Friday 24 February 2017

History's most lethal storms

Doris has just reminded us how lethal storms can be, causing deaths in Wolverhampton, Swindon and London, but mercifully it was much less deadly than other tempests in our history.

As my latest book Storm: Nature and Culture reveals, the worst storm ever to hit the UK was the Great Storm of November 1703 which claimed about 125 lives on land and perhaps 8,000 around our coasts, where many vessels, especially Royal Navy ships, were sunk.

The deadliest storm of all was probably what became known as the Bhola Cyclone which also struck in November, this time in 1970. The world has seen many stronger storms, but this one was particularly lethal because it hit the Bay of Bengal where the land was densely populated and just a few feet above sea level.

Estimates of the number of people killed go as high as a million. The cyclone also played a significant role in history. The land it struck was then East Pakistan, which was already longing for independence. The dilatory response of West Pakistan to the disaster was the final straw, and after a bloody civil war, East Pakistan became the new country of Bangladesh.

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