Biggest natural disasters of 2023: Earthquakes, snowstorms, fires and more

The disasters killed thousands of people and reduced communities to rubble

In 2023, the world witnessed a series of major disasters that caused widespread destruction, tearing up homes and communities, and in many cases, taking lives. 

Here is a retrospective — but not exhaustive — look at some of 2023’s biggest natural disasters in the United States and around the world. 


In early February, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Syria and Turkey, followed by a series of powerful aftershocks that lasted for days. The United Nations later estimated that the temblors killed around 50,000 people — the vast majority of whom were in Turkey. 

A man walks past debris in Turkey

A man walks past debris from destroyed buildings in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Unal Cam)

The shaking toppled thousands of buildings and heaped more misery on a region wracked by Syria’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis. Many blamed lax building codes in Turkey, as well as a slow government response there, for exacerbating the crisis. 

LIBYA FLOODS – SEPT. 4-12, 2023

A massive rainstorm overwhelmed two dams in Libya and sent water rushing down to the eastern city of Derna. Entire neighborhoods full of people were washed into the sea. 

Derna city

A general view of the city of Derna is seen on Sept. 12, 2023, after Mediterranean storm Daniel caused devastating floods in Libya that broke dams and swept away entire neighborhoods.  (AP Photo/Jamal Alkomaty)

Many blamed the country’s inability to respond to the disaster on a government that’s been divided for the past decade. Rival administrations are backed by international patrons and armed militias whose influence in the country has ballooned since a NATO-backed Arab Spring uprising toppled autocratic ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. 

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A 6.8 earthquake struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in early September, killing an estimated 2,900 people. The region’s mud-brick homes left those trapped underneath with little air and hindered rescue operations. 

Morocco earthquake damage

People inspect damage in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Sept. 9, 2023, following the powerful earthquake.  (Khadija Benabbou/picture alliance via Getty Images)

placeholderHAWAII FIRE WILDFIRES – AUG. 8-11, 2023

A wildfire tore through the Hawaiian island of Maui in early August, reducing much of the historic town of Lahaina to ash and forcing people to jump into the ocean to flee the flames. Approximately 100 people were killed. 

Rubble at a burn site in Lahaina, Hawaii after the Maui fire

A general view shows the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, Aug. 21, 2023.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

This month, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said he was requesting $425 million from lawmakers during the next fiscal year to help Maui recover from the wildfires. 


The year saw 20 storms in the Atlantic basin — the fourth-highest total since 1950. Seven of these became hurricanes, and three intensified into major hurricanes. 


Storm damage is seen in Keaton Beach, Fla., following the passage of Hurricane Idalia, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.  (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The most powerful of these was Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane along the Florida Gulf Coast and produced more than 80% of the season’s damage. 

Ophelia affected the U.S. East Coast all the way up to New England. There were also multiple hurricane landfalls across Mexico, including Hurricane Otis, a Category 5 storm which devastated Acapulco and killed dozens. 

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