In this article, we will look into 20 most devastating earthquakes occurred around the world since 1900 but first we need to understand what are earthquakes ? An earthquake is a sudden release of strain energy caused by the shifting of rocks within the earth’s crust. Earthquakes can cause fire, tsunamis, landslides or avalanches which can have a devastating effect across the region. We will some of those major earthquakes that occurred since 1900 and created either heavy casualties or damages around the region it occurred.
Most Devastating Earthquakes Since 1900
1. Valdivia Earthquake, 1960
- It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded.
- This disaster was named after the city most affected due to this earthquake, Valdivia.
- It struck the region of Southern Chile with a Richter scale of magnitude 9.5.
- This quake triggered a massive Tsunami over the pacific which affected as far away as New Zealand, Japan and Philippines.
- This earthquake left 2 million people homeless, injured atleast 3500 and killed around 1600 people.
2. Great Alaska Earthquake, 1964
- It is also known as the Good Friday Earthquake.
- It remains the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the North American history.
- It struck the Alaskan region with a Richter scale magnitude of around 9.2.
- It resulted the death of atleast 130 people with several hundreds gravely injured.
- The tsunami generated by this earthquake caused huge damage across the Pacific. It affected atleast 20 countries and as far away as Japan.
3. Sumatra-Andaman Islands Earthquake, 2004
- It remains the third largest ever recorded earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 in the Richter Scale.
- The Tsunami waves created by this earthquake had a height up to 40m(100 ft). It first struck the Indonesian Island of Sumatra killing 100,000 people and doing massive damage in very short period of time.
- It also affected dozen other countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Thailand causing major damages.
4. Tohoku Earthquake, 2011
- It was the most powerful undersea earthquake ever recorded in the history of Japan.
- This earthquake struck below the North Pacific Ocean that caused a Tsunami with wave height going up to 40m(132 feet).
- It resulted in the death of atleast 15000 people while affecting 450,000 others.
- The tsunami triggered by this earthquake caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. More on National Geographic.
5. Kamchatka Earthquake, 1952
- This earthquake struck the coast of Kamchatka Peninsula with the magnitude of 9.0. The epicenter was twenty-five miles beneath sea level.
- It created a major Tsunami which created a havoc across Pacific. The tsunami generated waves as high as 50 feet inflicting heavy damage to the Kamchatka Peninsula and Kuril Islands.
- According to an estimate this earthquake left 10,000 to 15,000 people dead with damages causing as far as Peru, Chili and New Zealand.
6. Maule Earthquake, 2010
- It was a severe earthquake that struck the coast of south-central Chile causing widespread damages.
- It was also typed as megathrust earthquake.
- It struck with a magnitude of 8.8 resulted in the death of atleast 300 people and affecting 2 million others.
- This earthquake occurred along a convergent plate boundary, also referred to as the subduction interface zone between the Nazca and South American Plates.
7. Ecuador-Colombia Earthquake, 1906
- This earthquake struck the coast of Ecuador with a magnitude of 8.8 triggering a destructive tsunami that resulted in the death of atleast 600 people.
- The earthquake is likely to be a result of thrust-faulting, caused by the subduction of the Coiba, Malpelo and Nazca Plates beneath the North Andes and South American Plates.
- The greatest damage from the tsunami occurred on the coast between Río Verde, Ecuador and Micay, Colombia.
8. Rat Islands Earthquake, 1965
- It was an underthrust earthquake of magnitude 8.7 that triggered a tsunami of over 10m on Shemya Island.
- Although it did not caused any major damage but flooding from the tsunami caused $10,000 worth of damage on Amchitka Island.
- The tsunami also affected the regions of Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, California, Japan and eastern Russia.
- The earthquake was associated with a 600 km long rupture along the plate boundary, based on the distribution of aftershocks.
9. Assam-Tibet Earthquake, 1950
- It was known as the 6th biggest earthquake of the 20th Century.
- It struck the regions of Assam and Tibet with a magnitude of 8.6 causing devastating effect all across.
- The epicenter was near Rima, in a region claimed by both China and Tibet.
- According to an estimation, atleast 780 people killed and many building collapsed in the Nyingchi-Qamdo-Zhamo (Rima, Zayu) area of eastern Tibet.
10. Nias Earthquake, 2005
- It was known as the third most powerful earthquake since 1965 in Indonesia
- It struck the west coast of northern Sumatra with a magnitude of 8.6.
- The tsunami generated by this earthquake were relatively smaller than the massive tsunami triggered by the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake.
- The death toll reported to be atleast 900 with more than 1100 injured.
- This quake was also strongly felt along the west coast of Thailand and Malaysia, and in Kuala Lumpur
11. Sanriku Earthquake, 1933
- This earthquake struck the Sanriku coast of the Tōhoku region of Honshū, Japan on March 2 with a moment magnitude of 8.4 causing widespread damage.
- The epicenter was found to be located offshore, 290 kilometres (180 mi) east of the city of Kamaishi, Iwate.
- The earthquake directly did not caused much damage but the tsunami it triggered had created waves which reached an height up to 28 metres inflicting heavy damages on the Northern Japanese Coastline.
12. The Haiti Earthquake, 2010
- It is one of the most catastrophic earthquake that ever struck the Haiti region with a magnitude of 7.0 affecting atleast 3 million people around the region.
- The epicenter was near the town of Léogâne, Ouest department, approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.
- The quake occurred in the vicinity of the northern boundary where the Caribbean tectonic plate shifts eastwards by about 20 mm (0.79 in) per year in relation to the North American plate.
13. The Great Tangshan Earthquake, 1976
- It was recorded to be one of the deadliest earthquake in the history.
- The earthquake struck the industrial city of Tangshan with a magnitude of 7.5
- Its epicenter was located in the southern part of the city of Tangshan, some 9 miles (15 km) above the earthquake’s focus.
- This earthquake caused a heavy casualty of somewhere around 242,000 to 655,000 people dead.
14. The Great Peruvian Earthquake, 1970
- The earthquake struck the coast off Peru with a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale.
- This earthquake triggered a massive landslides which killed almost 70,000 people.
- The epicenter of the earthquake was located 35km off the coast of Casma and Chimbote on the Pacific Ocean, where the Nazca Plate meets the South American Plate.
15. The Sichuan Earthquake, 2008
- It is also known as the Great Sichuan earthquake or Wenchuan earthquake.
- The earthquake’s epicenter was located 80 kilometres (50 mi) west-northwest of Chengdu, the provincial capital, with a focal depth of 19 km (12 mi).
- It was the worst natural disaster which led to the death of 90,000 peoples.
16. Kashmir Earthquake, 2005
- It was considered to be one of the deadliest earthquake to hit South Asia.
- The earthquake struck the Kashmir and North West Frontier Region of Pakistan(NWFP) with a magnitude of 7.6
- An estimated 86,000 people died and more than 90,000 got severely injured.
17. Aceh Earthquake, 2012
- It was an underwater earthquake that struck the Indonesian province of Aceh with a magnitude of 8.6
- This is known as the largest strike-slip earthquake ever recorded.
- The earthquake was felt over a large area, including Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, and Vietnam.
18. Vallenar Earthquake, 1922
- This earthquake struck the Atacama region of Chile, near the border with Argentina with a magnitude of 8.5
- It triggered a destructive tsunami that caused significant damage to the coast of Chile and was observed as far away as Australia.
- The earthquake caused extensive damage in a zone extending approximately from Copiapó to Coquimbo resulting in the death of almost 1000 people while injuring several hundreds other.
19. Kuril Islands Earthquake, 1963
- It was an underthrust earthquake that struck the Kuril Islands with a magnitude of 8.5 triggering tsunami across the northern part of Pacific Ocean.
- The earthquake was made up of three sub events, each of which is interpreted to represent the rupture of an asperity roughly 50 km in length along the subduction interface
- This earthquake did not caused any recorded damage, death or Injuries.
- The tsunami was also observed in Canada, Japan, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, California and on many islands across the northern Pacific Ocean.
20. Andreanof Islands Earthquake, 1957
- This earthquake struck the south of the Andreanof Islands group, which is part of the Aleutian Islands arc with a magnitude of 8.6
- The event occurred along the Aleutian Trench, the convergent plate boundary that separates the Pacific Plate and the North American Plates near Alaska.
- It has the longest aftershock zone of any earthquake ever recorded – 1200 km.
- This earthquake caused severe damage to roads and buildings on Adak Island, Alaska however no lives were lost.