7 Cities That Rallied After Natural Disasters

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Resilience is one of the reasons the human race has been so successful, and few things demonstrate that resilience better than how we respond to natural disasters. Even when our cities are leveled by nature’s fury, we band together and rebuild.

Natural disasters serve as a reminder of how small and fragile our existence is compared to the grand scheme of life on Earth, but they also inspire us to emerge ever stronger.

To prove it, here's our list of U.S. cities destroyed by natural disasters that have made a comeback.

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San Francisco

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At 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, the San Andreas Fault ruptured not far off the coast of San Francisco. The ensuing earthquake lasted only about a minute, but it was enough to level a significant portion of the city almost immediately.

The quake, however, was only the start. Subsequent fires soon erupted throughout the city, eventually consuming around 25,000 buildings. In fact, it's been estimated that the fires after the quake caused about 90 percent of the city's total damage. By the time the fires petered out, San Francisco was left in ruins.

Rebuilding the city took time, but not as much time as you would think given the amount of damage. By 1915, there was almost no visible damage left. Today, San Francisco still stands as one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, and one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

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Greensburg, Kan.

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On May 4, 2007, an EF5 tornado ripped through the city of Greensburg, Kan. It's estimated that the tornado was wider than the dimensions of the city itself. By the time the winds subsided, at least 95 percent of the city had been leveled.

Faced with the daunting task of having to rebuild from almost nothing, the residents of Greensburg opted to reconstruct their city better than before. In fact, today the city's name is more apt than ever — Greensburg is rebuilding as a "green" city. All buildings are being rebuilt to LEED platinum standards, and the city's power is being supplied by 10 1.25-megawatt wind turbines.

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Johnstown, Pa.

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The Great Flood of 1889, widely considered to be one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, engulfed the town of Johnstown, Pa., after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam following several days of heavy rainfall. As much as 20 million tons of water was estimated to have been released upon the town, killing about 2,200 people.

Despite the devastation, the disaster prompted the transformation of one of America's most heralded disaster relief organizations, the American Red Cross. The Johnstown flood was the first peacetime disaster relief effort handled by the organization.

Since it also succumbed to devastating floods in 1936 and 1977, Johnstown's persistence is especially inspiring. Today the city remains the proud home to more than 20,000 residents, according to the 2010 census.

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One of the worst urban fires in U.S. history, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 began in a small barn on De Koven Street and eventually grew to consume nearly 17,450 buildings. By the time the fire burned itself out, the city had been left in ruins and hundreds had died.

Of course, today Chicago is known for being one of the most populous and grandest cities in the United States. What few realize, however, is that Chicago's modern magnificence may be a direct result of the fire that nearly destroyed the city. The rapid rebuilding effort that followed the fire was in many ways the impetus for turning Chicago into the economic powerhouse it is today.

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Wikimedia Commons.

In 1964, Alaska's largest city became ground zero for one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded. Similar to the devastating earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011, the 1964 Alaska quake prompted a huge wall of water to strike the Alaskan coastline, causing further damage.

The quake was measured at a magnitude of 9.2. Aside from the tsunamis, the quake also produced destructive landslides, causing even more damage.

Though the city has been rebuilt, some Anchorage landmarks persist as reminders. For instance, an area now deemed Earthquake Park was where 75 houses were destroyed in the quake.

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Galveston, Texas

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On Sept. 8, 1900, this Texas town was hit by a category 4 hurricane. Often cited as the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people perished in its wake.

At the end of the 19th century, Galveston, which sits just a short distance south of Houston, was the largest city in Texas, due in part to its natural harbor and strategic location along the Gulf of Mexico. Since the city sits on an island, it was engulfed by storm surges caused by the hurricane.

Though the city pales in comparison to much larger cities in Texas today, the city is thriving nevertheless. Tourism, mostly driven by residents of nearby Houston, fuels this charming city by the sea. It remains a vital port along the Gulf Coast.

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New Orleans

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In 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast. New Orleans, a city that sits below sea level and is precariously protected by an aging levee system, didn't stand a chance. The storm damage, combined with the subsequent flooding, ended up taking nearly 2,000 lives, and property damage was estimated at $81 billion — the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history.

Although the initial disaster response to the hurricane was heavily criticized, the city bears mentioning here because it is on the rebound. According to estimates made in 2010, just five years after one of the worst catastrophes in U.S. history, unemployment in New Orleans is lower than the U.S. average, and median income has risen 1.7 percent, compared with a decrease of 7.1 percent in the U.S. average. More work needs to be done, of course, but the city is well on its way to recovery.