Destinations That Have Survived Natural Disasters
The same earth that affords people lush mountains, glistening seas and majestic waterfalls can take it all away in the snap of a finger. One minute, a relaxing beach is dotted with colorful umbrellas. The next, it's gone when the high-speed winds of a Category 5 hurricane barrels through. Eras of history can crumble to the ground when the earth quakes and volcanoes spew.
Over the past 15 years, the world has witnessed more than a handful of these natural disasters, and they've claimed not only portions of nature, but the lives of the residents and travelers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What has happened to those newsworthy destinations we thought may never return to glory? Just as nature has a way, so do the people who work hard to rebuild when disaster strikes.
One of the world's most devastating tsunamis took place the day after Christmas in 2004. As locals and travelers awoke in the morning along the beautiful white-sand beaches of Thailand, a 9.3 Indian Ocean earthquake sent a tidal wave so large (57 feet at its peak) that it washed over the island of Phuket, destroying nearly everything in its path.
Around the world, nations watched the news in horror, as thousands were reported missing and palm-tree-filled villages were turned into piles of debris.
The Boxing Day Tsunami, believed to be the deadliest in history, ultimately impacted 14 countries and claimed the lives of more than 230,000 people, including 8,000 in Thailand alone. Phuket, Khao Lak and the Phi Phi Islands were hit particularly hard in the country.
Cleanup was swift. Within a year of the tsunami, Khao Lak beach was back as a vacation paradise, with brands like Marriott reopening their massive resorts.
But travelers were wary. One year later, only about 10 percent of hotel rooms in the country were being filled.
They say time heals all wounds, and 15 years later, that definitely holds true in Thailand. Trees have regrown, souvenir shops line the streets and hotel swimming pools are as blue as the water cradling the soft-sand beaches. Last year, Thailand welcomed more than 38 million tourists, and in 2019 it expects to receive 41 million, including nearly 4 million during the month of December, the month the tsunami struck.
Maybe now the only worry is where to find a hotel with vacancy?
New Orleans 2005
Hurricane Katrina was the largest hurricane ever to hit the United States. With winds reaching 175 miles per hour, New Orleans witnessed a 20-foot storm surge. Coupled with heavy rains, the below-sea-level city saw its levees break. Eighty percent of NOLA was underwater by the time the storm was over. Across Louisiana, more than 1,500 people died and over 700 went missing.
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans tourism hard. A year after the devastation, tourism dropped by two-thirds, as news stations continued to report on areas unable to receive repair. Much of the city was boarded up, and many who lost their homes never returned. It seemed Crescent City, one of the most vibrant places in America, would be lost forever.
New Orleans 2019
Rebuilding New Orleans took a solid decade, and as the news began to trickle in that the city was reopen for business, travelers went to see for themselves. By 2014, the number of visitors to NOLA reached 9.5 million — nearly as many as visited prior to the storm.
From hotels to cruises, New Orleans is better than ever in 2019, parading its brand of fun like never before. The city's famed and historic French Quarter, which had largely been spared by the hurricane, as well as its music festivals, Cajun cuisine, plantation homes and airboat rides through the nearby swamplands, continue to make it one of the best destinations in the country. As playwright Tennessee Williams once said, "America has only three great cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans."
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Gulf Coast 2010
Although it was not a natural disaster, the BP oil spill of 2010 wreaked havoc on the natural environment in the Gulf of Mexico. Sugar-soft sandy beaches and emerald-green waters were coated in 210 million gallons of oil — one of the largest oil spills in history.
Wetlands and estuaries? Coated in petroleum. Dolphins, sea turtles and marine life were washed ashore, dead. Seagulls, pelicans and other birds were also affected.
One of America's worst environmental disasters, the spill impacted the coastlines of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
Gulf Coast 2019
More than 47,000 people worked tirelessly to collect the oil from the water and land, costing BP nearly $65 billion in cleanup, restoration and legal fees. In Louisiana, 55 miles of coastline saw the removal of more than 8 million pounds of oil by 2013.
In 2019, the amount of oil still residing on the bottom of the Gulf and affecting wildlife is considered minuscule, and beaches in Gulf-facing cities and towns are once again clean. Mississippi's Gulf Coast reported year-over-year growth in tourism, while Alabama and Louisiana reported all-time record visitors in 2017.
Florida's Panhandle, however, received another blow last year when Hurricane Michael bellowed through during the fall. It is still undergoing cleanup from the storm. If you'd like to visit the Gulf Coast of Florida, consider areas like Clearwater, Naples and Marco Island instead.
Jersey Shore 2012
When Hurricane Sandy made its way up the eastern coast of the United States, New Jersey bared the brunt of the destruction, as 80-mile-per-hour winds toppled beachfront property, and small towns and everything in them were flooded. Thirty-seven people died in New Jersey, with the storm wiping out nearly 350 homes.
Nicknamed the "Frankenstorm," Hurricane Sandy cost nearly $70 billion in damages and quickly became one of the worst storms in the U.S. With four counties of New Jersey on the coast, it is estimated New Jersey lost $35.5 billion in tourism revenue.
Jersey Shore 2019
Because Sandy struck in October, the "Shore Season" was already over, giving New Jersey a chance to rebuild as quickly as it could before the next summer season arrived in 2013. Where boardwalks, amusement rides and beachfront hotels and restaurants were ruined, new ones were constructed, while tried-and-true favorites were repaired and renovated.
The state then poured $25 million into promoting tourism, creating its "Stronger Than the Storm" marketing campaign to inspire visitors to return.
It worked: 2013's season grew over 2012 by 1.3 percent, and since then, the Jersey Shore has returned to its feet, proving it really was stronger than the storm.
A launching point of outdoor adventures is Nepal, where mountaineers descend for a climb up Mount Everest.
In April 2015, the country, along with parts of India, China and Bangladesh, was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, destroying half a million buildings, injuring 22,000 people and killing nearly 9,000. Nineteen climbers lost their lives on Mount Everest when the earthquake triggered an avalanche.
Considered the deadliest earthquake in the region in more than 80 years, aftershocks followed before a 7.3 quake hit again just 17 days later. Buildings in Kathmandu crumbled and many people in the already poor country lost their homes.
Nepal's economy continues to fall short after the 2015 earthquakes, with a per capita income of just $1,000. A year after the earthquake, tourism, which fuels the economy, dropped by a third.
Yet, Nepal is dealing with another force to be reckoned with in 2019: mountain climbers.
As adventure tourism grows, more novice climbers are making an attempt to reach the summit of Everest. By early June 2019, 11 people had died in an attempt to climb Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak. Not only are there more people than ever on the slopes — 2,000 in 10 years — they are discarding a staggering amount of trash. In an effort to reduce both deaths and destruction, the government is reducing the number of permits they are granting to make the climb.
The Galapagos Islands are wildly popular among adventure-seeking travelers. To get to them, most tourists begin in Ecuador and its culturally rich city of Quito.
In April 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the country, affecting more than 750,000 people, destroying 7,000 buildings, injuring 16,600 and killing more than 660 people. It cost the country more than $72 million to fix the damage.
As tourism is one of Ecuador's top industries, travelers help support relief efforts just by visiting the country and contributing to its economy — and the nation is hoping to remain on tourists' minds for 2019.
Despite the devastation caused by the earthquake, the tourism areas of Ecuador were largely unaffected. Quito, a World Heritage Site for its colonial district, did not get damaged, and train routes to the Amazon rainforest and Andes Mountains were also not harmed.
The Galapagos Islands, 600 miles from the mainland, were also unaffected, and cruises continue to bring visitors to the area to see its abundant wild- and sea-life.
Ecuador remains a breathtakingly beautiful country, with fantastic snorkeling, mountain adventures, historic city tours and welcoming locals. Three years after the quake, it's very much open for business.
Volcanoes are a huge draw to the Hawaiian Islands, with many making a pilgrimage to the Big Island just to see Volcanoes National Park, the only national park in the U.S. dedicated to the natural phenomena. Where else could you look into steaming craters and see the red glow of lava spilling into the ocean?
But in May 2018, the Kilauea Volcano went from simply erupting in a "containable" manner to dramatically spewing lava that created fires, destroyed roads and homes, and made parts of the island unsafe. (The massive eruption was due to a 5.0 earthquake.)
As a result, the national park was forced to close, costing the island $166 million in revenue. Tourism to the island subsequently dropped by half.
The volcano's steady stream of lava has been building the Big Island, the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, for about 700,000 years. Last year's eruption was just a slightly larger version than is normal, adding about 700 acres to the island.
Many feared the lava and ash spewing from Kilauea Volcano was reminiscent of the disasters at Pompeii and Vesuvius. In actuality, the Big Island's more than 4,000 square miles were unaffected by the lava flow, which covered just 13 square miles.
This means you can still pick a spot among the 4,000 square miles and enjoy paradise. The national park is even reopened, so you can once again get a glimpse of earth doing its thing.
Indonesia is renowned for its crystal-blue waters — and it was these same waters that caused chaos on September 27, 2018.
After an underwater landslide in the Pacific Ocean, a massive tsunami struck the islands of Java and Sumatra, washing away buildings, killing more than 400 people and injuring over 1,400 others. Another smaller tsunami struck in December, killing an additional 222 people.
Earthquakes and tsunamis are common occurrences in Indonesia, with six earthquakes measuring 6.0 or greater on the Richter Scale recorded in 2018 alone. The country is also home to more than 139 volcanoes, due to the archipelago's location on the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Does this mean travelers are playing with fire when visiting island resorts like Bali and Lombok? Perhaps.
Indonesia has more than 17,500 islands, including Bali, a tourism hotspot often topping honeymooners' "dream" destination lists.
Located nearly 1,000 miles from the damage in Sumatra, Bali was spared in 2018, keeping it a top destination in 2019. Its jungle interior, historic temples and luxury resorts still beckon, even though other areas of Indonesia are still undergoing cleanup from 2018's natural disasters.
If you want to explore the cultural richness of Indonesia, by all means go — your tourism dollars are what helps rebuild the communities that did receive damage from earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.