Get Ready to Swim: the World’s Worst Floods in History

We’re all willing to have minor inconveniences and postpone our outdoor activities for some well-needed rain for crops, green grass, green trees, and beautiful flowers and plants.

However, when you have flooding, it usually becomes more than you bargained for.

At times we hear about, or even experience, flooding in different parts of the country and even different parts of the world. Rarely do we ever encounter or hear about ones that are so catastrophic that they take tens of thousands, and sometimes millions of lives. Here are the world’s worst floods in history.

International Flood Disasters


The 1931 China Floods
Death Toll: Between 3 million and 4 million people

During the months of July through November in 1931 were some of the most horrific floods ever, and they occurred in China’s three major rivers: the Yellow River (Huang He), the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang), and the Huai River. The floods were a result of persistent rainfall over a large period of time.

The Yellow River, the basis of a lot of catastrophic floods in China, was so devastating that it was said to have killed 1 million people just of drowning alone. This doesn’t include the lives it took from the overwhelming damage to crops and the economic status of residents.

Nearly 90,000 square kilometers was swamped with the flooding and over 80 million people were left homeless. The death toll, in some reports is said to be as high as 4 million people for the Yellow River flooding alone.

The worst period for flooding along the Yangtze River was in July and August. Rain totals for the month of July in this area totaled over two feet. The flooding caused about 145,000 deaths. The Huai River caused about 200,000 deaths when the dikes were washed out by the high and raging waters on August 25th, which inundated the area with flooding.

1887 Yellow River Flood in China
Death Toll: Between 1 million and 2 million people

Due to numerous days of heavy downpours, the dikes in the river were said to have collapsed, causing Northern China to be quickly flooded. Over 2 million people were rendered homeless from this disaster and due to the destruction of loads of crops and the absence of living essentials, between 1 million and 2 million people died between September and October that year.

1938 Yellow River Flood in China
Death Toll: Between 500,000 and 900,000

By now, you can certainly see a pattern, but this flood was caused by a different force. Believe it or not, the flood was caused by man. How, you ask? At the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Army marched in and invaded all of Northern China.

To help keep them from continuing the invasion further into China, the Chinese Nationalist government decided to open a dike along the Yellow River. Unfortunately and shockingly, the government didn’t tell the Chinese citizens that they were going to do this because they wanted to completely surprise the Japanese Army.

1642 Yellow River Flood in China
Death Toll: About 300,000

If you were thinking that the 1938 flood when the Chinese government opened a dike in the Yellow River in time of war was a new and original idea, think again. In 1642, the Ming Dynasty was feeling threatened by rebel Li Zicheng. To prevent any change of him taking over power in China, the Ming Dynasty opened a dike along the Yellow River. Due to disease and famine caused by the flood, about half of the residents in the area were killed.

1975 Flood in China
Death Toll: Over 230,000

In more modern days, floods such as the ones listed above aren’t as common due to the construction of dams. In August 1975, Typhoon Nina brought plenty of wet weather to China. The disaster started with one dam collapsing, filling water into another dam which eventually resulted in that dam collapsing as well.

All in all, 62 dams broke in the storm causing major flooding. Over 85,000 people died of drowning due to the flood itself. Another 145,000 people died later on due to disease and famine.

1935 Yangtze River Flood
Death Toll: About 145,000

In 1935, a July rush of heavy rain caused flooding along the Yangtze River, the longest river in China. Due to crop deprivation and diseases, China lost about 145,000 of its inhabitants.

1530 The Netherlands – The St. Felix Day Flood
Death Toll: Over 100,000

On the official name day of St. Felix, November 5, 1530, the majority of Flanders and Zeeland were devoured by a flood. This date was later referred to as Evil Saturday as over 100,000 lives were lost due to flooding.

1099 Flood in England and The Netherlands
Death Toll: About 100,000

A strange occurrence of unusually high tides brought flooding to low lying areas in England and The Netherlands in 1099. Due to starvation and an epidemic, about 100,000 lives were lost.

1228 Holland Flood
Death Toll: About 100,000

You might also hear this tragedy referred to as a Flood in The Netherlands. Both are accurate in a manner of speaking. At the time of the flood, modern day Holland was part of The Netherlands. High sea waters caused this disaster, which resulted in around 100,000 deaths.


1911 Yangtze River Flood
Death Toll: About 100,000

The flood waters strike yet again from the Yangtze River in China, destroying crops and homes and killing about 100,000 people.

1971 North Vietnam – Hanoi and Red River Delta Flood
Death Toll: About 100,000

This flood was indeed a natural disaster, yet it was during the Vietnam War. The damage done to crops was also compounded by the shortage of resources because of the ongoing war. The result was catastrophic resulting in about 100,000 deaths.

1287 The Netherlands – St. Lucia’s Flood
Death Toll: Between 50,000 and 80,000

This is referred to as St. Lucia’s flood because it occurred on December 14th, the day after St. Lucia Day. The flood was a result of a storm tide that affected not only The Netherlands, but also Germany. A dike broke causing flooding over The Netherlands and resulting in 50,000 to 80,000 people dying.

1212 Holland – The North Sea Flood
Death Toll: Approx. 60,000

Again, in this time period this area was The Netherlands, but it’s modern day Holland. As a result of the flooding of the North Sea, about 60,000 were killed.

Worst Floods in United States History

Though there are other parts of the world that have had far worse floods than the United States, you might want to know a bit about floods that happened closer to home as well. These floods mentioned are non-hurricane related. Hurricanes are a different classification in disasters.


1889 Johnstown, PA
Death Toll: 2,200

Due to extremely heavy rainfall, the South Fork Dam collapsed on May 31, 1889. The Red Cross and aid from several foreign countries contributed to preventing a more catastrophic event.

1937 Mississippi Valley Flood
Death Toll: 1,100

Due to heavy rains in January and February, the Mississippi Valley area was flooded and over 12,000 square miles of land, crops, and homes were destroyed. Seventy-five thousand homes were ruined in the flood.

Though most of these floods happened before our time, you can’t think that this can never happen to you. Technology has improved over hundreds of years to help prevent flooding, but Mother Nature can always find a way when she wants to.

Leave a Comment

  1. BradHart says:

    This just shows why you shouldn't build in floodplains…

  2. Tony says:

    Great article, well written.

    I agree, why would you want to build on a floodplain? You know it's only a matter of time before you get heavy rains or a tidal surge.

    I know that Holland does have some very good dykes now and probably some of the best flood controls in the world, since much of the country is below sea level, but I would be rather concerned about living in some parts of China,. When you get floods there, and it happens regularly, a lot of lives are lost.

  3. Shane says:

    Can't forget about the great Dayton Flood:

  4. offbeatmog says:

    Thanks shane! Any others worth mentioning?

  5. Steve says:

    note to self: Don't buy property near anything called "Yellow River'

    • John says:

      It's a sad situation. RIP to the many who lost their lives. But I wonder how many of us would make fun of a devastation like Sept 11. Chinese lives have value also and although your joke would have been funny if people had NOT died, with the many people that did die, it's really not funny but smacks of arrogance and bigotry and callousness.

  6. KMG says:

    What about New Orleans during Katrina? It may have been the hurricane that caused the flooding but it was the flooding that caused most of the thousands of deaths (1,836 confirmed, 705 missing).

  7. ran says:

    Very interesting , however these are not the only floods on record. I agree these are bad, but not the worst. Also click on my name to look at my website.

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  9. Dave says:

    Maybe not the scale of some of the other disasters, but significant nonetheless, The St. Francis Dam disaster of 1928: Estimates were of up to 600 lives lost, they were not confirmed because of itenerant farming in the area.

  10. hen house says:

    was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  11. owen says:

    just had a bad flood here in tn