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Floods are the most common natural disaster and the leading cause of natural disaster fatalities worldwide. Risk of catastrophic losses due to flooding is significant given deforestation and the increasing proximity of large populations to coastal areas, river basins and lake shores.

Main causes of Morbidity and Mortality

  • Direct impact
    • Drowning is the leading cause of death in case of flash floods and coastal floods. (See: Drowning project)
      • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, attempting to drive through flood water is the leading cause of flood-related injury and death.
      • The Centers for Disease Control report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. The next highest percentage of flood- related deaths is due to walking into or near flood waters.
    • Fatal injuries during evacuation or during cleanup activities can occur.
    • Injuries are observed but consist in small lacerations or punctures due to the presence of glass debris and nails.
    • Electrical shocks can occur.
    • An increased risk for water and vector borne diseases definitely exists.
    • At short term, the impact of floods on the transmission of communicable diseases is limited, and outbreaks of communicable diseases are rarely observed.
  • Indirect Impact
    • The impact on the health infrastructures and all lifeline systems can be massive and can result in food shortages and the interruption of basic public health services (water, etc).
    • Contamination by toxic chemicals during floods is theoretically possible but no verifiable correlation has been observed or measured so far.


  • There were 539,811 deaths (range: 510,941 to 568,680), 361,974 injuries and 2,821,895,005 people affected by floods between 1980 and 2009.
  • Floods are the leading cause of natural disaster deaths worldwide and were responsible for 6.8 million deaths in the 20th century. Asia is the most flood-affected region, accounting for nearly 50% of flood-related fatalities in the last quarter of the 20th century.
  • NOAA says that in 2015, 176 people were killed by flooding in 26 states. So far in 2016 there have been at least 58 flood-related deaths in five states, based on various National Weather Service and Associated Press reports. That's a total of 234 fatalities from January 2015 through June 25, 2016.
  • States That Have Had the Most Flood Deaths
    • Texas has had the highest number of flood deaths with at least 77 over the last year and a half. This includes 48 in 2015 – and 14 in April 2016 alone (eight in Houston and six in Palestine). An additional six deaths were reported in the final few days of May 2016, according to the Associated Press. This was followed by the deaths of nine Fort Hood soldiers that were killed when their truck was washed away on June 2, 2016.
    • West Virginia now has the second most flood deaths of any state since January 2015 with 24 total. All but one of those fatalities occurred in the disastrous late-June 2016 flooding.
    • Five other states have flood-related death tolls in the double digits since January 2015, including Missouri (22 deaths), Utah (20 deaths), Oklahoma (18 deaths), Illinois (15 deaths), and Kentucky (10 deaths).
  • The top five deadliest floods in world history occurred when the Huang He (Yellow) River in China exceeded its banks. The deadliest flood came in 1931, when between 1 and 4 million people were killed.
    • Strategic military flooding of the river top the third and fourth deadliest spots. In 1642, approximately 300,000 people died to flooding, famine, and plague when the Ming governor of Kaifeng ordered his men to break dikes along the river in an attempt to drown rebels assaulting his city.
  • Although China takes a frequent beating from flooding, the Netherlands also boast a number of deadly floods in its history. High tides and storms were responsible for the deaths of approximately 100,000 people in the Netherlands and England in 1099. A violent weather pattern known as a "Great Storm" created a storm tide in 1287 that broke a dike and killed up to 80,000 people. The same storm killed people in England. In 1421, the tenth deadliest flood in the world occurred when storms caused dikes to collapse. Water flowed across the lowlands, killing nearly 10,000.
  • The deadliest natural disaster in American history was the Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston, Texas. The Category 4 storm killed over 6,000 people, with most official reports citing closer to 8,000 dead. Storm surge killed many on trains attempting to evacuate the city. Floodwaters destroyed bridges and telegraph lines, keeping those outside of the city from realizing the extent of the damage for some time.
  • In fact, storm surge deaths caused by hurricanes dominate the list of flood dangers in the United States. These include the second most dangerous storm, the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928, which caused over 2,500 deaths. In contrast, Hurricane Katrina claimed fewer than 2,000 lives.
  • Other dangerous incidents of flooding include a 1972 dam failure in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, claiming 125 lives while injuring more than 1,100 people.
  • A 1976 flash flood in Colorado's Big Thompson Canyon after excessive rainfall created powerful water that ultimately killed 144 people.

Listings of Floods:

Further Reading:

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