It shouldn’t take another Ben Affleck movie full of asteroids, nuclear conflict, or, god forbid, Jennifer Lopez to remind you that parts of this world face constant peril. As history reveals, cities rise and fall, just as actors can skip from Good Will Hunting to Gigli.
But thanks to the rapid pace of climate change and more frequent natural disasters, some of the world’s biggest cities are nearing destruction deadlines. Earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, and fires are all tangible threats. Here’s a look at 11 cities that have legit reason for concern — and how they’ll likely go.
Los Angeles, CA
How it’ll go: Earthquake, fires
Like most of California, Los Angeles is situated along the San Andreas Fault, which puts 14.7 million people at risk of earthquakes at any given moment. Mayor Eric Garcetti has launched a three-decade spending program to invest in seismic safety to brace for the big one — it’s a question of when, not if, it will hit. In fact, a city report found a magnitude 7.8 quake (not even LA’s biggest quake threat) lasting two minutes could not only destroy buildings, but may cause fires that could kill as many people as the earthquake would.
In fact, Hollywood has embraced its fate with the 2015 film San Andreas, which follows Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as he roams the aftermath of the impending megaquake. Can you smell what The Rock is cookin’? It smells like devastation.
What you’ll miss: The LA Basin would buckle, destroying the city’s highways and other infrastructure. Exacerbated by the city’s Santa Ana winds, LA would catch fire, meaning you’d miss out on the whole city, including those expansive California beaches in Long Beach, Venice, and Santa Monica. Farewell, Hollywood!
Democratic Republic of the Congo
How it’ll go: Volcanic explosions, limnic eruptions
Goma sits about 12mi south of the active volcano Nyiragongo, which has a 50% chance of striking the city. The African metropolis of about 500,000 people toes a line with disaster each time smoke rises above the volcano. In 2002, Goma crossed that line, when a fifth of the city was covered in lava following an eruption.
But perhaps more interesting is Goma’s vulnerability to limnic eruptions; a limnic eruption is basically when a lake overturns its supply of carbon dioxide and suffocates all its living surroundings — plants, animals, and people. Effectively, a lake becomes one giant gas chamber. Scientists have closely watched Goma’s Lake Kivu, which has just enough toxic ingredients to produce this rare type of disaster triggered by lava flow.
What you’ll miss: Conflict in the northern and eastern DRC is no joke, which is why foreign governments often advise against traveling there. Fighting in the region has left little security for travelers and residents. But as a formerly pleasant lakeside town, Goma is exactly one of the DRC’s best assets, despite the ominous threat of liquid rock looming over everything. Nyiragongo is famed for its lava lake, which visitors can climb through hiking and tour companies. The city also boasts some of the cheapest mountain gorilla tracking in Africa in Virunga National Park.
How it’ll go: Earthquakes, monsoons, tsunamis
As a whole, Japan faces major risk for destruction. Many of the country’s largest cities rest along the Ring of Fire, a series of active fault lines that make up 90% of the world’s earthquakes. But the Tokyo-Yokohama region is also exposed to monsoons, flooding, and tsunamis, making it ripe for catastrophe. And in case you weren’t aware, Tokyo alone has 37 million residents in its metro area, Osaka has 17 million, and Nagoya 10 million — that’d be like wiping out the entire populations of California and Texas in one catastrophic swoop.
What you’ll miss: The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, meaning there’s plenty to see in the capital. Disaster would mean saying farewell to its famed fish markets, historic temples and gardens, and Izu and Bonin Islands. There are so many things you can only see and do in Japan, but if Mother Nature has her way, there won’t be anything to do in Japan but pray.
San Francisco, CA
How it’ll go: Massive earthquakes
While most of California is overdue for a colossal earthquake, the United States Geological Survey estimates there’s a 99% chance an earthquake with at least a 6.7 magnitude will shake the City by the Bay in the next 30 years, much like the one in 1906 that demolished whole communities in mere seconds. While California went to great lengths to begin quake-proofing everything since 1980, the majority of the Bay Area sits on a foundation of mud, which basically makes an earthquake the Big Bad Wolf and San Franciscans a bunch of little pigs.
What you’ll miss: The Northern California gem is home to more than just cable cars. As the nation’s city that boasts proximity to the “cradle of innovation” in Silicon Valley, a devastation in SF would likely result in losing some of the world’s brightest minds, whether you’re talking about tech innovators like Mark Zuckerberg, or basketball wizards like Steph Curry.
How it’ll go: Monsoons, floods, cyclones
As the ninth largest city in the world and the most densely populated, Dhaka flirts with disaster on a regular basis. Natural disasters are commonplace, with annual monsoons bringing devastating floods and cyclones hitting almost every year. But that’s not all, folks!
A tornado leveled the city in 1989, and with Bangladesh as the second most tornado-prone region in the world (behind North America), history will likely repeat itself. Let’s not forget earthquakes and tsunamis, which also pose a threat to any overcrowded city, let alone the MOST overcrowded city on Earth. In fact, scientists say a mere 6-magnitude earthquake from the Madhupur Fault has the capability to wipe Dhaka out. Since so many of Dhaka’s buildings are poorly constructed, nearly all of them would collapse in the face of a quake.
What you’ll miss: The bustling city offers striking colonial architecture, chai tea stalls, bazaar shopping and boat ride tours at its Sadarghat Boat Terminal. Markets and rickshaw rides are a must.
How it’ll go: Completely sinking into the Mediterranean
Idyllic boat rides through the Venice canals may sound romantic, but in reality, the Floating City is actually sinking into the Mediterranean Sea at an alarming rate. After a population explosion in the 12th century, Venice got the bright idea to just build on top of wooden planks covering muddy grounds. Bad idea. Fast-forward to the early 20th century and Venice added to its sinking problem by pumping water out of bedrock beneath the city. With that pesky addition of climate change and rising sea levels, Venice will eventually fall into the deep blue, leaving the Campanile as more of a survival tool than a vista point, and gondolas doubling as life rafts.
What you’ll miss: Gondola rides are part of the city’s charm, but don’t forget to take a historic stroll through Piazza San Marco, or what Napoleon called the “drawing room of Europe.” Visit St. Mark’s Basilica and scour the city for traces of some of history’s most famed artists including Titian’s “Assumption” at I Frari and Tiepolo’s frescos at the Pieta and Ca’ Rezzonico.
New Orleans, LA
How it’ll go: Hurricanes, flooding
It’s no secret that low-lying New Orleans ranks as the nation’s riskiest city. Hurricane Katrina gave a taste of what strong hurricanes and flooding can do to this city, but NOLA might be facing the highest sea level rise in the world. Scientists estimate New Orleans could be submerged in 4.3ft of water by the end of the century — and that’s without any kind of huge storm throwing waves and winds devastating places like the Ninth Ward.
What you’ll miss: Life is so much better when Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, and the Big Easy’s famed Jazz Fest exist. Don’t forget muffulettas, beignets, and gumbo! Has the world learned nothing from Katrina?
Bangkok , Thailand
How it’ll go: Hurricanes, flooding
The majority of densely populated Bangkok sits below sea level, which means if a hurricane strikes, the city and all its overcrowded buildings are going under. The city’s foundation rests on clay instead of bedrock, which means more people and buildings piling into the place is causing foundations to plunge further into the earth. The city’s need for subterranean aquifers for clean drinking water also erodes the ground beneath the clay. That saying about not sh*tting where you eat? Well, Bangkok basically ignored that. The city sinks about four inches per year on average, with some estimates that it will become the next Atlantis within 20 years.
What you’ll miss: Thailand’s well-trodden capital has made a name for itself when it comes to shopping and nightlife, but be sure to check out the historic temples, the absurd array of street food, and Ban Nam Pheung Floating Market, to glimpse Thailand’s disappearing water culture.
Port Vila, Vanuatu
How it’ll go: You name it…
This tiny South Pacific island city is ranked as the world’s riskiest place, exposed to tropical storms, cyclones, seismic activity, and tsunamis. Yikes. As demonstrated earlier this year by the powerful Cyclone Pam that damaged 90% of the capital city, Vanuatu is ill-equipped to handle catastrophe. The country is still grappling with the devastation and has been forced to start over after losing years of development and infrastructure. The full impact of the calamity has yet to be determined, though it’s considered one of the worst natural disasters in the modern history of the South Pacific, bringing destruction to Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands, and Kiribati. As sea levels rise, residents of Vanuatu will continue to be at risk of disappearing in the wake of severe weather events.
What you’ll miss: You may want to hold off on visiting this holiday favorite while the nation recovers from the cataclysmic cyclone. Otherwise, Vanuatu is considered an untouched island refuge known for its stunning beaches, crystal waters, and the world’s most accessible active volcano on the island of Tanna. When you think of getting off the grid, this is the kind of place you envision.
How it’ll go: Megaquakes
Sure, California hogs all the attention when it comes to talk of earthquakes — probably because Californians are obsessed with talking about themselves — but there’s actually an 80% chance of a fault off the Pacific Northwest shore triggering a “megaquake” in the next 50 years. Stretching parallel from the Northern California to Vancouver Island coastline is the Cascadia Subduction Zone, an underwater fault that seismologists predict has the capacity to produce an earthquake with a 9.0 magnitude or above. For reference, this is the site of the second-largest earthquake in US history. Such a megaquake would trigger a tsunami that would obliterate Seattle and wash away California coastal towns — a two-for-one deal nobody’s really looking out for, except maybe Snake Plissken.
What you’ll miss: If you have yet to check off the Space Needle from your bucket list, don’t fret. The city’s landmark is one of the only quake-prepared structures, predicted to withstand an earthquake up to 9.1-magnitude. Otherwise, get there to see beautiful Lake Union, take a ferry ride around Puget Sound, and stop by the iconic Pike Place Market to see where America’s favorite corporate coffee got its start.
How it’ll go: Tropical cyclones and storms, earthquakes, landslides
The Philippines is home to eight of the top 10 riskiest cities due to its vulnerability to massive cyclones and tropical storms. In fact, the 2013 typhoon Haiyan killed thousands and caused around $13 billion in structural damage. But the island nation is also susceptible to earthquakes and landslides, and with poor infrastructure and emergency response, citizens constantly face peril. Relief and rescue efforts during Haiyan quickly shed light on how quickly one city can become disconnected from the rest of the country.
What you’ll miss: Though Manila gets a bad rap for poverty, pollution, and crime, the city is rich with culture, food, and nightlife. Malay, Spanish, American, Chinese, and Arabic influences make for a unique cultural mix, and Manila boasts attractions such as the stone citadel Intramuros and art museums, as well as serving as a base for day or overnight trips to outlying islands and volcanoes.
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