25 Worst Earthquakes In History

Posted by on May 8, 2013

Earthquakes are naturally-occurring incidents that are due to the sudden release of energy in the earth’s crust thus creating seismic waves. While an earthquake in itself can cause massive destruction in lives and property, the resulting tsunamis and fires can also contribute to its death toll. Here is a list of the 25 worst earthquakes in the world, both in the number of deaths and magnitude, to give you an idea of the amount of havoc they have caused.


Valdivia, Chile

When it comes to the earthquake’s magnitude, the 1960 Valdivia earthquake takes the cake at 9.5, which was equivalent to a massive 178-Gigatons of power. This can be comparable to 1,000 atomic bombs going off at the same time. The earthquake was not only felt in Valdivia but also reached Hawaii, at a distance of 435 miles. While only 6,000 people died in the catastrophe, it incurred more than $1 billion worth of damages.


Shaanxi, China

This earthquake has sometimes been called the deadliest earthquake in history. The incident happened on January 23, 1556 in Shaanxi, China and devastated an area of 520 miles. It was felt in 97 countries; and resulted in more than 20 meters deep crevices and landslides, which collapsed numerous dwellings. The death toll of this devastating earthquake was 830,000, which is over 60% of the region’s population. Its magnitude was only 8.0 on the Richter scale or only 1-Gigaton, but the costs cannot be written in today’s terms.


Sumatra, Indonesia

This earthquake hit the sea bed of the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 with a magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3 or over 32-Gigatons, and caused the Boxing Day Tsunami. This was the second highest seismic activity recorded with the longest duration of tremors. The after-effects even reached Maldives and Thailand, with more than 5 tsunamis hitting the coastlines of the Indian Sea. It had a death toll of 100,100 to 225,000 with over $7 billion worth of rescue and damage costs during the first 8.3 to 10 minutes alone.


Aleppo, Syria

This disaster happened near the town of Aleppo in Syria on October 11, 1138. The earthquake, which had a magnitude of 8.5 or 2.8-Gigaton, was labeled as the fourth worst earthquake disaster in the world. Catastrophes included a nearby church that fell on itself causing the death of 600 guards and citizens, and total death toll of 230,000. A number of towns near the tremor were completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt to become habitable again.


Tangshan, China

This tragedy happened on July 28, 1976 in Tangshan, Hebei and killed 255,000 people though the Chinese government first recorded its death toll at 655,000. The 8.2 magnitude or 2.2-Gigaton quake only lasted for 10 seconds, but brought a lot of devastation to the area. In addition, Tangshan is a region with a very low-risk for earthquakes, so the buildings were not earthquake-proof. The quake was 4 miles long and 5 miles wide, which left a total damage of 10 billion Yuan or $1.3 billion.


Haiyuan County, China

Also called ‘the 1920 Gansu Earthquake,’ this disaster happened in Haiyuan County, Ningxia. Though there were conflicting reports on its magnitude and death toll, as both the Chinese government and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) published different reports, it still brought catastrophic effects that were felt for over 125 miles and aftershocks that lasted over 3 years. The December 16, 1920 quake has conflicting magnitudes of 7.8 and 8.5 and death tolls of 200,000 or 240,000.


Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The Haiti earthquake was a magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale, with an epicenter near Leogane, 25 km west of its capital, Port-au-Prince. It struck on January 12, 2010 where at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater could still be felt even 12 days later. The earthquake left a devastating wake of 316,000 deaths, 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 people homeless. It was estimated that 250,000 houses and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely destroyed.


Xining, China

Xining, which lies on the Huangshui River on the eastern part of Quinghai Province, experienced a magnitude 7.9 seismic activity on May 22, 1927. It killed 40,900 people though there were other reports that the death toll could be as high as 200,000. The earthquake was not only deadly but it also brought large fractures, damages to over 500 schools and office buildings causing many people to lose their occupations. This was also linked to the Great Gansu Earthquake.


Damghan, Iran

The earliest record-breaking earthquake as it happened on December 22, 856, this earthquake struck Damghan, the capital of Iran at that time with a magnitude of 8.0 or 1-Gigaton power. It killed 200,000 people, with tremors that could be felt throughout the surrounding areas of Damghan causing these areas to be totally destroyed as well, though Damghan itself was not severely damaged. A great example was Bustam, a nearby town, which was completely leveled by the quake.


Tohoku, Japan

On March 11, 2011, the east coast of Tohoku in Japan was struck by a 9.03 magnitude earthquake, which was the strongest to ever hit Japan. Considered one of the top five largest earthquakes in the world, it caused destruction that claimed 15,878 lives, left 6,126 injured and 2,173 people missing across 20 prefectures. It also caused the collapsed of 129,225 buildings, while the tsunami brought about by the quake also caused severe structural damages, fires in many areas, and damages in roads and railways. This was the most difficult crisis Japan had ever faced after World War II as it did not only inflict damages to lives and properties, but also caused significant damages to four major nuclear power stations. Debris from the tsunami reached as far as Canada and Hawaii.


Kanto, Japan

The Great Kanto earthquake was a magnitude 7.9 disaster that hit the Kanto plain, a main island of Honshu in Japan on September 1, 1923. This was once considered the deadliest earthquake in the history of Japan as it caused ‘the Great Tokyo Fire’ though the duration of the quake was only between 4 and 10 minutes. However, its record was surpassed by the 2011 Tohuku earthquake at a magnitude of 9.0. The fire alone claimed the lives of 140,000 people and destroyed 447,000 houses. This does not include those who died from landslides, tsunamis, and 57 aftershocks, which had estimated deaths of 93,000 people and 43,500 missing.


Ashgabat, Soviet Union

This earthquake occurred on October 6, 1948 near Ashgabat, USSR with a magnitude of 7.3. Due to censorship, this was not reported in the media so there were no reports regarding its casualties or damages. Due to the secrecy, it was purported that the earthquake was the result of Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb test. Media sources also vary on the number of casualties from 10,000 to 176,000 though a correct death toll was reported in December 9, 1988 as 110,000. The earthquake also caused the collapsed of brick buildings, concrete structures and freight trains.


Messina, Italy

This was a 7.1-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that claimed the lives of some 100,000 to 200,000 lives in Messina and Reggio in Sicily and Calabria in southern Italy. The earthquake, which took place on December 28, 1908, caused the ground to shake for 30 to 40 seconds and was felt in a 186-mile radius. A 12-meter tsunami also hit the nearby coasts causing more destruction including the death of 70,000 residents with 91% of the structures in Messina destroyed.


Chihli, China

The Chihli earthquake happened in September 27, 1290 with the epicenter near Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia with an estimated magnitude of 6.8. However, it has a maximum felt intensity of nine on the Mercalli intensity scale as it claimed the lives of some 100,000 people. It also destroyed 480 storehouses and countless homes in nearby areas, including the Fengguo Temple in Yingxian.


Sichuan, China

The Great Sichuan Earthquake occurred on May 8, 2008 with a magnitude that measured 8.0 and 7.9. It was so great that it was felt in nearby countries and as far away as Beijing and Shanghai where buildings swayed with tremors. Official figures for the damages include 69,197 deaths with 68,636 in Sichuan province, 374,176 injured and 18,222 missing. This was considered as the deadliest earthquake to hit China after the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, as it left 4.8 million to 15 million people homeless. The Chinese government is appropriating 1 trillion Yuan or $146.5 billion to rebuild areas ravaged by the great quake.