There’s no light-hearted way to talk about natural disasters. Watching footage of people losing their homes or of families sifting through rubble to salvage a few memories is heart-wrenching. And thinking about the brave men and women who risk everything to bring these innocent lives from chaos to refuge can be overwhelming when often we’re too far away to help. Natural disasters cause millions, sometimes billions, of dollars worth of damage every year with seemingly unstoppable force.
But while the earth has its elements, man has machine. Rescue vehicles and their brave pilots rush in to fight hazards, save lives, and reach otherwise-inaccessible affected areas. Right now, a portion of those courageous men and women are fighting a tragedy right here at home—the largest single fire in California history. With that in mind, here are ten of the costliest natural disasters to sweep the earth, as well as some incredible machines designed to combat these types of emergencies.
2011 Thailand Floods: $45.7 Billion Damages
Water: we don’t live in it, nor are we designed to. Kicking off this list of natural disasters is the massive flooding that took place in Thailand during the 2011 monsoon season. When Tropical Storm Nock-ten made landfall that July, after an already-noticeably rainy few months, immense flooding began to destroy the nation of islands. As extensive rain continued to fall, the flooding lasted well into January of 2012, resulting in over $45 billion worth of damages, hundreds of deaths, and a long-lasting blow to the country’s economy.
While many first responders took to the air to save those in need, an amphibious rescue vehicle like the SeaRoader 4×4 would go a long way in a crisis like this. The SeaRoader was creator Mike Ryan’s brainchild for a simple, affordable, and efficient workhorse amphibian.
1994 Northridge Earthquake: $49 Billion Damages
The earth shaking beneath your feet is scary enough, but when the buildings around you begin to crumble and overpasses shatter, well, that’s downright terrifying. In 1994, a level 6.7 earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley region of California, killing almost 60 people and causing over $40 billion in damage, most notably to the freeway infrastructure.
There are certainly a lot of disasters that the Romanian-built GHE-O Motors Rescue could stand up to. But we’d bet our bottom dollar that responders then, wish they had something like it to get through the rubble. With seating for 11 and room for fire-fighting water pumps, a medical stretcher, plow system, and more, this beast is ready to tackle even the worst of natural disasters.
2017 Hurricane Irma: $64.8 Billion Damages
There have been plenty of massive hurricanes throughout history, causing untold damage. Hurricane Irma is no exception. While she might be near the bottom on this list, Irma still racked up over $64 billion worth of damage to the northeastern Caribbean region and southern Florida, and took over 100 lives. For nearly two weeks this storm battered the Atlantic, bouncing back and forth between land and sea, where it gained unprecedented strength.
In Florida, the damage was so bad that police officers employed military vehicles to respond to victims. The best one for the job? Their adapted MRAP 6×6. This bomb-proof behemoth can withstand hurricane-grade winds and flooded roads and was staffed with paramedics to assist in evacuations.
2012 Superstorm Sandy: $68.7 Billion Damages
Irma was a real mean Jean, but her big sister Sandy set the stage a few years before. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Atlantic, leaving a path of destruction in the Caribbean and throughout Eastern US and Canada. In her tantrum, she caused nearly $70 billion in damages (closer to $100 billion in Canada!) and killed over 200 people.
Amphibious vehicles can be incredibly fun during fair weather—and incredibly useful for natural disasters like Sandy. Luckily, if you’re the kind of person who has $175K lying around, you can commission your very own Water Car. A lot to pay for peace of mind, but you’d have a pretty fun toy when the dust settles.
2017 Hurricane Maria: $91.6 Billion Damages
Just after we escaped the clutches of Irma in the 2017 hurricane season, her rowdy friend Maria came ripping through. And while Irma left quite the impression, Maria took things further by inflicting a staggering $90+ billion worth of damage. It caused tremendous destruction in the United States and devastated the Caribbean islands, leaving Puerto Rico in shambles.
For natural disasters of this magnitude, something like the CAMI Amphibious Responder is ideal. This relief vehicle has dual 300-HP 6.7-liter diesel engines, a 15,000-lb winch, and bulletproof glass, and is ready to take on the worst Mother Nature can throw at it.
2017 Hurricane Harvey: $125 Billion Damages
The 2017 hurricane season was “hyper-active” to say the least. Harvey announced his arrival in late August, ripping through the Caribbean and saving the lion’s share of his wrath for the southern United States, particularly Texas and Louisiana. The storm caused a whopping $125 billion in damages, claimed over 100 lives, and left tens of thousands in need of rescue.
While there are many vehicles on this list expressly suited for natural disasters, during Harvey, American monster trucks proved to be the ultimate rescue tool. Check out the video above to see this muscle in action.
2005 Hurricane Katrina: $125 Billion Damages ($164.9 Billion Adjusted)
The vast devastation of this deadly Category 5 hurricane was such that just saying the name makes many people emotional. The mother of all storms to hurt America, Katrina caused over $160 billion in damages by today’s numbers. Over 1,200 people died and the city of New Orleans is still putting its pieces back together over a decade later.
This level of devastation is exactly what inspired the KAT 829 amphibious search and rescue vehicle. Built military-strong with off-the-shelf parts, the KAT 829 is tough enough for natural disasters and affordable enough that many governments can justify the cost. We call that true innovation.
2008 Sichuan Earthquake: $150 Billion Damages ($176 Billion Adjusted)
In May of 2008, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck a mountainous region in south-central China. As the 19th deadliest earthquake in history it killed nearly 70,000 people. Two full minutes of violent shaking caused unprecedented damage, and the ensuing landslides, aftershocks, and quake lakes made rescue efforts that much more difficult.
With such dangerous geohazards, many first responders had to climb to rural areas, as most vehicles couldn’t make the trip. The Jeep Hurricane, a Chrysler Group concept car, would be the perfect go-to rig for disaster relief like this. With two 5.7-liter Hemi engines, 14.3 inches of ground clearance, and the ability to turn both front and rear tires inward, this monster Jeep can reach unfathomable places.
1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake: $197 Billion Damages ($329.8 Billion Adjusted)
For the top two costliest natural disasters, we’re looking to Japan. The beautiful island nation has taken some serious beatings over the years, with one of the worst being the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake. With a Richter scale reading of 6.9, this monster killed over 6,000 people, with the city of Kobe being hit hardest.
The immense shaking triggered hundreds of fires across the city, proving the importance of vehicles like the USAR heavy rescue vehicle. Powered by a Cummins 450-horsepower ISL9 engine, this rig has nearly infinite compartments and cargo slide outs to hold all the tools necessary for first responders.
2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami: $360 Billion Damages ($411.3 Billion Adjusted)
We weren’t exaggerating about Japan taking a beating over the years. The number one costliest natural disaster ever to hit was in 2011 when an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale shook the earth off the coast of Tōhoku. As if that weren’t devastating enough, the quake triggered a complementary tsunami shortly thereafter. Japan suffered unfathomable destruction to its buildings, homes, industries, and infrastructure, as well as rolling blackouts, aftershocks, and the homelessness of nearly half a million people.
Something of this scale would surely send any land or sea-based vehicle to its demise. But something like the military-grade Paramount Marauder could surely withstand falling rubble to reach those in need. Called “The World’s Most Unstoppable Vehicle” by Top Gear, we’d sure feel relief if we saw one of these armored ambulances approaching.
Natural disasters are a harsh reality of the world we live in. And while we often feel helpless in the face of such catastrophe, there are ways to offer assistance—even if you don’t happen to pilot one of the badass rescue vehicles on this list. Right now, many fundraisers have been started to lend a helping hand to those suffering from the wildfire in California. If you’re interested in doing what you can, every little bit helps, and you can learn more here.