cataclysm

The hurricane battered the coast, causing the city to flood, and tens of thousands of people were stranded without food or water. When an event causes great suffering, we call it a cataclysm.

Cataclysm comes from the Greek word kataklysmos, which means "a deluge or flood." So saying something was “a disaster of cataclysmic proportions” is particularly apt when you're talking about a tsunami. Still, people use the word cataclysmic to describe non-watery disasters, too, like stock market crashes, painful breakups, and failed grammar tests.

Definitions of cataclysm
  1. noun
    a sudden violent change in the earth's surface
    synonyms: catastrophe
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    types:
    nuclear winter
    a long period of darkness and extreme cold that scientists predict would follow a full-scale nuclear war; a layer of dust and smoke in the atmosphere would cover the earth and block the rays of the sun; most living organisms would perish
    type of:
    geological phenomenon
    a natural phenomenon involving the structure or composition of the earth
  2. noun
    an event resulting in great loss and misfortune
    synonyms: calamity, catastrophe, disaster, tragedy
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    types:
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    act of God, force majeure, inevitable accident, unavoidable casualty, vis major
    a natural and unavoidable catastrophe that interrupts the expected course of events
    apocalypse
    a cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil
    famine
    a severe shortage of food (as through crop failure) resulting in violent hunger and starvation and death
    kiss of death
    something that is ruinous
    meltdown
    a disaster comparable to a nuclear meltdown
    plague
    any large-scale calamity (especially when thought to be sent by God)
    visitation
    any disaster or catastrophe
    tidal wave
    an unusual (and often destructive) rise of water along the seashore caused by a storm or a combination of wind and high tide
    tsunami
    a cataclysm resulting from a destructive sea wave caused by an earthquake or volcanic eruption
    the Great Calamity, the Great Hunger, the Great Starvation, the Irish Famine
    a famine in Ireland resulting from a potato blight; between 1846 and 1851 a million people starved to death and 1.6 million emigrated (most to America)
    type of:
    bad luck, misfortune
    unnecessary and unforeseen trouble resulting from an unfortunate event
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