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Major Historical Disasters in India

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Categories: Disaster Management: the necessity of a country, Published: 8th Mar, 2022


  • India is a diverse country in terms of climate, terrain and relief and thus is prone to different types of disasters which include manmade disasters as well as natural disasters.
  • Rapid industrial development and urbanization coupled with effects of climate change has aggravated the disasters in India. India has witnessed a large number of disasters since Independence.

This brief aims to analyse the major disasters in India since its independence and also assess how the government has managed them.

A. Industrial Disasters

1.Chasnala Mining Disaster (1975)

  • The Chasnala mining disaster occurred on December 27, 1975 in a coal mine near Dhanbad in present day Jharkhand. 
  • The incident occurred due to the collapse of a 80-feet wall of coal between the active mine pit and another, abandoned mine which was full of water and was situated above it. 
  • About 1,35,000 cubic metres of water rushed into the active mine with the miners trapped in a watery grave.  It led to the death of all the 375 miners and officials who were present in the mine. 

2. Bhopal Gas Tragedy

  • Bhopal disaster was essentially a chemical leak which occurred in 1984 in the city of Bhopalthe capital city of  Madhya Pradesh. 
  • About 45 tons of the dangerous gas methyl isocyanate escaped from an insecticide plant that was owned by the Indian subsidiary of the American firm Union Carbide Corporation
  • The gas drifted over the densely populated neighborhoods around the plant, killing thousands of people immediately and creating a panic as tens of thousands of others attempted to flee Bhopal. 
  • The final death toll was estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 apart from a half a million survivors who suffered respiratory problems, eye irritation or blindness, and other maladies resulting from exposure to the toxic gas. 

3. Korba Chimney Collapse

  • The 2009 Korba chimney collapse occurred in the industrial town of Korba in Chhattisgarh on 23 September 2009.
  • The chimney was under construction under contract for the Bharat Aluminium Co Ltd (BALCO). Construction had reached 240 m (790 ft) when the chimney collapsed on top of more than 100 workers who had been taking shelter from a thunderstorm, leading to death of  45 deaths.

B. Earthquakes

1.Bihar Earthquake, 1934

  • This quake is considered to be one of the worst quakes in Indian history. The magnitude of the earthquake was 8.1. The epicentre of the earthquake was located in eastern Nepal. Extensive damage was caused to life and property. 
  • The intensity of the earthquake was so strong that its effect was felt in Kolkata-650 km from epicentre. Purnea, Munger, Muzaffarpur and Champaran were among the worst-affected areas. More than 7200 people died in this earthquake in Bihar alone. Total causalities were recorded at 30000.

2.Maharashtra Earthquake, 1993

  • Magnitude of the earthquake was recorded at 6.4 and the epicenter was located at Killari village in Latur district. 
  • Osmanabad and Latur were the worst affected areas. The destruction was massive with over 52 villages completely flattened causing death of 20000 people.

3. Assam Earthquake, 1950

  • Earthquake of magnitude 8.6 struck Assam with its epicenter at Rima in Tibet. The quake caused widespread destruction in both Assam and Tibet.
  •  It was considered to be among the 10 largest earthquakes of 20th century which caused causalities of more than 1500.

4.Uttarkashi Earthquake, 1991

  • Magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit the Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Tehri in Uttarakhand and caused extensive damage to property. The tremors of the quake were felt up to Delhi. More than 1000 people died in this earthquake.

5.Gujarat Earthquake, 2001

  • Magnitude 7.7 earthquakes hit the Bhuj district of Gujarat on January 26, 2001 causing death of over 20,000 people. 
  • Several towns and villages were destroyed in the catastrophe. Being close to the epicentre, Bhuj was among the worst-affected areas including Anjaar, Vondh and Bhachau. 
  • Several buildings were damaged or destroyed in the quake. The famous Swaminarayan temple in the city of Bhuj was also partially damaged.

C. Cyclones

1. Odisha Super Cyclone, 1999

  • The Orissa cyclone in the year of 1999 was the strongest storm to hit the Indian coast and was also the strongest tropical cyclones that affected India.
  • The cyclone struck the Odisha coast on 29th October 1999. This Super Cyclone is also known as Paradip Cyclone. It hit Odisha with wind speeds of up to 250 kmph. 
  •  It caused the deaths of about 10,000 people, and heavy to extreme damage in its path of destruction. 
  • It caused inundation in large areas along the coastline and destroyed the coastal districts such as Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Puri and Ganjam

2. Bhola Cyclone (1970)

    • Although the cyclone hit the modern day Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), the nearly 20-foot storm surge created by winds as high as 225.3 kmph (140 mph) devastated countless offshore islands, wiping out entire villages and destroying crops and livestock.
    • Over 45 percent of the population of 167,000 was killed in the most severely affected subdivision of Tazumuddin. 
  • There was also widespread rain in West Bengal and southern Assam, damaging houses and crops in both states. The Cyclone is said to be one of the reasons for formation of Bangladesh.

3. Andhra Pradesh Cyclone, 1977

  • Nearly 10,000 people died in the cyclone which crossed the coast near Diviseema in Krishna district in 1977.
  • The worst-affected areas were in the Krishna river delta. On the island of Diviseema, which was hit by a 6 m high storm surge, hundreds of bodies floated in the waters, and bodies bloated beyond recognition were consigned to mass pyres.

D. Floods

1. Uttarakhand Floods, 2013

  • It was one of the worst floods in India’s recent history occurred in Uttarakhand in June 2013. Heavy rain due to a cloudburst led to sudden flash floods and landslides in the northern part of Uttarakhand.
  • The affected regions in Uttarakhand included Hemkund, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Valley of Flowers, Roopkund, and Rudraprayag.
  • More than 100,000 people trapped in landslides which occurred due to floods with an estimated 4,094 people were killed and over 5,700 people were missing.

2. Assam Floods, 2012

  • In July 2012, heavy rains caused floods in Assam. The state got about 528mm rain, which was 28% more than its average annual rainfall.
  • Following heavy rain, the mighty Brahmaputra and many of its tributaries breached their banks, destroying thousands of homes, bridges, roads, and even power lines. 
  • Over 124 people, including 70 children, died in the floods and about 2.2 million people were affected.
  • The floods caused inundation in large parts of the Kaziranga National Park and affected its resident animals severely. It is estimated that over 560 animals died, including 14 rhinos.
  • Gujarat Floods, 1979
  • The Machhu Dam II failed on Aug. 11, 1979, releasing the full force of the Macchu River on the town of Morbi. The disaster in western India caused at least 1,335 deaths.

3. Bihar Floods , 1987

  • The most devastating flood in Bihar’s recent history occurred in 1987, when a landslide blocked the Bhote Kosi River, causing it to flood and destroy more than 1.7 million homes.
  • The state government says the flooding killed 1,399 people and 5,302 animals.

E.Urban Floods

1.Mumbai Floods

  • On July 26, 2005, Mumbai received about 944 mm rain in just 24 hours which was essentially a 100-year record. Over 1,000 people lost their lives in the deluge, while approximately 14,000 homes were destroyed
  • The local trains were stopped, roads turned into rivers, and the city had to bear a direct loss of Rs 450 crore. 
  • The city's proximity to the sea, combined with poor water management by the authorities, reportedly led the situation to worsen as waterlogged roads turned into rivers and power supply was severely affected.

2.Chennai Floods, 2015

    • Chennai floods was one of the world’s most expensive natural disasters in that year, causing India over 50,000 crore rupees in losses. 
    • A low-pressure area intensified into a depression, leading to huge amounts of rain in the coastal region of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. 
    • Chennai recorded 266mm in the first 24 hours on November 2015 and 490mm the next day which eventually led to massive flooding.
    • 60% of the city’s power supply was disconnected, leaving many hospitals nonfunctional and 40% of the city’s districts had submerged due to floods.
  • More than 500 people died, over 50,000 homes were structurally damaged, and over 1.8 million people were displaced.


1. Indian Ocean Tsunami, 2004

    • A magnitude-9.0 earthquake under the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004 triggered a tsunami that devastated southern India. 
    • The Tsunami waves struck along the southern coast of India, affecting the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry. India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands were also affected.
    • More than  12,405 people were killed and 5,640 went missing and 2.79 million affected by the wave. It also destroyed 11,827 hectares of crops and ruined the livelihood of 300,000 fishermen.
  • More than 8,000 people were killed in Tamil Nadu, the hardest-hit part of the country. After this disaster, the government of India adopted a policy after the disaster of not accepting foreign aid.

G. Cloudburst

  • A cloudburst is an extreme amount of precipitation in a short period of time, sometimes accompanied by hail and thunder, which is capable of creating flood conditions.

1. Kashmir Valley, 2015

  • More than eight cloudbursts in three weeks left at least ten people dead in the Kashmir Valley. The occurrences have been reported in Budgam, Kupwara and Ganderbal.

2. Leh, Ladakh, 2010

  • In August 2010, Leh district in the UT of Ladakh experienced a disaster when a cloudburst generated debris flows, killed hundreds of people, destroyed houses, and damaged the hospital, communication infrastructure, the bus station, and vital roads.
  • The cloud burst caused rainfall of 14 inches in 2 hours causing loss of human life and destruction.
  • 234 persons died and over 800 were reported missing due to the flash flood post cloud brust. Almost half of the people who died were local residents (49.6%) and foreigners (10.2%).

H. Glacial Lake Outburst Flood

  • A Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) is sudden release of water from a lake fed by glacier melt that has formed at the side, in front, within, beneath, or on the surface of a glacier.

1. Uttarakhand GLOF, 2021

  • A portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off releasing the water trapped behind the ice, creating an avalanche and deluge that quickly turned into flash floods in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district.
  • The flash flood claimed 83 deaths and 121 people were missing. It also wiped out two hydroelectric plants on the Ganga.
  • The muddy deluge which was formed due to glacial moraines, boulders and silt gushed down damaging the 13.2 MW Rishiganga hydropower project and then washing away the under-construction 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad projects downstream.

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