International Cities You Don't Want to Be in During a Natural Disaster

Tsunami in Japan

Yoshinori Kuwahara / Getty Images

When it comes to travel safety, certain situations expose travelers to a higher level of risk than others. Criminal activity (including terrorism), drowning, and traffic accidents all put travelers at a high level of risk on vacation. However, despite our best planning, some situations cannot be predicted or prepared for.

Natural disasters can develop suddenly and without any warning, putting travelers in immediate danger while away from home. The risks can come from land, sea, or air, as earthquakes, tsunamis, or storms can immediately threaten traveler's lives and livelihood.

In 2014, international insurance provider Swiss Re completed an analysis of the destinations most at risk from a natural disaster. Considering five different types of incidents, these locations are subject to the highest risk in the event of an emergency.

Earthquakes: Japan and California

Of all the natural disasters, earthquakes may be the most difficult to predict. However, those who live on or near fault lines understand the danger an earthquake can create. As discovered in Nepal, earthquakes are capable of a massive amount of damage in a very short amount of time.

According to the analysis, earthquakes account for the second-largest natural disaster threat in the world, potentially affecting up to 283 million worldwide. Earthquakes equate to a major threat to several destinations along the "Ring of Fire" in the Pacific Ocean. Although Jakarta, Indonesia ranked as a very high risk for earthquakes, the biggest areas that could potentially be affected lie in Japan and California.

Analysis shows in the event of a major earthquake, three Japanese destinations are at a high risk: Tokyo, Osaka-Kobe, and Nagoya. Tremors are also the primary natural disaster threat in two destinations in California: Los Angeles and San Francisco. Travelers to these destinations should review earthquake safety plans prior to travel.

Tsunami: Ecuador and Japan

Going hand-in-hand with earthquakes are tsunamis. A tsunami is formed by major earthquakes or landslides at sea, rising tides and sending waves of water towards coastal cities in a matter of minutes.

As we learned in 2011, tsunamis pose a major threat to many parts of Japan. The analysis revealed tsunamis accounted for a high amount of risk in both Nagoya and Osaka-Kobe, Japan. Guayaquil, Ecuador was also discovered to be at a high risk of experiencing a tsunami.

Wind Speed: China and the Philippines

Many travelers equate storms with rainfall or snow accumulation, as opposed to wind speed. Both precipitation and winds are very much interconnected: those who live along the Atlantic Coast or coastal Asia can attest to the dangers of wind speed as part of a storm. Wind speed alone can bring catastrophic damage in their wake.

Although the analysis did not consider tornadoes, wind storms alone are still capable of creating major damage. Both Manila in the Philippines and China's Pearl River Delta ranked at a high risk for wind speed storms. Each of the areas lie on the coast with highly dense populations, where naturally occurring weather phenomenon can create high-speed storms in a short amount of time.

Coastal Storm Surge: New York and Amsterdam

While travelers may associate New York City for a number of other travel risks, storm surges also represent a high risk for those in the big city. Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the inherent dangers of storm surges to the greater New York metropolitan area, including Newark, New Jersey. Because the city is located closer to sea level, a storm surge can create major damage in a short amount of time.

Although a hurricane may not come through northern Europe, Amsterdam is also at a high risk for coastal storm surges due to the high number of waterways that cross the city. While many of these destinations are reinforced against the worst, it may be worth checking the weather report one more time before arriving. 

River Flood: Shanghai and Kolkata

In addition to coastal storm surges, river floods can create major problems for travelers around the world. When the rain refuses to stop, rivers can quickly expand beyond their banks, creating a very hazardous condition for even the most seasoned traveler.

Two Asian cities ranked significantly high for risk of flooding: Shanghai, China and Kolkata, India. Because both of these cities were settled near large deltas and flood plains, a constant stream of rain can put either one of these cities underwater quickly, potentially affecting millions. In addition, the analysis identified several others cities settled on waterways to be at a high risk from river flooding, including Paris, Mexico City, and New Delhi.

While natural disasters can be difficult to predict, travelers can prepare themselves for the worst prior to traveling. By understanding what destinations are susceptible to a natural disaster, travelers can prepare with education, contingency plans, and travel insurance prior to departure.