet Union. Research indicates that a group of tornadoes (a few of which may have been of F5 strength on the Fujita scale) hit western Russia. An estimated 400 died, but the total may be as high as 700. The area affected by the tornadoes covered an area of 400,000 square kilometers.
The Ivanovo tornado was one of the worst in Russian history. It killed 95 people over the course of its 81-mile journey. Several concrete reinforced structures were completely destroyed, about 1180 homes were also leveled by the half-mile wide twister.
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