Numbers8 cm The shift of the Earth’s axis caused by the 2010 earth­quake in the Pacific, 11 kilometres off the coast of Chile. The huge quake caused damage estimated at $4-7 billion, but because of disaster preparedness including strict build­ing regulations, the death toll was limited to 512 people.

10 The strength of seismic activity is measured on a logarithmic scale (the Richter scale) based on a factor of 10. So a force 2 earthquake is ten times stronger than a force 1 earthquake (not just twice as strong) and a force 4 is 10,000 times stronger.

13 times more people die in each reported disaster in developing countries than in developed countries.

1450 BC (approx) The year the Minoan civilization – along with the mythical ‘lost continent of Atlantis’ – was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the Aegean Sea. The remains of the volcano now form the Greek islands of Thera (Santorini) and Therasia. The lagoon between the two islands is actually the caldera of a volcano some 400 metres deep.

3,000 The official death toll of the world’s worst chemical disaster, when 40 tonnes of poisonous gas were accidently released from Union-Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, on 3 December 1984; a further 600,000 people were affected. The company paid compensation of $470 million in 1989, and in June 2010, eight people were convicted of causing ‘death by negligence’.

18,156 The number of confirmed deaths worldwide from the 2009 swine ‘flu pandemic. The effectiveness of worldwide action, led by the World Health Organization, is apparent when you compare this with the 750,000 people who died in the 1968 ‘flu outbreak and the 50-100 million casualties of the 1918-1920 pandemic.

230,000 The number of deaths across 14 countries caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004. Up to 30-metre-high waves, created by an ocean-floor earthquake 160 kilometres northwest of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale, reached as far as Africa’s east coast.

830,000 The number of deaths in the world’s deadliest earthquake in Shaanxi province, northern China in January 1556, which reduced the local population by 60 per cent. Hills and valleys changed height and shape, destroying entire towns and villages.

100,000,000 or more. The number of deaths caused by the Black Death – bubonic plague – that spread from China, across Asia, Africa and Europe, killing more than a third of the population, and possibly two thirds, between 1346 and 1352.

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