Image: Juan Rubiano
Avalanches are disastrous natural forces, made of swiftly flowing snow, ice, and rock that guarantee annihilation for any human settlements in their way. They are caused by atypical precipitation, glacier debris or any form of external stress on compact snow.
The steeper and taller the mountain, the more deadly an avalanche can be, as its velocity increases while cascading down. Throughout history, avalanches have been responsible for massive destruction.
Image: Strange Ones
1. The Blons Avalanches
In Blons, Austria on a January morning in 1954, an avalanche buried 118 people. As rescue workers attempted to dig them out, a second, unexpected avalanche descended upon the town. The final death count numbered 200.
2. Italian-Austrian Alps
During World War II, Italy and Austria had military bases in the Alps – soon finding that bombs and enemy fire weren’t the only threats. Heavy snow instigated a series of avalanches in the Tyrol region causing the deaths of 10,000 soldiers on what became known as White Friday 1916.
3. Wellington, Washington
In the worst cases, even caution cannot save lives. In early 1910, three trains carrying 118 people were delayed at a station house to avoid traveling in poor weather conditions. However, an avalanche determined their fate as it swept the carriages over a 150 foot cliff.
Image: John Juleen
The fallen down train carriages that were hit by an avalanche in Wellington, Washington in 1910.
4. Yungay, Peru
In May 1970, The Great Peruvian Earthquake occurred underwater, instigating the most catastrophic natural disaster ever to devastate Peru. The epicenter of the 45 second quake was only 35km off the coast, causing vibrations strong enough to encourage a landslide.
Rock, ice and snow swiftly cascaded from Mount Huascaran, killing 80,000 people and leaving a million people homeless in 1970.
5. The Galen Avalanche
Falling over the Rhone Valley of Switzerland and France in the winter of 1720, the Galen Avalanche claimed 88 lives and 100 buildings, by far the worst landslide the region has ever experienced. The amount of damage incurred is difficult to understand, however, considering that 100 years later a snowslide of similar threat only destroyed a single structure. Unfortunately, this structure was an oven-filled bakery, the destruction of which led to fires that destroyed the town.
6. The Rodi Avalanche
On September 4, 1618, in Switzerland, 2,500 people were buried alive. There were no survivors, but 4 people of Plurs who had been vacationing at the time, returned to find their community, friends, and homes eradicated.
Image: Hansueli Krapf
7. Swiss-Austrian Alps
While many avalanches are so devastating because the rush of snow falls within a short time span, the 5th worst avalanche in history occurred throughout the winter season 1950-1951. Nearly 650 sub-avalanches killed a total of 265 people in what became known as the Winter of Terror. These unusual occurrences were attributed to unseasonably warm air currents colliding with polar air currents, producing far more precipitation than the region could tolerate.
8. LaHaul Valley, India
The only avalanche in the Himalayas to make this list, the LaHaul Valley disaster in March of 1979 buried 200 people under 20 feet of snow. The avalanche was instigated by blizzard conditions of wind and snow which caused deep drifts over the Indian mountain foothills.
Here is footage of avalanches on K2 and Nanga Parbat.
9. Ranrahirca, Peru
Eight years before the Great Peruvian Earthquake, rock, snow, mud, and frozen debris descended from the same Mount Huascaran. The entire village of Ranrahirca was smothered, killing 2,700 people and destroying every home. A mere 50 people survived.
10. Saas, Switzerland
The Mattmark Dam is the biggest earth dam in Europe, and its 1965 construction cost the lives of 12 men. When a part of the Allalin Glacier, a 6 km long ice formation in the Alps, broke off, it fell onto the building site, destroying all in its midst.