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World's Worst Hurricanes

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Every year as storm season approaches, residents in vulnerable coastal areas prepare to board up windows and scoot farther inland at a moment's notice. Here are the times that Mother Nature's fury has wreaked the most havoc with violent winds and torrential rain, whether called hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones.

Bhola Cyclone

This 1970 storm that struck eastern Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and parts of India was the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane, carrying maximum winds of 115 mph and gusts of 130 mph as it roared in from the Bay of Bengal. An estimated 500,000 people lost their lives, though some estimates go even higher. Entire villages were wiped out and one district lost 46 percent of its population. Damage in today's dollars would reach nearly $500 million. Storm preparation was hampered by hostility between the Pakistani and Indian governments. Poor relief efforts afterward stirred discontent and led to political upheaval that would eventually result in the creation of Bangladesh.

Calcutta Cyclone

Because this disaster happened in 1737, details are naturally sketchy. Some even documented the "event" as an earthquake. But it's now agreed that it was a storm that roared onshore, and the popular estimate is that 300,000 were killed. This wouldn't be limited to Calcutta itself, as only about 3,000 lived in the city at the time. Texts from the time and records from merchant ships record a storm surge along the coastal areas of Bengal and Calcutta that destroyed thousands of ships in the harbors and wiped out thatched villages.

Haiphong Typhoon

Haiphong, Vietnam, in the Gulf of Tonkin, was hit by a devastating typhoon in 1881 that killed an estimated 300,000 people. Little is known of what preparation or precautions may have been lacking at the time, but the city was hit again in 2005. That storm came onshore with 100 mph sustained winds, but the casualty toll in the developed industrial center was significantly less: 150 people died in the storm.

Great Backerganj Cyclone

This storm roared ashore in 1876, bringing a 40-foot storm surge into the Meghna River estuary in present-day Barisal, Bangladesh, and surrounding low-lying areas. Modern-day estimation puts winds as high as 126 mph. About half of the 200,000 deaths are attributed to the famine and epidemic that followed the cyclone.

Cyclone Nargis

(Photo by Getty Images)
Cyclone Nargis struck Burma (Myanmar) on May 2, 2008, with 105 mph sustained winds and gusts of up to 135 mph. The Category 4 storm killed more than 146,000 and left tens of thousands more missing. The junta in Myanmar not only hampered efforts to try to accurately count the dead, but resisted offers of international aid from countries such as the United States. Damage was estimated at more than $10 billion, and foreign aid workers estimated that 2 million to 3 million were left homeless by the devastating winds and rain. The government finally agreed to accept help from the United Nations and bilaterally from other nations. But for many, the assistance came too late.
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