Top 10 Most Destructive Earthquakes in History

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10 biggest earthquakes - San Francisco Earthquake

An earthquake is caused when there is a sudden release of energy in the Earth’s lithosphere, that causes seismic waves. Earthquakes are capable of causing landslides, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions which can all cause additional havoc and destruction. Below you’ll find our list of the Top 10 Most Destructive Earthquakes in History.

10. Assam-Tibet Earthquake

A massive earthquake of 8.6 magnitude hit the Assam – Tibet region in 1950 which killed more than 780 people. The earthquake came suddenly and in one brief moment destroyed many buildings and injured thousands of people. large cracks developed in the ground and a landslide occurred. The result was a whole village was swallowed by the river and washed away. Some damage also occurred in Assam, India and the surrounding regions. This earthquake was a result of a collision between the Eurasian Plate and the Indian Continental Plate.

9. The Sichuan Earthquake

The Sichuan Earthquake occurred in May 2008 and left over two million people homeless and destroyed half of the town of Beichuan due to the seismic activity under a nearby lake. The quake also brought destruction to the mountainous regions of Sichuan province in Southwestern China. The main center of the Earthquake was a place called Wenchuan where the magnitude of the quake was recorded at 8; about four-fifths of the region was flattened in that area and many surrounding villages were completely destroyed.

8. Ecuador-Colombia Earthquake

The 1906 Ecuador-Colombia earthquake occurred on 31 Jan 1906 on the coast of Ecuador. This earthquake had a magnitude of 8.8 and caused a Tsunami which led to more than 500 casualties. The Tsunami, caused by the earthquake, stretched to Central America and even caused damage in Japan. The earthquake was a result of thrust faulting when the Nazca Plate slid under the South American Plate. This was the largest recorded earthquake this region has experienced.

7. 1730 Hokkaido Earthquake, Japan

Japan is a country that is quite prone to seismic waves, because of it’s close proximity to multiple plates in the earth’s crust. Due to the high risk of earthquakes, they have developed earthquake resistant houses which can fend off destruction to a certain degree. The actual magnitude of this earthquake isn’t yet known because it occurred in 1730. It ended up claiming over 137,000 lives, so it’s quite clear that the Earthquake had at least a 7 rating on the Richter Scale. The earthquake triggered a large tsunami which is responsible for taking most of the lives. Another earthquake occurred in the area in 2003, which was recorded to be about 8, but due to advancements in technology, almost no deaths occurred. Now that’s a true achievement!

6. Imperial Valley Earthquake, California

This Earthquake hit California in 1892 and had a magnitude of about 7.8. The earthquake destroyed almost all the buildings in San Diego County. In Paradise Valley, schools and churches were completely destroyed. Chimnies and plasters were broken across San Diego. In Jewel Valley, different ground fissures, and rockslides were reported.

Around 155 tremors were felt after the initial earthquake and the aftershocks were felt after every few days until the end of 1892. Some people reported that the aftershocks were felt as far as National City. The shocks were also felt along the coast to Santa Barbara, south to Santa Quintin and east to Yuma. One person reported that the shocks were felt as far as Visalia, 435 mi. north of San Quintin.

5. 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, California

This earthquake occurred in 1906 with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale. It is considered as one of the biggest Earthquakes in the history of San Francisco. The earthquake caused about 3,000 deaths and over $524 million in property damages. It’s quite unbelievable to know that all this happened in under one minute.

The earthquake damaged the entire city destroying office buildings, churches, homes, parks, and other places. In the business district, pavements were badly damaged. Bricks and frame houses were also destroyed and sewers lines were broken. The displacement of San Andreas Fault line was over 180 mi. and the largest horizontal rupture was 6.4 mi which occurred near Point Reyes Station in Marin County.

4. 1138 Aleppo Earthquake, Syria

This earthquake recorded in Syria is one of the largest of all time. Historical accounts suggest that the walls of the big city collapsed after the quake. Rocks fell from the highlands and hills around the city. It was one of the first earthquakes to occur between 1138 and 1139. Reports suggest that the tremors from the massive quake were felt as far as Damascus. The estimated death toll is about 230,000.

3. Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, Japan

The Great East Japan Earthquake had a magnitude of 9.03. The center of the Earthquake was 70 km east of Oshika Peninsula, Tohoku. This earthquake was one of the largest earthquakes to ever hit Japan and one of the five largest earthquakes in the modern age. This earthquake killed almost 15,800 people, and caused about 15,000 deaths, 6,114 people were injured and 3000 people went missing. Over 100,000 buildings also collapsed in the earthquake.

2. The Great Alaskan Earthquake

The Great Alaskan earthquake is one of the biggest earthquakes to ever be recorded. It was a megathrust earthquake that began on March 1964, Good Friday. Across South Alaska, ground fissures and landslides resulted in about 143 deaths. It was the most powerful earthquake measured in U.S. history and the second most powerful to be measured by seismograph. The magnitude of the earthquake was a 9.2. The earthquake lasted for about 4 minutes.

1. Chile Earthquake

This earthquake, which occurred in 1960, is the biggest one to ever be recorded in history with a magnitude of 9.5 of the Richter scale. A lot of damage was caused due to the shaking of the earth. However, most of the damage was caused by large Tsunamis which occurred on the coast of Chile from Lebu to Puerto Aisen. Puerto Saavedra was totally destroyed by waves which reached about 11.5 m in height. Waves as high as 5.5m struck Northern Honshu where they destroyed over 1600 homes and left about 185 people either dead or missing. After the earthquake had occurred, about major 4 aftershocks occurred 7, including one of 7.9. This earthquake certainly deserves to be number one in this list.

All these earthquakes were quite devastating and claimed many lives. If you’ve experienced an earthquake first hand you know it can be quite frightening.

Earthquakes just show us how destructive Mother Nature can be. They can claim lives, even the people who survive, are damaged both physically and mentally. The physical part heals with the passage of time; it’s the mental part which is difficult to overcome.