Home Sliding Into the Ocean During Hurricane Isabel, 2003
Overturned Highway in Nishinomiya, Japan
The 1995 western Japanese earthquake measured 7.2 on the Richter scale.
Earthquake in Anchorage, 1964
The magnitude 9.2 Alaska earthquake of 1964 -- which lasted a terrifying-to-contemplate five minutes -- was one of the largest ever recorded, and caused hundreds after triggering tsunamis that raced west across the Pacific.
Piazza San Marco, Venice, 1965
Venetians have long known that, at any moment, the sea can retake their city.
Florida Palm Trees in a Hurricane, 1947
Broken Village Near L'Aquila
The 6.3-magnitude earthquake in the center of Italy in 2009 killed 308. See the Full Gallery at LIFE.
No matter how far humanity has progressed since the days we rode out storms huddled in caves, terrified, nature still routinely reminds us that people, buildings and cities -- in fact, entire countries -- can be overwhelmed in an instant. See the Full Gallery at LIFE.