Tornadoes, floods, avalanches, earthquakes…few things are as absolutely terrifying as being caught in a natural disaster. Nothing else will make you feel as small and powerless as being the victim of such an enormous catastrophe entirely outside of your control. Nothing else is as dangerous as being attacked by the weather itself. The brave, resourceful and wonderfully lucky people who have survived natural disasters can tell stories that enthrall us all.
Here are 45 harrowing tales from people who have been struck by disaster and lived to tell the tale.
45. Last Minute Shift
There was a huge bushfire that took nearly two hundred people, injured four hundred and destroyed three thousand plus buildings including over two thousand homes in Victoria, Australia in February 2009. Some of the people that died or were injured were people I knew or knew of.
We were a bit stupid; we’d moved from an area where bushfires were very rare and the yearly disaster of choice was flooding. So we didn’t really have a plan in place for bushfires- which, if you live in a fire-prone area, for the love of God you should. We, on the other hand, weren’t listening to the radio, weren’t packed to go, and didn’t have an escape plan.
The ‘oh, this is real’ moment was when I was standing on the top of a hill overlooking the paddocks and the sky turned black and orange and in the distance. I could see the advance of the orange horizon and I went ‘oh, that’s pretty close.’
We just started hosing everything down because it was too late to run. The fire got within five-ten minutes of us and my friend’s property was partially burnt. Their shed burned before the wind changed.
44. Hurricanes In The Dead Of Night
I grew up poor on the Gulf so we lived through a lot of the hurricanes. The worst were, of course, Katrina, Rita, and Ike. The scariest part about them is how quickly they build up; you have 3-4 days of worrying, and then suddenly at 3 am your parents pull you out of bed and order you to pack because of the mandatory evacuation. So that was always the first “oh no”–scrambling into a cramped car in the dead of night with just your vital documents and as much food and emergency supplies as you can fit without the faintest idea of what was about to happen.
43. Hiding From Hurricane Charlie In The Kitchen
I live in Florida and 2004 was horrible.
Hurricane Charlie hit us directly at a category 5. I was young, grew up poor, and my family decided to board up the windows and hunker down instead of heeding the mandatory evacuation. The garage door came flying inwards towards the house because a tree flew into it, another huge tree in the backyard fell onto the back porch and a small portion of the house.
We basically huddled in the kitchen, the direct center of the house with no windows, and trembled in fear for hours. My poor cat stayed with me the whole time trembling. My fish also died. I’m assuming from pressure change and stress? My brothers and I went outside during the eye and found a lost dog who we returned to the owner after everything cleared up. Spent the next 10 days without power or water. Fought in line for generators at Home Depot/Lowes/etc.
42. Under The Storm’s Drain
When I was a teenager I went outside during a tornado warning to look around when it got quiet and noticed the clouds above circling like water around a drain directly over my house. Apparently that particular funnel cloud was retracting hence the break in storm noise as it passed overhead. Very humbling sight.
41. No Heat In A Michigan Ice Storm
I was in Michigan during the Ice Storm of 2013. Most of my city went without power for a week, with some areas going as long as 12 days. I was without power for 9.
It’s not unusual to lose power in Michigan (a lot of our power lines are old and need replacing), especially in winter. It was a Saturday night when the power went out, so I just piled on extra blankets onto my bed and figured the power would be back on in the morning. That exact thing had happened at least 10 times in the past to me that I can remember, and it’s probably happened even more times than that and I just never realized it because I slept through it.
It wasn’t until the next morning when I woke up to a house that was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit inside still without power that I realized this was getting real. I ended up having to use my fireplace for those 9 days and made a blanket-bed on the floor near it to keep from freezing. My pipes actually did freeze, and I had to slowly warm them up before they could be used. At the coldest, I think my kitchen (the farthest room from my fireplace) dropped down to just barely above freezing.
40. Werewolves Of London After The Tornado
I was about 8 years old and my brother and I were outside playing. It was a slightly overcast mid-summer day when suddenly the sky got very dark and everything felt “still”.
I remember looking over at my brother who was standing there staring at the sky kind of stunned at the sudden change and then realizing that I could hear my mom yelling. I looked back and she was running towards us and screaming for us to come inside.
Once inside my mom had us hide under the big oak table we had in the dining room (we didn’t have a storm shelter) and to keep us calm she put on our favorite record with one of those fun little compilations of Halloween songs (one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater, witchy woman, love potion #9, etc) that had bright and cartoonish cover art.
After that, I just remember the constant rumbling roaring noise from the tornado that seemed to drown out all other sounds and watching debris and the aforementioned roof flying past our big front window and thinking I was going to die. The roof has really stuck with me over the years because it flew by tilted sideways and I could see the individual tiles flapping in the wind as it went past in seemingly slow motion.
And then, just as suddenly as it had arrived it was gone and we could hear “Werewolves of London” song coming from the record player.
We went outside and the houses on either side of ours had been completely destroyed as well as the giant willow tree in our front yard which had twisted so far that it had cracked all along its trunk and half its branches tore off.
39. Practically Naked And Shaking
We were in Wellington, New Zealand. I was getting ready for bed as the earthquake began. It started pretty slow and we get small earthquakes fairly frequently so I made a joke about it to my partner in bed. Then it got worse.
Suddenly I’m trying to hold the mirror and shelves from falling and it’s still going. We end up running into the lounge practically naked to find our TV smashed and the fridge on the other side of the kitchen. Glass everywhere. I was about to get under the table when it stopped.
Then it started again. And again. We decide to go outside and spend an hour on a tennis court waiting for it to stop. Then we stayed up till 5 am trying to find out if we needed to evacuate for tsunamis or not, and staying awake from aftershocks. As someone who already had PTSD, it was not a good time.
38. Obedience In A Storm
The first was in 1984 when I was only 10 years old. I was walking home from school in North Carolina when I start getting pelted by softball-sized hail. I’d been told in school that this was a sign of a major tornado, so I did what I’d been told and made myself the lowest thing in the area.
In all honesty, I probably would’ve taken less damage if I’d just run to my house. Maybe not. It turns out that an F4 tornado had touched down just a few miles down the road. But I lay there, getting pelted until the storm passed like I’d been told to.
37. Baton Rouge Flooding
My family lost everything in the little-known flood of Baton Rouge, Louisiana last year that the Red Cross called the “Worst US disaster since Hurricane Sandy.”
It began raining in mid-August. Then it rained some more, got more powerful, and didn’t stop for days. There was talk that the local rivers were going to crest and cause some pretty serious flooding. We lived somewhat close to the Amite River, but our senior neighbors told us that our neighborhood hadn’t flooded in over 100 years.
Local news said that the nearby high school may get a little bit of water inside from the rising river. We thought we had a couple of days to plan on how we were going to shelter in place because of the weather forecast.
On the 13th of August I woke up walked outside and headed toward the direction of the river. Some of the lower areas were collecting water but there was no standing water anywhere near my house or even my neighborhood. I went back home and told my wife we should probably get some supplies in case this got serious; that maybe we should even pack a car in case we needed to leave though I was fairly certain there was nothing to worry about.
About 30 minutes into slowly packing there was a loud banging on my front door. It was my wife’s cousin. I opened the door and she said, “What are you doing?! Get out of the house!” I looked behind her and noticed my entire yard underwater and the waterline only about a half-inch from going over my doorstep and into my house.
I was floored. The river wasn’t supposed to crest until the next day. I thought we had more time.
I yelled at my wife, “We have to get out of the house. Now!”
We packed up both our cars in about 10 minutes with only our most precious memories. Everything else we had built during a 10-year marriage was left behind. We evacuated about 5 miles east away from the river to my wife’s grandmothers.
After being there for about an hour someone came to the front door and said, “You guys need to get out. The river is coming.”
Sure enough, her yard was flooding too.
We evacuated a second time in as many hours to her cousin’s house even further east. After only an hour we were told again that the river was on the way and we had to leave.
We evacuated three times that day. I drove back through the flooded waters at some point because we left our cat. When I got back to our house I sloshed through knee-deep water filled with trash and our waterlogged belongings. Got the cat safely though.
36. When The Ocean Takes A Chunk Out Of The Horizon
During the 2004 Christmas Tsunami, I was staying in the Rasa Sayang/Golden Sands in Penang. The earthquake woke me up with a massive hangover. Fine, I’ve been through earthquakes before, no problem.
I went down to the beachfront pool area, relaxed and had a Bloody Mary and some food. Then people started moving toward the beach, so I got up to have a look. There was a massive chunk taken out of the horizon. We just watched it. For like, 10 minutes. The sea started to retract, and the fisherman boosted out to sea without saying anything. People uneasily moved away but continued to watch.
The moment I saw the speed with which the sea was coming back, I knew this was about to get real. I and everyone around me ran. A girl got caught, and her partner managed to snatch her back out. Reactions of a mongoose. It was only luck or a miracle that kept our section of the beach from being drawn from the full-wave further down.
I got back to the pool area and turned to see the wave had begun to turn. It still made it to the pools though. The fishing village 200m down the beach was demolished. They were pulling bodies out of the water for the next couple of weeks.
35. The Dog Knew An Earthquake Was Coming
I was still living in Peru when the 2007 earthquake happened. It was late afternoon, and lazy 8-year-old-me was sleeping in the living room when I was woken up by my dog barking at the shaking window next to me. Now, small quick tremors are fairly common in Peru, especially in the coastal regions, so I dismissed it and tried to calm my dog so I could fall asleep again. I had walked 4 steps from the couch to grab her when the entire wall-length window shattered in front of me, huge sharp chunks falling right into the couch I had been lying in just seconds ago.
Fully woken up, I could hear what sounded like a million car alarms ringing from the ground and see towers wobbling side to side. My parents were still at work, and I was alone in a 10th floor flat with a panicking dog running circles around me, so I don’t know how I managed to get myself together. I lifted my giant English Cocker in my arms and ran into the emergency stairs, just ran and ran until I could see some street lights since the building had no emergency lights and everything was dark. When I finally crossed the lobby’s doors, I could see the pavement below me cracking and entire trees shaking from their roots up.
I stayed in the streets for about an hour until my parents arrived. I later learned I was the only person in our building that left, our neighbors took the elevators and got stuck, and those who didn’t, stayed inside praying for safety. It was a miracle none of them got injured, though others were not as lucky.
34. Fleeing From A Massive Fire Front
On a farm south of the city, I watched three columns of smoke from separate fires merge into a single massive fire-front and roar over a mountain range a few miles away. It was heading towards us. I then evacuated across a river while burning leaves started falling around us and sparking spot-fires.
33. Tree Coming Down The Road
I lived through Hurricane Ike, which hit Galveston and Houston in September 2008. The Wikipedia page actually downplays its devastation. I lived off of I45, which the eye of the hurricane followed very closely.
My “oh no moment”: When the eye hit us I took a smoke break from trying to sop up rain that was blowing in through the cracks of the windows and doors (not large cracks, just very strong wind). In the eye of the storm it was eerily quiet compared to the howling winds that had blown down every neighborhood fence. I knew that my smoke break was over, and the eye was nearly passed, when I saw a 30ft tall tree coming down the road towards me, roots ripping up the ground…
I lived with a cop at the time and had several friends who were EMS and firefighters. Despite the media blackouts, they told me, for two weeks afterward they were pulling 50-100 bodies out of the water every day around Galveston Island.
Where I lived at the time power was out for three weeks after. Gas stations were dry. Grocery stores were rationing and only letting in a dozen or so people at a time. An illegal curfew was implemented. Cops would pull you over just for being on the road.
My cop roommate had left me with a weapon to protect the house while he was on duty during the storm and the day after. Three guys broke into my neighbor’s backyard and ours (the fences were blown down) and tried to steal the neighbor’s generator, and smashed the back window to our house. I ended up firing at and hitting one of them. But they all got away. Supposedly there were riots in some places.
I realize we were lucky where we were at. Whole neighborhoods had been wiped clean from the face of the Earth. You could hardly tell afterward that they had ever been there at all.
32. You Can Hear A Forest Fire Coming
I was in Butte California during the 2015 wildfire. For days after it started, we avoided a “this is really happening moment” and so along with the neighbors were convinced that the fire would be under control in no time. We were wrong.
It was Friday afternoon, two days after the fire broke out, and the entire sky was orangish-red from the summer sun trying to penetrate the thick smoke. Ash fell like snow. My property (was) densely forested so the only way to gauge the fire’s distance was by the increasingly audible noises it was making. It started as a low rumbling accompanied by the occasional exploding water or propane tank.
That’s when it started to get real; every boom was the fire taking a house — a neighbor’s house. The power had gone out earlier and since my water comes from a well no power means no water. I’ll never forget how helpless I felt when the sprinklers I had placed around my home fell silent.
I was packing what I thought was most important, literally cramming my car with things. In hindsight, I really needed to A) prioritize better as I left passport, birth certificate, and nostalgic things and B) start packing day one.
31. Plane, Train, Or Tornado?
Since our house was near train tracks and an airport, and it wasn’t even tornado season, I didn’t think the rumbling noise was something out of place. I was headed upstairs to the second story when it clicked. The resonance wasn’t dissipating as a plane would, it was ominously steady.
Another family member was there and I asked if they had heard a siren, which would alert everyone, and then all the lights went out. We booked it down the stairs in the darkness as the noise droned on and things hit the house. We made it into the basement.
The tornado touched down before and after our street. It destroyed some businesses, rained glass and debris on our neighborhood, but spared the houses. We sat around without power the rest of the night while police rerouted cars from the highway down our street. Turns out one of the first things the tornado sucked up was the city’s tornado siren!
30. Mother Knows Best
I was mad because mom wouldn’t let me leave to go to Whataburger because there was a small “branch breaker” tornado on the ground. I was standing on the corner of our block watching it when it ripped the roof off of the car wash…which was right next door to Whataburger. I’ve since made a habit out of listening to my mom.
29. Worst Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s day earthquake, Christchurch, NZ 2016. I was visiting and decided to go out by myself for a coffee at the mall. As I finished it up things started shaking. I’d been in small earthquakes before so I was okay but then it got worse. But I’m still thinking “how bad is this? Is this a 2 or a 7?”
The ground was moving up and down. I looked around and saw people getting under tables. That’s when I went “oh no” and jumped under a table.
I’ve never been so terrified in my life.
I held onto the table leg while it jolted up and down. I cried hysterically as it continued to get worse. I didn’t even have time to wonder if I was going to die because the fear was stopping my thoughts. I just had feelings.
The worst part? When it stopped, everyone was gone. They had all evacuated the mall. I was left crying under a table. My partner called and told me to go outside. I did but no one else seemed concerned. I was terrified but they were all so casual because they were used to it. It’s messed me up a lot. I found the only other crying person and we stuck together.
Turns out it was a 5.7 and the building I was in had collapsed the last time, which is why everyone else left.
28. Internal Miscommunication
I was 3 days into a 20-day trek in Nepal when the 2015 earthquake happened.
I could feel my knees buckling like I was on a trampoline as it happened. Your body goes through a weird moment as it happens as though your legs are yelling to your brain, “Brain, the ground is moving! DO SOMETHING!” And your brain replies, “Come on legs, the ground doesn’t move like that, it’s the GROUND.” But they both freeze and panic. It feels like you’re about to implode.
27. Water At The Second Floor Windows
My house went underwater in the Queensland floods in 2011. I lived on a street almost a mile away from the river, several meters above the water level.
We were warned about flooding in the area, potential flash floods, etc. Fairly usual for a Queensland summer. This time, however, there had been a lot of rain and flash flooding further north which eventually filtered down to the river.
My younger brother was getting nervous and thought we should evacuate. We spent hours trying to dissuade him. The water had never gotten to less than 1-2 meters away from our street level (we live across from a catchment so we can easily see the water levels during heavy rain). After a few more hours, the water levels were getting much higher than we’d seen before and thought it best if we move our cars to higher ground “just in case it got to street level”. Later, we moved a lot of furniture and electronics upstairs. “Just in case it got a few inches in the bottom floor”.
Eventually, we decided to leave. The water was getting close to the street level which only meant another foot from reaching our bottom floor. We left to spend the night with family who lived in a neighborhood close by. We had heard that the water had risen further, but had no idea how far as it was dark and we couldn’t see anything from our cousin’s house.
My biggest “Oh god…” moment was when we finally got to see our house. There is a high school behind our house, which is at the base of this large hill, with an elevated sports oval right behind our house. The water at its height was about 2 inches from being level with the oval. We walked across it to survey our house. Seeing water lapping at the bedroom windows on the second floor of our house was the most surreal experience I have ever had.
26. Like Living In A Zombie Movie
After Rita, because we were too poor to evacuate, we continued living at home for a short while. No electricity besides the generator, no running water, no emergency services, living off MREs and boiled street water. Wild hogs and alligators prowled everywhere (chased out of their usual homes by the storm), and I remember playing on the huge felled trees lining the streets. Lots of people kept watch with weapons to chase off looters. It felt like living in a zombie movie. Eventually, FEMA finally bothered to show up but you had to wait in line forever for your ration of bottled water and MREs while they tried to reconstruct everything.
25. A Wall Of Debris
I live in Tuscaloosa, AL; was here during the huge tornado that destroyed our town in 2011.
We never thought anything about tornadoes; they’re commonplace here, especially this town. I was at a friend’s house. The local weather station was making a huge deal about this tornado getting closer and closer. My friends and I laughed it off, made jokes about being “invincible.”
I opened the door to run out to my car for a jacket, and was greeted by what can only be described as a solid black wall of wind and debris, that sounded like a freight train. We all dove into a closet in the back of the house and held each other, thinking that we couldn’t believe this was the end.
About 5 minutes of completely unsettling silence later, we all catch our breath, and the house stops shaking violently. I climbed over my friends and opened the door. You could see out the closet door for miles. All that was left of the four-bedroom house was the closet. There wasn’t a tree standing or a recognizable house or structure for miles. All that was left of my friend’s home was the foundation, and that closet.
24. Can’t Breathe In Rain That Heavy
I remember coming home from school (exam, actually) during the May 8, 1995 rainstorm in New Orleans (which was later labeled a “hundred-year event” by the Army Corps though the criteria has since changed). The rain levels were similar to what our brothers and sisters around Baton Rouge experienced, but New Orleans has a huge pump system so the impact was not as great.
Anyway, local reports said we got 18.5″ of rain in less than four hours. What does that feel like? It feels heavy, like someone is dumping buckets of water on you from the roof. But it’s not just you. It’s everyone and everywhere that you can see. It’s loud. It’s blinding. You actually have to protect your face because you can’t breathe while that kind of water hits it.
The streets flooded so quickly I wound up getting stuck on the road and walking home (not quite a mile). I was able to push my car sideways off the road because it was bobbing in the water by the time I gave up trying to drive. I can’t believe the thing ever started again (after the water drained).
23. City Shook To Bits
I was in Christchurch during the February 2011 Earthquake.
Imagine, if you will, being woken up at 4-ish am by violent shaking. Not your normal small earthquake, the kind you know. This is something deeper, sharper and something you automatically know as being much more serious. You wake up under your desk, having scrambled under the nearest solid object before becoming fully conscious. Then everyone piles out, stands around, and waits for it to be ok.
That wasn’t Feb 22. That was September 4, 2010.
What followed was months of rebuilding, of political talk, of watching the closed buildings and clearing rubble. Of insurance claims and getting your life back together. Nobody died, but that’s just our building code. Five months of being on edge.
Then, just as the new year is starting properly and schools and universities are getting back on, just at lunchtime, a jolt. Not a slow sway, but hard and aggressive. A peak vertical acceleration of 2G. You’re awake anyway, braced in your doorway as the entire flat throws around you. You hope, as bad as it felt that it’s going to be ok. That it’s just going to be damaged and a few days of aftershock tension.
Then you turn on the TV.
Earthquake injuries and deaths had always been a foreign thing. That occurred in other countries with bad buildings. But the TV and radio were fast. Images, shock, and horror from just a couple of miles away in the center of the city. Building fronts fallen down, people trapped and crying, bloody and screaming.
The shaking had stopped. But it wasn’t over.
The city got shook to bits. People were gone. Buildings collapsed. 185 dead. Days without water supply, some places weeks. Power was out for days and weeks for people.
Nearly six years on? We’re not rebuilt. Parts of the middle of town are simple gravel lots. The cathedral is a gaping urban ruin in red tape wrapping.
22. Tornado Trying To Suck Your Brain Out Through Your Ears
This was my family’s experience during the tornado that ruined my hometown in 2008. Growing up in the midwest tornadoes aren’t that uncommon and when bad weather rolls through you usually sit on the front porch and wait to see if you get lucky enough to catch any action. Well, that day we did get “lucky” enough. I remember, even as the winds bore down on us and it felt like my brains were being sucked out of my ears by a freight train, thinking there was no way a tornado was over top of us.
It got real in stages, like when we had to crawl out of the cooler over a flipped car that had replaced the former bar top and when we pulled seriously injured people out of the rubble that used to be their houses. Directly after it was like something out of a war movie. Sirens were blaring, fires, injured people screaming under houses. Just general chaos.
I remember the eeriest thing of it all was when I was walking across town to my former house and got totally lost. I had lived there my entire life but with no land markers, I really hadn’t the faintest idea where I was. The gravity of the situation hit hardest when that night the town was to be evacuated and my dad picked us up. The evacuation was showing on the news and he made a silly comment about how it, “must have been pretty bad, huh?” as we’re sitting there shell-shocked.
21. Thrown Out Of The Shower
Saint Patrick Day earthquake in Cali back in 2014. 5.4 earthquake early in the morning. I was in the shower and got thrown out. I took the shower curtains down with me and hit my head on the tile. The shaking went on for about 20 seconds. When the shaking stopped I remember yelling at my fiancee “GRAB GROVER (guinea pig)” over and over again. Cali was overdue for a massive earthquake and I thought the big one was about to hit. We waited for a good 20 minutes but nothing came. I had tape on my forehead and holy crow was Grover shaking.
20. Trees Become Terrifying
There was a massive windstorm in Western Washington in 2006. I remember the power died during the day and we had to get a fire going. The winds progressively picked up as the night went on, and I tried to fall asleep but the wind sounds were just too intense.
I remember a few particularly crazy gusts that had me worried about the house collapsing and the sound of trees falling. I’ll never forget the cracking and popping sound of a massive Douglas Fir that fell and crushed my neighbors truck, as well as most of his fence and cut off the road… When you get rain for several days straight and hurricane-force winds, trees become really scary.
Unfortunately, Washington is home to the 2nd tallest type of pine tree in the world, the Douglas Fir, along with basically every other tree you can imagine. Trees are everywhere here — I’m fairly confident in saying we have the highest tree density in the US.
Power took days to restore, and the rain caused a fair amount of flooding. Not to mention the falling trees and massive rainfall caused landslide warnings in my neighborhood in Seattle because of the hills.
19. “Like A Train Made Of Thunder”
I remember the Nisqually Earthquake.
An ominous feeling had pervaded that entire morning. The dogs were howling and the birds were making a loud discordant racket. I actually wondered if there might be an earthquake coming. And a couple of hours later it did.
The sound was the most frightening thing. I heard it several seconds before it arrived, coming from the north. It was like a train made of thunder. Then the house started lurching and shelves tossed their contents. I ran outside and felt the ground being jerked back and forth.
18. Involuntary Body Surfing Tsunami
Boxing Day Tsunami. I was on a beach on Koh Lanta, Thailand with my family. The “oh no” moment came when we realized that all the water that had receded since we got to the beach after breakfast now was coming back in, and fast. We didn’t get very far up the hotel grounds before it came over us.
I have a pretty scary memory of the first wave hitting the low brick wall separating the beach from the hotel grounds. The water shot straight up and I was like 10 feet away looking at what felt like a wall of water 35 feet high. Seconds later it came over me, slammed me into a wall and caused me to black out for a few seconds.
When I woke up I was pretty much body surfing the wave down one of the hotel ground trails. My body was scraped pretty badly and I still carry scars from it to this day.
I have never been more frightened than when I gained control again and stood up only to realize I couldn’t find a single human being anywhere near me. Not my family nor anyone else. The relief when I could hear my mother screaming my name was immense. Only one of us (we were five, my family and my brother’s girlfriend) got badly hurt when a glass door from the bungalow she was taking cover behind cut her legs. She was close to losing it at one point due to a very sloppy first surgery at a local hospital (it was total and utter chaos there at this point) but they managed to fix it when she got to Bangkok.
17. Get In The Freezer!
I was at work, we were expecting some storms but I was told growing up that we couldn’t have tornados where we live because my town is in a valley. I was in the parking lot sweeping when the wind stopped blowing and the sky turned green in the distance and I heard a siren start blowing before suddenly stopping.
I dropped the broom and ran inside, yelling at the customers in the parking lot to get inside and into our cooler. It was cold but the safest place for us. An EF4 tornado ripped through my town and destroyed it, killing 6 people. We had no warning at all. My work was the only restaurant in the entire town that wasn’t damaged.
16. A Bit Smelly
I was near the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. I was pretty far away but there was still ash EVERYWHERE. Piles and piles of ash and rivers of mud. It was awesome although everything smelled like poo. I was a little kid back then so maybe that’s why I wasn’t freaking out. I still have a piece of solidified volcanic ash somewhere. 10/10
15. One Crazy Storm
A derecho wind storm came through my city. 70-90 mile per hour winds, horizontal driving rain, flash flooding like crazy. One heck of a storm.
It was the early morning of July 5, 2012, and I remember that because we all sitting up in my yard at 2 a.m. shooting off fireworks. We finally went in, put the kids to bed, and crashed ourselves. We had our bedroom windows open, and about 2 hours later, I woke up to hearing things breaking and slamming around outside, and the wind was blowing and swirling so hard that it was sucking papers off the dresser.
I had a baby that was still sleeping in our room, my two older boys across the hall in the upstairs with us, and my two daughters downstairs. We were surrounded by trees. Bad combo.
I slammed the windows shut, and screamed at my husband to get the boys. I grabbed the baby and the diaper bag, threw the huge duffle bag that serves as the family emergency kit over my other shoulder, and took all five kids into the laundry room at the back of the house, away from trees and with no windows.
When we stopped hearing things slam around outside, I ventured out. We had lost power (and wouldn’t get it back for 9 days), my metal shed had been moved about 2 feet off its base, a tree crushed our doghouse, and we lost a few windows on the front of the house.
For over a week, all you could hear was generators, and there were some vehicles that were stuck on the freeway behind our house for almost a day due to the freeway completely washing out. For the first day, you could hear them all talking on their CB’s, and that was how we got news of how the roads and local neighborhoods were.
14. Friends Swept Away
I was on holiday in Taipei when Typhoon Dujuan hit. We were told to be back at our hotels around 6 pm when it was scheduled to hit and everyone seemed pretty chill about it. Anyway, we decided to not let this ruin our holiday, so we thought we would go out for a while and then head back to the hotel around 4 pm. So it hits 4 and we’re in an underground mall in the subway station that was about two stops away from our hotel. We planned to walk from the subway to the hotel as it was about a 20-minute walk.
Anyway, my “Oh wow, this is real” moment was when we surfaced from the tube station and two of my friends (who were walking in front of me and my other friend) disappeared. When we got to the top of the steps we could see why. The typhoon had hit harder and earlier than expected. Our friends had essentially been blown out of the entrance of the tube station and were nowhere to be seen.
We were quickly swept out but managed to grab hold of a nearby statue and get to the door of a nearby shopping center, where security let us inside. We could see lamp posts swaying so much in the wind that we thought they were going to snap. Cue a frantic bout of trying to contact my other friends.
Eventually, we found them at another door of the shopping center and managed to persuade the guard to let them in. We spent a while huddled together in the basement of the shopping center with a bunch of other people until the fire brigade came and tied a rope between the entrance of the mall and subway and escorted us across it one-by-one. Never been so glad to get back to my hotel.
13. Snowed In Almost Starvation
This ice storm was absolutely terrible. I, my brother and some of his friends were down visiting from the thumb when it hit. They had intended to stay for just a few hours but ended up being there for 4 or 5 days because the storm conditions were so horrid. We were literally blocked into our house after it cleared. There was so much snow we couldn’t even open any doors. Luckily we never lost power through the entire thing, but we had 9 people in the house and were out of food by the end of it. Had we been stuck any longer, it would have been much, much worse.
12. Near-Death In A Flash
I almost died in a flash flood in 2010 while I was living in Central America. I was walking along a dirt road alone at night (dumb, I know, but I was 18 and didn’t know any better) and it was raining pretty bad, but the water was only up to my ankles so I thought I was fine. Within 5 minutes it had risen above my knees. I waded straight into a current and literally had my legs swept out from under me and was completely underwater.
Well, turns out the current was caused by a huge concrete drainage pipe that went straight underground and didn’t let out until the ocean about 200m away, and I was getting sucked straight into it. By some small miracle, my face hit the edge of the pipe as I was being pulled through and I guess I managed to somehow grab its ledge with my hand just before I went in. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how as my memory of this part is a bit blocked out.
Anyway, in some weird state of adrenaline-fueled strength, I pulled myself out and found my way to higher ground. I hung onto a fence and I think it was then that I was hit with this realization of “holy crow, I am going to die here“. If the rising water didn’t get me, I had a pretty good chance of a croc from the adjacent river finding me sooner or later. But I was barely conscious and pretty much just gave up and sat their waiting for whatever was gonna happen.
Thankfully, a local boy from a house nearby spotted me a few minutes (maybe?) later and carried me into his family’s home. They put me into someone’s bed and I passed out pretty much immediately, woke up a few hours later totally covered in mud and with my feet and legs cut up and bleeding all over. When I could move around more a few days later someone carried me to a bus stop so I could get to the airport and fly home to the US.
11. “That’s When I Realized I Was Out Of Control”
I live in Fort McMurray, Alberta and had the pleasure of experiencing one of Canada’s biggest natural disasters.
My day started out so incredibly normal. I had the day off and it was a really warm day out and the fire had seemed to be under control so I went in my backyard and tanned. I was laying down for maybe an hour when I realized I couldn’t feel the sun on me anymore. I looked towards the sun and saw that the sky was on fire and plumes of smoke hiding the sun.
I was the only one of the 4 people in my house who had the day off. We had fires all the time and there were always rumors of being evacuated. But this time it felt different. I went inside and packed a bag, grabbed my dog, her food and the leash just to be on the safe side. That’s when my sister called me and said she had been evacuated from her workplace but was stuck in traffic on her way home. It was voluntary at the time, and the same thing had happened a few days prior, so I still wasn’t worried.
I called my roommate (T) who had got a ride to work and asked him if I could put my things in his truck, just in case. Within half an hour I was under a voluntary evacuation. I called my other roommates (Z&J) to see if I could pack anything for them and if I should wait for them at home. The smoke was getting worse. My sister then called again saying she was waiting for gas. While on the phone I heard the Alberta emergency alert system on the radio (which they tested recently) instructing that it was time for me to go.
My sister asked if we could meet at her place since I could get there faster to gather stuff for her and her fiancé and it was furthest from the fires. I called my T again and asked if I could take his truck and told him where to meet me. He got to my sister’s as my other roommates (Z&J) made it home, but they had no gas. I told them to take our longboards and get to my sister’s. They have scars from where the embers burned them as they fled for their lives. We couldn’t go pick them up. Heck, we couldn’t make it to the end of the street given the traffic.
4 hours after I left my house, my roommates, sister, brother-in-law, and I were finally together. But we didn’t know where to go. We didn’t know what was best. Do we go north and hope we don’t get trapped there (the road eventually ends)? Or do we go south, through the fire, where we don’t how bad it is?
We hear southbound was closed so we decided to go north. It took us an hour to get to the highway. By that time we heard rumors of southbound being open again. We changed our minds. We went south through the town. Turning towards the fire was the biggest “oh god” moment. We had no idea what we were driving through. No idea what we were going to see. No idea of the devastation that lay before us.
That was when I realized I was out of control. There wasn’t a set target or goal or anything to accomplish. It was only, “I hope we can get out of this alive.”
10. Why Did The Roof Cross The Street?
When I studied in the Philippines for college, typhoons aka hurricanes were very common. There was one particularly bad storm that ripped part of the music department building’s roof off and flung it near my apartment which was across the street. Luckily the light post stopped the roof before it hit my place. The next morning, the road was covered with broken trees that I couldn’t go past and I had to take a shortcut behind my apartment to leave. We also had no water or electricity for a week and couldn’t leave the campus so that sucked.
9. Indoor Pool
Hyderabad, India – Around the year 2000.
It was around 3 am. The power was out but it wasn’t surprising because heavy rains would cause power outages quite frequently in those days. I woke up to the sound of my mother yelling ‘Who’s there?’ from her room. I heard the clinking of utensils too and judging by the tone of my mother’s yelling, I suspected that we had a burglar breaking in. A car horn started blaring from the outside. It wasn’t a Honk! Honk! it was just one super long Hooooooooooooonnnnkk…
I was scared, so I threw my pillow at my brother who was sleeping on the other side of the room to get him to wake up. He didn’t budge. I decided to go to him and the moment I stepped out of my bed, my feet went ankle deep in water. That’s when it hit me that our house was flooded. I ran to my mom instead and started screaming something along the lines of ‘Water in the house!’ in our local language repeatedly.
Everybody woke up and we decided to evacuate to the floor above which was still under construction but had a solid roof. My mom put us in charge of securing the important stuff like passports, documents, etc. We underestimated how much the flooding would be and thought that putting the computer and all the important stuff on top of the cupboards will be good enough. We were wrong because about an hour and a half later, the entire ground floor got submerged.
The area where we were living had a lake about a kilometer away on one side and hills on the other. Our street (or colony, as we call it) had about 5-6 houses next to each other with an average gap of 7-10 feet between each. Ours was the only one who had more than just a ground floor.
My brother went to the roof to survey the scene and he told us that most of the neighbors were on their roofs. It was still raining heavily so we decided to let all the neighbors come into our house. There was no way that anybody could leave their houses from the front doors because the flood current was too strong. It had to be done via rooftops.
Two of the neighbors had ladders and they were passed around to the last house and one by one all the people were brought in.
After everybody was brought in(I counted 40 odd), Some lady was crying to herself and when asked to calm down, she revealed that she had forgotten the baby in her room. Everybody went quiet and then two guys volunteered to go back for the baby. The baby was safely floating in his cot and was brought back.
Everybody was scared but after the baby was brought back, people started seeing the lighter side of things. At least from my perspective, it turned into one big party. I was certain that I didn’t have to go to school the next day. All the guys that I play cricket with were with me and we were talking about the whole incident all night. Early in the morning, a big bowl of rice was prepared and everybody was just chatting up and finally getting to know each other.
The floodwaters receded by 4 pm the next day. The houses closer to the lake went even deeper and the army had been deployed with boats to rescue them. Although there were no known casualties, the damage was just too much.
The thing that hurt me the most was that we had lost our family’s entire photo album collection(we had around 50 photo albums).
Everybody spent that week washing stuff. Everything needed to be washed.
8. Never Forget That Sound
I was on the beach when the Boxing Day tsunami hit. I was sitting there talking with my brother when he noticed the bubbling water. He went ‘that’s not good’ and we started packing our stuff up. As we were walking up the beach I looked back and saw the water receding and just about died. I screamed ‘RUN RUN NOW’ while my brother (smartly) yelled ‘TSUNAMI IS COMING RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!’ We started running as quick as we could. There was a woman about 20 feet in front of us with three kids but only one in her arms. My brother grabbed one, I grabbed the other and the three of us just ran. We were lucky to get high enough but I’ll never forget that sound. It was terrifying.
7. Ice Ice Baby
Ice Storm 98…
Got an inch or more of freezing rain overnight. Powerlines down EVERYWHERE. No power of any sort for a week. We had one of the aluminum shingled roofs, so it would clear itself off every so often. All of this came down and just shredded the BBQ. Ripped the big heavy metal cover like it was paper.
Walked up to the local pond to go ice skating. Sat down, put on my skates, laced up and did my thing. An hour or so later getting ready to head home, sit down and start to undo the skates and think ‘frig this…” Skated home. Down Hill Ice Skating… yeah…
6. 50-Foot Wall Of Fire
I was part of an evacuation from a forest fire last May. My entire city of 90,000 was being told we needed to evacuate. My wife and I finished up at work and decided it was time to leave. The sky was a little dark and smoky, but we weren’t too worried. If it was really dangerous they would have evacuated early. Right?
Well, we were traveling home to pick up some stuff, but the roads were packed. Everyone was trying to get somewhere. Then we started seeing water bombers fly over our heads. Then cars started jumping curbs and driving down sidewalks around us. We started hearing honking and yelling. Sirens began to wail as fire and police tried to get through.
That’s when we saw the flames. They were shooting up from homes a block away, along with a nearby wooded area. It was huge. A wall of fire 50 feet tall shot up out of a neighborhood and engulfed everything in smoke and flame. Right in front of us were cars turning around and becoming instantly stuck in gridlocked traffic as the fire raged closer. That was our “Oh god” moment.
Luckily, the police took over quickly and directed all traffic in one direction away from the fire. A two-way street quickly became a one-way as everyone ran from the fire.
My wife and I safely escaped the city that day along with everyone else, but thousands of homes were lost, including our own. We never even got home to pack a single item. Everything was lost except for the clothes on our backs…
Years ago I was up all night partying with friends and telling stories in Apple Valley, CA. A guy was talking about his experience with explosives in mining operations. That’s when the earthquake started. I’m not a CA native but have lived on the Pacific coast all my life so I’m used to tremors, as was he. We locked eyes with these weird grins as if we were daring each other to blink first.
It was a strange quake, rolling instead of a sharp jolt. And it just kept going. I sat there grinning until the lights went out. That’s when I bolted for the door. But I fell trying to walk across the floor and just laid there covering my head. I don’t think there was a lot of damage but until the rumbling stopped I was sure the world was ending. June 28, 1992.
4. 7.1 Magnitude
I was in the 29 Palms earthquake in 1999. If I remember correctly it was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. I was stationed there for Marine electronics repair school and was on duty when it happened in the middle of the night. I didn’t even wake up during the actual earthquake because I thought a tank was driving close to the building.
The officer on duty and I had to drive a bunch of soldiers to the medic from the barracks because they fell off the top racks and hit the ground pretty hard. There was a layer of glass everywhere since all the pictures of the chain of command fell and broke, they plaster those things everywhere there is empty space on a wall.
The next day they canceled class and we all went to the towns to help clean up the grocery store since everything was a mess. Being from Indiana earthquakes were kinda new to me but everyone there seemed to go with the flow and was kinda chill about the whole thing.
3. Dark Skies
San Diego, CA, October 2004
My family lived in Scripps Ranch at the time. I, for some reason, woke up at 4 am that day. The Santa Ana winds were blowing and the sky was dark. It was strange, so I climbed onto our roof. Half the sky was dark grey and the other half was the beginning of a crisp blue morning.
I woke up my siblings because I had no clue what was going on. We all looked up and watched the sky get completely covered with the dark, coal colored grey. It looked like that scene from Animatrix where the planes black out the sky, only here there were no planes.
Eventually, my parents woke up, and we turned on the news. Turns out there was a huge wildfire right across the nearest mountain ridge. I think they called it the Ceder Ridge Fire? SoCal has so many fires that they all kind of blur together eventually. But this one was insanely close to our home.
We spent the day packing up the car so that we could leave at any moment, and then we prepared our house for the eventual burning. I recall standing on the roof with a hose to keep it wet while huge flakes of ash were falling all around. I kept a large piece for years after.
The firefighters told us to leave, but my dad was having none of it. If the fire came close, we would, but until then we would stay and protect our home. A few neighbors could also be seen on their roofs. We spent the day alternating between watching the horizon burn and the tv coverage. Our house was situated on the top of one of the highest peaks, so we had a great view of the fires burning closer.
Somehow the firefighters did amazing work that day. I think by the second day they had most of it near homes under control. By the third day, they allowed people back into the neighborhood. Half of it had burned to the ground. It was pretty much down the hill from us; maybe 4 blocks away. It was devastating to walk through the debris.
I remember that it was the evening and families were walking through the streets to see if their house was left. If anything was salvageable. Everything stank of smoke and there were only bare chimneys sticking out of foundations for the most part.
I had friends who had absolutely nothing left: baby photos, school notes, important documents, all gone. The community support was amazing, but it took a couple of years to get families back in new homes.
I’m no writer, but perhaps you can envision some of it. It was actually right around this date, 9 years ago. Halloween was quite bleak that year.
2. Cyclone Devastation
I was in northern Queensland in Australia when Cyclone Yasi hit. It was absolutely gnarly, I saw palm trees bend and touch the ground, we had a mango fly through our back window. Our house was solid and made out of cinder-blocks but we had the whole thing shaking. Admittedly it wasn’t as bad in my town as it was further up, but there were smashed windows, destroyed beachfront property, and the flooding was weird.
We managed to keep it out of our house with sandbags and wood scraps. Basically we just picked everything off the ground and unplugged it, kept the old windup radio on so we could hear the warnings and at one stage there was a croc in town. Usually with cyclones, my friends and I would go out and party in the high winds. It was always amazing, but we all agreed this time we should stay with our families just in case. It got really hairy at some points, but it was pretty fun in the end.
1. Baseball Hail
I was on holiday with my parents and little sister about 10 years ago in Italy, on a camping trip in a caravan but with me sleeping in a tent. Suddenly, my dad came and woke me up, telling me to hurry to the caravan. For some reason he had woken up in the middle of the night, feeling something bad was coming, parked the car in front of the caravan, put our plastic boat on it and put me inside to sit with my 8-year-old sister.
And then a hailstorm came, with rocks as big as fists coming from the sky, instantly breaking the windows in the bathroom that was on top of the van, the air vent above the bed where we sat, and the side window of the other bed, making nowhere safe from the hail and no trees to slow it all down. My mum was standing on the bed holding pillows against the hole above our head while my dead tried to get stuff safe everywhere else.
More stuff broke so I put my sister under a blanket to keep her safe and took over my mum’s job so she could go help my dad. In the end, this took hours with 1 short break while in the eye of the storm. Going outside, everything was destroyed. I think I have a pic somewhere my dad took when the elderly man across from us came outside and saw his destroyed plot for the first time.
Our car was the only one who’s windows were still ok thanks to my dad. We were very lucky, but being on a campsite with most people being in tents and far from the stone buildings, lots were not. Animal bodies everywhere. Some people got hit in the head, got broken arms because of hail hitting there and even a few who couldn’t get away at all.
What was the most touching for me (when I was small and didn’t know what it was to be a parent) were the things parents did for their kids to have them safe, like a woman using her body as a human shield to keep her two kids save when their tent collapsed and having to be hospitalized with severe injuries because of it.