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I'm not a seismologist, so I can't tell you if there are adequate warning signs of an earthquake's imminence. I will acknowledge that we do have earthquakes from time to time in the Finger Lakes, but I have only experienced two that were even noticeable to the average human. I'm pretty sure that there was no loss of life or even property in those instances.
But it seems that the huge earthquakes that have occurred around the world during my lifetime have generally caught most of the affected population unprepared, leading to a huge loss in life. Over 300,000 people died in Haiti in 2010 as a result of an earthquake, and Indonesia experienced similar losses in 2004. Measurable levels of radiation have been documented on the west coast of the US months after an earthquake destroyed a nuclear power plant in Japan.
Ultimately, the lack of warning and destructive potential are what pushed earthquakes into the number one spot on my list. Beyond damage to property, these are by far the deadliest catastrophes, especially taking into consideration that they can cause avalanches, landslides, and tsunamis as well.