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The first modern disaster was the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Modern because it was the first disaster not attributed to the supernatural, but to the natural and it was the first disaster involving a coordinated state disaster relief. 

According to Russell Dynes, "...of particular interest here are the circumstances which led to the earthquake being attributed to 'natural' rather than 'supernatural' causes. Before that, men traditionally interpreted earthquakes as a dramatic means of communication between gods and humans. In particular, such events previously had been explained as indicating some disturbance between earthly and heavenly spheres. The Lisbon earthquake can be identified as a turning point in human history which moved the consideration of such physical events as supernatural signals toward a more neutral or even a secular, proto-scientific causation." (Web site)

This disaster was not the most deadly in history but it had a profound impact on Europe. "Depictions of the earthquake in art and literature can be found in several European countries, and these were produced and reproduced for centuries following the event, which came to be known as 'The Great Lisbon Earthquake.'" (Web site)

The significance of the Lisbon Earthquake was that it was the beginning of modern seismology. Following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, an effort to catalog the times and locations of earthquakes and to study their physical effects began.

More References

For more information about this natural disaster that changed the world, check out these resources on the topic.

  1. Earthquake at Lisbon, 1755
    From the Modern History Source book Web site you can read the first hand account of the event by the Rev. Charles Davey.
  2. Earthquake of Lisbon 1755
    From the Earthquake Facts Web site you can read about this historic earthquake and its aftermath.
  3. 1755 Lisbon Earthquake
    This Wikipedia article discusses the earthquake in detail. It includes references, external references and a more indepth view of siesmic activity.