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An earthquake near the Caspian Sea in Iran kills an estimated 50,000 and injures another 135,000 people on June 21, 1990. The 7.7-magnitude tremor wrecked havoc on the simply constructed houses in the area.
Thirty minutes past midnight, with most people sleeping in their homes, a violent quake, centered along the shores of the Caspian Sea in northwestern Iran shattered the nighttime tranquility. A 20,000-square-mile area in the provinces of Zanjan and Gilan was absolutely devastated. This region encompasses both farms and sea resorts–all were demolished. In towns along one 80-mile stretch, every single building was reduced to rubble and every single resident was killed.
Additionally, a burst dam in Rasht, caused by a 6.5-magnitude aftershock the following morning, wiped out a large stretch of farmland. Landslides made many roads impassable and many of the people who initially survived under the rubble could not be rescued before their air supply ran out. An estimated 400,000 people were left homeless by the earthquake.
Worldwide relief efforts were undertaken. The Iranian government grudgingly accepted assistance from the United States, though it refused help from Israel and South Africa. Because of Iran’s tenuous relations with their home nations, many relief workers from western nations were sent home after only a brief time and before critical assistance could be provided.
10 Worst Earthquakes From The Past
This list is in chronological order and is neither exhaustive nor definitive it describes events where there is plenty of historic evidence and research rather than for magnitude size or human loss. Where possible I have used the Moment Magnitude scale (MMS) to give a destructive measure with seismic maps from Wikipedia where no seismic map is available a general map of the area has been used. I have used various geology resources to update my own knowledge of specifics as it was 10 years out of date.
Historic earthquakes are actually very important to determine the likelihood of a massive natural disaster occurring in the same region again and under what sort of timeframe. Unfortunately it seems that the human mind tends to forget quite quickly about a destructive event such as an earthquake or simply manages to put it out of mind, this will be demonstrated in this and subsequent lists where natural disasters that are still fresh in our minds occurred in the same vicinity on several previous occasions. Even after many years of study I still find it incredulous that we rebuild our cities in seismically active areas after such a destructive event.
While very little is known of this earthquake, it holds the distinction of being the first written account of an earthquake and natural disaster. It holds this distinction as it is mentioned in the Bamboo Annals which chronicles ancient China.
There is no loss of life mentioned within the Bamboo Annals and it occurred at Mount Tai during the 7th year of reign of King Fa from Xia dynasty in what is today China&rsquos Shandong province.
Mount Tai is one of the Five Great Mountains within Chinese culture and is associated with sunrise, birth and renewal.
Seismically Mount Tai is a tilted fault-block mountain with height increasing from the north to the south. It is the oldest example of a paleo-metamorphic formation from the Cambrian Period in eastern China known as the Taishan Complex.
Shandong is one of the more seismically active areas of modern day North Eastern China and is situated close to the epicenter of the Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 itself preceded by a moderate earthquake in Miaodao in Shandong Province in 1975 and the area is frequently subjected to earthquakes of magnitude 6 or more.
This earthquake had far reaching consequences and destroyed much of the city state of Sparta. It has been estimated that the quake and its after effects may have killed as many as 20,000 people and it sparked the revolt of the Helots. This revolt led to a breakdown of a treaty between Sparta and Athens which led directly to the First Peloponnesian War.
The events that have survived in the writings of Strabo, Pausanias, Plutarch and Thucydides are attributed various reliability and thus it has been difficult to pinpoint the exact epicenter and magnitude associated with the quake.
The earthquake contributed to a growing distrust between Sparta and Athens. Thucydides, the ancient Greek chronicler of the Peloponnesian War, reported that a number of Greek city-states sent troops to help put down the rebellion of helots in Sparta. Athens sent approximately 4,000 hoplites under the leadership of Cimon, but this contingent was sent back to Athens, while those from other cities were allowed to stay. According to Thucydides, the Spartans were concerned that the Athenians would switch sides and assist the helots. The Athenians were insulted, and therefore repudiated their alliance with Sparta. Once the uprising was put down, some of the surviving rebels fled to Athens, which settled them at Naupactus on the strategically important Corinthian Gulf. The alliance would never be revived, as disagreements between Sparta and Athens would continue to intensify until the outbreak of war in 460 BC. Given that the Helot population seized upon the earthquake to rebel against the Spartans, the Spartans reformed their society after the Helots were subdued, becoming extremely austere.
The Spartan area of Greece has been subject to many recent earthquakes including the 2008 Peloponnese earthquake located less than 50km from the 464 BC area of most destruction. Seismically, Greece sits on the plate boundaries of the Eurasia, Africa and Arabia plates which have produced still smaller micro-plates that sit under Greece. It is likely that a strike/slip fault, which has east-trending and northeast-trending zones of deformation and which moves at the rate of about 30mm per year was the cause of the Sparta quake.
As an addendum to this earthquake during the later Peloponnesian Wars the Greek historian Thucydides described a tsunami that occurred in 426 BC, and he was the first to associate the cause of a tsunami with an earthquake in a written account. The epicenter of this quake is as yet undiscovered, however evidence points at a crustal movement along one of the faults in the Euboean gulf, rather than submarine landslides, thus Thucydides conjecture via his research into the cause of the tsunami shows remarkable intuition given that he was not party to the actual quake responsible.
Historically significant for destroying the Colossus of Rhodes and the city of Kameiros on the island of Rhodes.
Rhodes has been culturally and commercially important as a trading post for many thousands of years as it lies close to the Asia Minor, Middle Eastern and African trade routes. As a major Aegean port city at the time of the earthquake, it shared this distinction with another famous earthquake casualty Alexandria in Egypt.
The Colossus of Rhodes was primarily built and given in thanks to the Greek Gods for helping Rhodes defend a Macedonian siege and as Rhodes grew in stature it became a very rich trading city of the Mediterranean Sea allowing the hubris of building the Colossus to show off its wealth.
However far from protecting the city the statue likely stood for less than 30 years after its completion and rather ignominiously, after this quake, the Colossus was left to rot in the harbor of Rhodes for some eight centuries before it was sold by Arab invaders to a Jewish merchant in Edessa.
Due to its economic importance and its cultural significance Rhodes was perhaps the first example of aid being delivered to a city/country by many parties. Several other city states lent assistance and aid and even Ptolemy III of Egypt offered to fund the rebuilding of the Colossus (which was deemed not to be rebuilt by an oracle).
As the previous entry, Rhodes is part of the plate tectonics of the Mediterranean Sea and specifically lies on the boundary between the Aegean Sea and African plates. This is one of the more complex seismic zones of our world as there is thrusting, extension and strike slip faulting and the island is undergoing a counter-clockwise rotation due to these stresses. Apart from these stresses the island has also been subjected to being tilted to the Northwest in the Pleistocene.
One of the most destructive single events in Roman times which virtually wiped out trade to Asia Minor (modern day Anatolia).
The earthquakes were reported by the Roman historians Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, and the Greek historians Strabo and Eusebius. Pliny called it &lsquothe greatest earthquake in human memory.&rsquo
At least 12 cities were destroyed by this quake and it is estimated to have had an epicenter near Ephesus, Sardis or Magnesia. Sardis, Magnesia, Temnos, Philadelphia, Aegae, Apollonis, Mostene, Hyrkanis, Hierapolis, Myrina, Cyme, Tmolus, Pergamon, Ephesus and Kibyra were all at least partially destroyed. However, of these only Pergamon, Ephesus and Kibyra are not mentioned by Tacitus. Reports of the destruction of Ephesus may be attributed to a further quake which struck the region in 23 AD.
Adding to the disaster and loss of life, the 17 AD earthquake occurred during the night and was of such economic magnitude that the Roman Emperor Tiberius sent an aid package of at least 10million sesterces to Sardis alone to counter the problems associated with the quake. Rome decreed that all cities affected by the quake would pay no taxes for five years after the quake to allow an economic recovery, however Sardis never fully recovered from the disaster and, being the former capital of the Lydian Empire, probably dealt a final blow to the remains of that empire.
Conversely because of these aid packages it is also one of the first recording instances of people/groups creating scams and frauds to access the funding on hand, with reports by Roman historians of ships being sailed out to sea, painted and renamed with the original ship owners asking for aid in replacing their lost vessels.
Seismically the area is affected by the Dead Sea Transform system, the Northern Anatolian Fault, the East Anatolian Fault, the Red Sea Rift and interactions with the Arabian, African and Eurasian plates.
This may become a theme as this area of Anatolia has been subjected to many violent earthquakes and has been a hub of human civilization for many thousands of years.
Antioch lies to the Southeast of modern day Turkey and is quite literally sat atop a plate transform boundary between the triple junction of the northern end of the Dead Sea Transform, the mainly transform boundary between the African Plate and the Arabian Plate and the southwestern end of the East Anatolian Fault. It sits in the Anatakya Basin, part of the Amik Basin, filled by Pliocene-to-recent alluvial sediments making it particularly susceptible to ground movement and liquefaction.
You will hear more about Antioch as these lists progress as some of the most devastating earthquakes and loss of life have occurred in and around this area of the world.
The 115 AD quake took place on the 13th December 115 AD. At an apparent magnitude of 7.5 on the Moment Magnitude scale (MMS), the quake shows how ground setting is vitally important in all earthquake studies as, while large, it is not in the megathrust territory of magnitude yet its placement on an alluvial plane compounded the ground shaking to devastating effect.
This earthquake is particularly well recorded as the then Roman Emperor Trajan and his successor Hadrian were caught in the earthquake and its aftermath, giving us their perspective as their scribes described the events that took place.
The most vivid account comes from the writer Cassius Dio in his Roman History, stating that Antioch was filled at the time of the quake due to the Emperor overwintering within the city. Therefore there were many traders, civilians and soldiers following the emperor&rsquos journey and Cassius Dio paints a vivid picture of the destruction he witnessed. This included a far off roaring just prior to the quake, violent ground waves during the quake with trees being uprooted and thrown in to the air, soldiers and civilians killed by falling debris, watching the attempted rescue of people trapped in collapsed buildings and the aftershocks of the quake adding more fear and increasing the death toll along with watching the trapped individuals dying of starvation.
In addition to Antioch, the city of Apamea was also destroyed by the earthquake and Beirut suffered significant damage. Adding to the devastation on land, a tsunami was generated by the quake which inundated the Lebanese coastline and likely destroyed the harbor at Caeserea Maritima. In total 260,000 are said to have died during or in the aftermath of this event.
An undersea earthquake struck off the coast of Crete on the morning of 21st July 365 AD. The quake is estimated to be at least of a magnitude 8 on the Moment Magnitude scale (MMS) and was followed in quick succession by tsunamis that destroyed many parts of the Eastern Mediterranean Seaboard, particularly devastating central and southern Greece, northern Libya, Egypt, Cyprus and Sicily. In Crete, nearly all towns and settlements were destroyed. The tsunami generated by the event had far-reaching effects on Libya, the Nile Delta and Alexandria with some reports stating that ships had been hurled up to 3km inland.
This event seems to have been the largest in an earthquake swarm that hit the area and evidence has been mounting in recent years that a cluster of quakes hit the region between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.
As a result of the tremendous force unleashed by the quake the whole of Crete was uplifted by 9 meters and may actually have caused the reactivation of many surrounding plate boundaries leading to further quakes in the area. This quake would also seem to be larger than any modern day equivalent quake giving credence to a pressure build up at lower depths within the crustal zones surrounding the quake site. The source of the quake is the Hellenic Trench and recent studies strongly suggest that a quake of this magnitude happens every 5,000 years or so.
This earthquake is significant as it comes just on the cusp of the end of the Roman Empire and the emergence of the Christian faith as the most powerful Western religion. Therefore many reports on the quake are suspect as the writings are complicated by various tendencies to describe natural disasters as divine responses/interventions or warnings to political, material or religious events. As the old religions of paganism started to become marginalized, antagonism towards the Christian religions grew, writers on both sides distorted the evidence to fit their particular dogma leaving only a partial record in many Christian dominated areas.
The Sophist Libanius and the church historian Sozomenus appear to conflate the great earthquake of 365 AD with other lesser ones to present it as either divine sorrow or wrath, depending on their viewpoint, for the death of Emperor Julian, who had tried to restore the pagan religion, two years earlier.
However, and luckily, we do not just have these viewpoints and there are numerous references to the earthquake from other sources including Kourion on Cyprus, for example, which is known to have been hit by five strong earthquakes within a period of eighty years, leading to its permanent destruction in the 365 AD event.
This earthquake is also significant for the first documented and accurate description of how a tsunami reacts. It is the first written account to distinguish and describe the three phases of how a tsunami is generated the report links the initial earthquake, the sudden retreat of the sea and the ensuing gigantic wave rolling inland. This was described by a Roman historian called Ammianus Marcellinus who gave us the date and time of the events and who seems to have not been subjected to the religious infighting between the Pagans and Christians of the time.
As a matter of respect and to commemorate the event the city of Alexandria held an annual event known as the &ldquoday of horror&rdquo until the 6th century AD.
After just four centuries from the previous large quake we are back to Antioch and another massive earthquake which devastated the region. The previous quake in 115 AD killed approximately 260,000 people, this event killed at least a further 250,000 people. Here then is a prime example of hubris getting the better of knowledge. Half a million people killed in just over 400 years at the exact same place and using the exact same building materials.
The quake struck between May 20th-29th 526 AD and is estimated to be above a magnitude 7 MMS. The destruction was heightened by a fire caused by the quake which destroyed most of the city.
As with many large earthquakes the area was hit by many aftershocks over the next year and these were large enough to cause severe damage, including one large enough to uplift the port of Seleucia Pieria by up to 1 meter.
The quake destroyed many significant buildings including the Domus Aurea built on an island in the Orontes River, reports suggest that only houses built in the shadow of the mountain behind Antioch harbor survived intact. Amongst the many victims was Euphrasius the Patriarch of Antioch, who died by falling into a cauldron of pitch being used by wineskin makers, with only his head remaining unburnt.
The rebuilding of the Great Church and many other buildings was paid for by Justin 1st of Constantinople and was overseen by Ephraim, the comes Orientis, whose efforts saw him replace Euphrasius as the Chalcedonian Patriarch of Antioch, however in a stroke of what can only be described as a run of bad luck (or perhaps irony if you are of the atheist persuasion) many of the recently restored and renovated religious and government buildings in Antioch paid for by Justin were destroyed by another major earthquake in November 528 AD, although there were far fewer casualties.
And again here we are back in Antioch&rsquos neighborhood and a tectonic setting that encompasses the Dead Sea Transform (AKA Dead Sea Rift), which forms part of the boundary between the Arabian Plate and the African Plate.
In Lebanon the fault zone forms a restraining bend associated with a right stepping offset of the fault trace. Transpressional deformation associated with this bend has formed a number of thrust faults, such as the recently identified Mount Lebanon thrust, which underlies the city and is interpreted to crop out at the seabed offshore.
The quake occurred on the 9th July 551 AD and had an apparent magnitude of at least 7.6 MMS. As with many offshore quakes, a tsunami was generated by the thrust in the ocean which destroyed much of the Phoenician coastline and many of the ships used for trade within Phoenicia. The death toll has been estimated to be in the high 30,000s with one report by Antoninus of Piacenza giving that figure for Beirut alone.
The offshore fault likely ruptured for a length of approximately 100km (though some reports suggest an even greater distance of 150km) making the tsunami generated particularly large and the quake was felt from Alexandria to Antioch.
An interesting fact is the recently discovered Mount Lebanon thrust ruptured and caused the tsunami and this has been verified and is consistent with quaternary uplift recorded by a series of marine-cut terraces between Tripoli and Beirut proven by a continuing upward movement of the hanging wall of the proposed thrust. At a smaller scale, an uplifted vermetid bench, which indicates vertical movement of about 80cm, is dated to the sixth century A.D corroborating this earthquakes epicenter and likely cause of the tsunami. Continued uplift above this thrust since the late Miocene Era may explain the formation of the Mount Lebanon range.
Here we have another strong earthquake on the Dead Sea Transform fault that has little written evidence and which has been muddied by reports blaming the event on God for various reasons.
This earthquake struck an area between Palestine and Jordan, likely centered on the Golan Heights on January the 18th 749 AD it is estimated to be well over a magnitude 7 quake. It is another interesting example of how little actual science and reporting was allowable under the various religious doctrines of the time and the suppression of all else save for relating every major occurrence to the wrath of God.
The earthquake destroyed the cities of Tiberias, Beit She&rsquoan, Hippos and Pella and they were left largely uninhabitable while many other cities across the Levant were heavily damaged. In addition, the earthquake reportedly claimed many tens of thousands of victims.
The value of the reporting can be summed up by the following two reports: A Coptic priest from Alexandria reported that support beams had shifted in houses in Egypt and a Syrian priest wrote that a village near Mount Tabor had &ldquomoved a distance of four miles.&rdquo Reliable reports these are not.
Other more reliable sources reported tsunamis in the Mediterranean Sea, several days of aftershocks in Damascus, and towns swallowed up in the earth including some destruction at Jericho. The death toll in Jerusalem numbered in the many thousands. Many buildings, among them the Al-Aqsa Mosque, were severely damaged. The town of Umm el Kanatir and its ancient synagogue were destroyed. There is also growing evidence that the quake produced a tsunami likely caused by an undersea landslide generated by the quake rather than directly from an upthrust below the ocean.
Of more serious consequence this fault poses a significant threat as the fault zone has experienced strong earthquakes which were recorded in 31 BC, 363 AD, 749 AD and 1033 AD, giving a periodicity of about 350 to 400 years. This would indicate that the area is well overdue for another quake and the strain over that near one thousand year period might unleash a substantially larger quake that the 749 AD event.
As many are aware, Iran has suffered some of the most devastating earthquakes in modern times. However most of these pale in comparison to this earthquake which occurred on the 22nd December 856 AD.
The earthquake had an apparent magnitude of 7.9 and at least 200,000 people were killed in the quake itself, this was compounded by the surrounding geology which magnified the meizoseismal area (area of maximum damage) which extended for about 350km along the southern edge of the eastern Alborz mountains of present-day Iran including parts of Tabaristan and Gorgan.
The earthquake&rsquos epicenter is estimated to be close to the city of Damghan, which was then the capital of the Persian province of Qumis. It is listed by the USGS as the sixth deadliest earthquake in recorded history. Many aftershocks happened in this region after the major quake and continued for several years with one exceptional aftershock centered in western Khurasan causing more destruction.
Iran lies within the complex zone of continental collision between the Arabian Plate and the Eurasian Plate, which extends from the Bitlis-Zagros belt in the south to the Greater Caucasus mountains, the Apsheron-Balkan Sill and the Kopet Dag mountains in the north. The epicentral area is located in the Alborz mountain range, in which oblique north-south shortening is accommodated by a combination of thrusting and sinistral (left-lateral) strike-slip faulting.
Again this is an area of intense study and the fault zone which caused this quake, the Astaneh Fault System, would seem to have a roughly 3,700 year periodicity.
Damage occurring along the Alborz included the towns of Ahevanu, Astan, Tash, Bastam and Shahrud, with almost all the villages in the area severely damaged or outright destroyed. Hecatompylos, now called &Scaronahr-e Qumis, the former capital of Parthia, was destroyed and totally abandoned after the quake. Half of Damghan and a third of the town of Bustam were also destroyed.
This Day In History: A Huge Earthquake devastates Southern Italy and Sicily (1908)
On this day in history the most destructive earthquake in European history is recorded. The center of the quake was in the sea between the Italian mainland and the island of Sicily. This area has been plagued by earthquakes since time immemorial and they have regularly killed many people and destroyed cities and towns. On this date in 1908, in the early morning, at approximately 5 am, a massive quake strikes the Straits of Messina. The earthquake was 7.5 on the Richter scale. The earthquake was so powerful that it caused the shoreline to sink some feet and the maps of the area had to be changed in the aftermath of the quake.
The earthquake leveled the cities of Messina in Sicily and Reggio di Calabria in the province of Calabria (toe of Italy). The earthquake also destroyed many smaller towns and villages. The housing in the region was poorly constructed and there were no regulations controlling where and how they were built. This meant that many buildings and dwellings collapsed and trapping the inhabitants inside. Countless people were killed in their beds by collapsing walls and roofs and more experienced the horror of being buried alive. The lucky ones simply ran out into the streets and the fields with only the clothes on their backs and all their possessions often lost. The earthquake also caused a massive tsunami, a huge wave that crashed far inland. The huge wave killed many who had survived the initial earthquake and prevented a relief operation. The area was devastated and basic supplies were in short supply. Up to 90% of Reggio di Calabria was destroyed and there occurred a similar level of destruction in Messina. The two cities are almost opposite each other across the Straits of Messina. The city of Reggio di Calabria still bears the scars of the earthquake. Following the earthquake, there were to be many more minor quakes and these brought down many ruins and killed many rescuers. Heavy storms made the rescue efforts very difficult as rains turned the area into a quagmire.
Earthquake damage to a Church in Messina (1908)
The earthquake is believed to have killed some 100,000 people, but the true figure will never be known. In 1693, over fifty thousand had been killed in an earthquake. In 1783 thousands of more people died in another devastating earthquake. In the 1980s southern Italy, especially the area around Naples was devastated by an earthquake that killed thousands. The earthquake of 1908 was so devastating because it struck before people had a chance to escape and when they were asleep.
This Day In History An Earthquake Killed Thousands In Iran (1990)
Today in History a terrible earthquake struck Iran. The epicenter of the earthquake was in the north fo Iran. The earthquake near the Caspian Sea kills between 40-50,000 thousand people and injures countless on this day in 1990.
The earthquake had a 7.7-magnitude. The quake destroyed many of the simple mud houses in the area. Many poorly built buildings simply collapsed and killed all the inhabitants. The earthquake was to be one of the most devastating in the region in modern times, the area has a long history of violent seismic activity. The earthquake hit just after midnight. Most people were asleep and did not have time to react to the disaster. This probably made the earthquake more devastating as if it happened by day many people could have escaped from their homes, which fell like houses of cards because of the tremors.
Rubble after the earthquake (1990)
The earthquake devastated a 20,000-square-mile area over two provinces. This area was mainly poor and the housing in the provinces was very poorly built. In towns. In some parts of the areas hit by the quake not a building was left standing and all the residents had been killed. The Iranian military was to the forefront of the relief efforts. Iran declared a national emergency and all the nations resources are deployed to help the many injured. The area hit by the quake was devastated and its infrastructure was severely damaged. The water supply was disrupted and many feared that this could lead to disease among the survivors of the quake. The Iranian government issues tents to the homeless and sets up camps for the many people displaced by the disaster.
To compound, the disaster a dam had burst. The dam had been badly damaged by the tremors. Farmland was flooded and many people lost their lives. Landslides became a major problem, not only killing people, destroying houses but also blocking roads. This meant that many people who had been trapped beneath the rubble of their homes could not receive help and suffocated under the rubble. One estimate is that the quake left almost 500,000 homeless.
Iran was not in a position to launch an extensive relief operation. The country had just ended a long war with Iraq and had only limited resources. Furthermore, the United States had imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic for the taking of American hostages in 1979. This meant that Iran was internationally isolated and it had a deep suspicion of the west, who it saw as its enemy, even at this critical time.
Worldwide relief efforts were undertaken. The Iranian government reluctantly accepted assistance from the United States. The country refused help from Israel and South Africa. Because of Iran&rsquos difficult relationship with many western countries, many relief workers from western nations were sent home early. This may have undermined the relief operation as they had critical skills that could have saved people and helped the many injured.
Listed below are all the 37 known earthquakes with an estimated magnitude of 8.5 or higher since 1500. Limited to a timeframe with enough data, this gives a rough estimate of its frequency per century. (The timeframe does not include outlying events like the earlier 1361 Shōhei earthquake and 869 Sanriku earthquake, both estimated to have magnitude ≥ 8.5.)
Prior to the development and deployment of seismographs – starting around 1900 – magnitudes can only be estimated, based on historical reports of the extent and severity of damage. 
|1||May 22, 1960||Valdivia, Chile||1960 Valdivia earthquake||9.4–9.6|
|2||March 27, 1964||Prince William Sound, Alaska, United States||1964 Alaska earthquake||9.2|
|3||December 26, 2004||Indian Ocean, Sumatra, Indonesia||2004 Indian Ocean earthquake||9.1–9.3|
|4||March 11, 2011||Pacific Ocean, Tōhoku region, Japan||2011 Tōhoku earthquake||9.1 |
|5||July 8, 1730||Valparaiso, Chile (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1730 Valparaiso earthquake||9.1–9.3 (est.) |
|6||November 4, 1952||Kamchatka, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union||1952 Kamchatka earthquakes||9.0 |
|7||August 13, 1868||Arica, Chile (then Peru)||1868 Arica earthquake||8.5–9.0 (est.)|
|8||January 26, 1700||Pacific Ocean, US and Canada (then claimed by the Spanish Empire and the British Empire)||1700 Cascadia earthquake||8.7–9.2 (est.)|
|9||April 2, 1762||Chittagong, Bangladesh (then Kingdom of Mrauk U)||1762 Arakan earthquake||8.8 (est.)|
|10||November 25, 1833||Sumatra, Indonesia (then part of the Dutch East Indies)||1833 Sumatra earthquake||8.8 (est.)|
|11||January 31, 1906||Ecuador – Colombia||1906 Ecuador–Colombia earthquake||8.8 |
|12||February 27, 2010||Offshore Maule, Chile||2010 Chile earthquake||8.8 |
|13||August 15, 1950||Assam, India – Tibet, China||1950 Assam–Tibet earthquake||8.7|
|14||October 28, 1707||Pacific Ocean, Shikoku region, Japan||1707 Hōei earthquake||8.7–9.3 (est.)|
|15||November 1, 1755||Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon, Portugal||1755 Lisbon earthquake||8.5–9.0|
|16||February 4, 1965||Rat Islands, Alaska, United States||1965 Rat Islands earthquake||8.7|
|17||October 28, 1746||Lima, Peru (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1746 Lima–Callao earthquake||8.6 (est.)|
|18||March 28, 1787||Oaxaca, Mexico (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1787 Mexico earthquake||8.6 (est.)|
|19||March 9, 1957||Andreanof Islands, Alaska, United States||1957 Andreanof Islands earthquake||8.6 |
|20||March 28, 2005||Sumatra, Indonesia||2005 Nias–Simeulue earthquake||8.6 |
|21||April 11, 2012||Indian Ocean, Sumatra, Indonesia||2012 Aceh earthquake||8.6|
|22||December 16, 1575||Valdivia, Chile (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1575 Valdivia earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|23||November 24, 1604||Arica, Chile (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1604 Arica earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|24||May 13, 1647||Santiago, Chile (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1647 Santiago earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|25||May 24, 1751||Concepción, Chile (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1751 Concepción earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|26||November 19, 1822||Valparaíso, Chile||1822 Valparaíso earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|27||February 20, 1835||Concepción, Chile||1835 Concepción earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|28||February 16, 1861||Sumatra, Indonesia||1861 Sumatra earthquake||8.5|
|29||May 9, 1877||Iquique, Chile (then Peru)||1877 Iquique earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|30||November 10, 1922||Atacama Region, Chile Catamarca Province, Argentina||1922 Vallenar earthquake||8.5 |
|31||February 1, 1938||Banda Sea, Indonesia (then part of the Dutch East Indies)||1938 Banda Sea earthquake||8.5 |
|32||October 13, 1963||Kuril Islands, Russia (USSR)||1963 Kuril Islands earthquake||8.5 |
|33||October 20, 1687||Lima, Peru (then part of the Spanish Empire)||1687 Peru earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|34||October 17, 1737||Kamchatka, Russia||1737 Kamchatka earthquakes||8.5 (est.)|
|35||June 15, 1896||Pacific Ocean, Tōhoku region, Japan||1896 Sanriku earthquake||8.5 (est.)|
|36||July 25, 1668||Shandong, China||1668 Shandong earthquake||8.5 (est.) |
|37||March 31, 1761||Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon, Portugal||1761 Portugal earthquake||8.5 (est.) |
|Century||Number with |
magnitude ≥ 8.5
Note that historical records are known to be incomplete. Earthquakes that occurred in remote areas prior to the advent of modern instrumentation in the early to mid 1900s were not well-reported, and exact locations and magnitudes of such events are often unknown. Therefore, the apparent increase in large earthquake frequency over the last few centuries is unlikely to be accurate.
- This list is a work in progress. Information is likely to be changed.
- The list refers to current country boundaries rather than those at the date of the earthquake.
- Please note, multiple countries could have the same earthquake listed, such as the 1906 Ecuador–Colombia earthquake being listed for both Ecuador and Colombia.
- Unless otherwise noted, magnitudes are reported on the Moment magnitude scale (Mw).
This is a list of major earthquakes by the dollar value of property (public and private) losses directly attributable to the earthquake. Rank values are assigned based on inflation-adjusted comparison of property damage in US dollars. Wherever possible, indirect and socioeconomic losses are excluded. Damage estimates for particular earthquakes may vary over time as more data becomes available.
|1||2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami||Japan||9.1 ||$235 billion  |
|2||1995 Great Hanshin earthquake||Japan||6.9||$200 billion |
|3||2008 Sichuan earthquake||Sichuan, China||8.0||$86 billion |
|4||2004 Chūetsu earthquake||Japan||6.8||$28 billion  |
|5||1999 İzmit earthquake||Turkey||7.6||$20 billion |
|6||2012 Emilia earthquakes||Italy||6.1 ||$15.8 billion |
|7||2011 Christchurch earthquake||South Island, New Zealand||6.3 ||$15–40 billion  |
|8||2010 Chile earthquake||Chile||8.8 ||$15–30 billion |
|9||1980 Irpinia earthquake||Italy||6.9 ||$15 billion |
|10||1994 Northridge earthquake||Los Angeles, United States||6.7||$13–44 billion|
|11||1976 Tangshan earthquake||Hebei, China||7.8||$10 billion |
|12||1999 Jiji earthquake||Taiwan||7.6||$10 billion|
|13||April 2015 Nepal earthquake||Nepal||7.8||$10 billion |
|14||1989 Loma Prieta earthquake||California, United States||6.9||$5.6–6 billion|
|15||1923 Great Kantō earthquake||Tokyo, Japan||7.9||$600 million |
|16||1906 San Francisco earthquake||San Francisco, United States||7.7 to 7.9 (est.) ||$400 million |
The following is a summary list of earthquakes with over approximately 100,000 deaths:
The 50 most studied earthquakes according to the International Seismological Centre (ISC), based on a count of scientific papers (mostly in English) that discuss that earthquake. The "Event #" is linked to the ISC Event Bibliography for that event.
|Rank||Event origin time||ISC Event #||Papers||ISC code||Event|
|1||2011-03-11 05:46:23||16461282||1519||TOHOKU2011||2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami|
|2||2008-05-12 06:27:59||13228121||1217||WENCHUAN2008||2008 Sichuan earthquake|
|3||2004-12-26 00:58:52||7453151||836||SUMATRA2004||2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami|
|4||1999-09-20 17:47:16||1718616||640||CHI-CHI1999||1999 Jiji earthquake|
|5||1994-01-17 12:30:54||189275||466||NORTHRIDGE1994||1994 Northridge earthquake|
|6||1995-01-16 20:46:51||124708||451||SHYOGO1995||Great Hanshin earthquake|
|7||1989-10-18 00:04:14||389808||424||LOMAPRIETA1989||1989 Loma Prieta earthquake|
|8||2009-04-06 01:32:42||13438018||420||LAQUILA2009||2009 L'Aquila earthquake|
|9||2010-02-27 06:34:13||14340585||392||MAULE2010||2010 Chile earthquake|
|10||1992-06-28 11:57:35||289086||383||LANDERS1992||1992 Landers earthquake|
|11||1999-08-17 00:01:38||1655218||361||IZMIT1999||1999 İzmit earthquake|
|12||2015-04-25 06:11:26||607208674||298||GORKHA2015||April 2015 Nepal earthquake|
|13||1964-03-28 03:36:13||869809||249||ALASKA1964||1964 Alaska earthquake|
|14||1985-09-19 13:17:50||516095||236||MEXICOCITY1985||1985 Mexico City earthquake|
|15||1960-05-22 19:11:20||879136||236||CHILE1960||1960 Valdivia earthquake|
|16||1971-02-09 14:00:40||787038||227||SANFERNANDO1971||1971 San Fernando earthquake|
|17||2001-01-26 03:16:40||1763683||221||BHUJ2001||2001 Gujarat earthquake|
|18||2010-09-03 16:35:46||15155483||216||DARFIELD2010||2010 Canterbury earthquake|
|19||1976-07-27 19:42:53||711732||195||TANGSHAN1976||1976 Tangshan earthquake|
|20||1976-05-06 20:00:12||713583||187||FRIULI1976||1976 Friuli earthquake|
|21||1980-11-23 18:34:52||635924||178||IRPINIA1980||1980 Irpinia earthquake|
|22||2003-09-25 19:50:07||7134409||177||TOKACHI-0KI2003||2003 Hokkaidō earthquake|
|23||2013-04-20 00:02:47||607304721||172||LUSHAN2013||2013 Lushan earthquake|
|24||2011-02-21 23:51:42||16168897||170||CHRISTCHURCH2011A||2011 Christchurch earthquake|
|25||2016-04-15 16:25:06||610289055||170||KUMAMOTO2016||2016 Kumamoto earthquakes|
|26||2004-09-28 17:15:24||7406045||166||PARKFIELD2004||Parkfield earthquake|
|27||2005-03-28 16:09:35||7486110||165||NIAS2005||2005 Nias–Simeulue earthquake|
|28||2004-10-23 08:55:58||7421058||162||MID-NIIGATA2004||2004 Chūetsu earthquake|
|29||2012-05-20 02:03:53||601025379||153||EMILIA2012A||2012 Northern Italy earthquakes|
|30||1999-10-16 09:46:45||1643776||150||HECTOR-MINE1999||1999 Hector Mine earthquake|
|31||2001-11-14 09:26:10||2331800||148||KUNLUN2001||2001 Kunlun earthquake|
|32||2005-10-08 03:50:35||7703077||144||KASHMIR2005||2005 Kashmir earthquake|
|33||2002-11-03 22:12:41||6123395||141||DENALI2002||2002 Denali earthquake|
|34||1988-12-07 07:41:24||417441||139||ARMENIA1988||1988 Armenian earthquake|
|35||1999-11-12 16:57:19||1650092||137||DUZCE1999||1999 Düzce earthquake|
|36||1979-10-15 23:16:57||657282||132||IMPERIAL1979||1979 Imperial Valley earthquake|
|37||2003-12-26 01:56:53||7217667||128||BAM2003||2003 Bam earthquake|
|38||1923-09-01 02:58:35||911526||127||KANTO1923||1923 Great Kantō earthquake|
|39||2010-01-12 21:53:10||14226221||125||HAITI2010||2010 Haiti earthquake|
|40||1983-05-26 02:59:58||577008||114||SEAOFJAPAN1983||1983 Sea of Japan earthquake|
|41||2012-05-29 07:00:04||605482196||111||EMILIA2012B||2012 Northern Italy earthquakes|
|42||1997-09-26 09:40:25||1043512||102||UMBRIA-MARCHE1997B||1997 Umbria and Marche earthquake|
|43||2000-10-06 04:30:17||1839998||100||TOTTORI2000||2000 Tottori earthquake|
|44||2008-06-13 23:43:46||13377361||97||IWATE-MIYAGI2008||2008 Iwate–Miyagi Nairiku earthquake|
|45||2007-07-16 01:13:21||12769769||96||CHUETSU-0KI2007||2007 Chūetsu offshore earthquake|
|46||2010-04-13 23:49:37||14573075||96||YUSHU 2010||2010 Yushu earthquake|
|47||1977-03-04 19:21:54||700695||96||ROMANIAN1977||1977 Vrancea earthquake|
|48||2011-10-23 10:41:22||17394270||91||VAN2011||2011 Van earthquakes|
|49||1975-02-04 11:36:05||731961||80||HAICHENG1975||1975 Haicheng earthquake|
|50||2007-03-25 00:41:57||11703278||73||NOTO-HANTO2007||2007 Noto earthquake|
modified from figure 2, "The most studied events", at the ISC's Overview of the ISC Event Bibliography.
Earthquake Rattles Northeast Iran, Injures 14
The earthquake rocked Sankhast town at 3:34 am local time, followed by at least 17 relatively strong aftershocks.
The quake has damaged dozens of houses in villages.
Director of the Iranian Red Crescent Society’s provincial office said at least 14 people have suffered injuries in the incident.
Rescue and relief teams have been deployed to the area.
Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, being crossed by several major fault lines that cover at least 90% of the country.
The deadliest quake in Iran's modern history happened in June 1990, devastating many areas in the northern province of Gilan and killing around 37,000 people.
In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake in the province of Kerman flattened the historic city of Bam, killing more than 26,000 people.
History's 10 Worst Earthquakes
The Daily Beast’s rundown of the most powerful, deadliest earthquakes ever.
The Daily Beast
The death toll continues to climb as Japan recovers from the most powerful quake in its recorded history and the towering tsunami that followed. Japan’s Kyodo News agency said between 200 and 300 bodies have been found on a beach in Sendai, the population center nearest the quake’s epicenter, and another 110 people have been confirmed dead elsewhere. But the agency said the death toll will likely surpass 1,000 . Read more and view photos of the devastation plus view shocking video from Japan's disaster zone.
Here The Daily Beast’s rundown of the most powerful, deadliest earthquakes ever.
The Shaanxi earthquake—also known as the Hua County earthquake—is the deadliest quake to date, resulting in approximately 830,000 deaths. On the morning of Jan. 23, 1556, it destroyed a 520-mile-wide area in China, killing 60 percent of the population in some of the 97 affected counties. One witness writes, “Mountains and rivers changed places and roads were destroyed. In some places, the ground suddenly rose up and formed new hills, or it sank abruptly and became new valleys.” Because a majority of civilians were living in yaodongs, or artificial caves in loess cliffs, fatalities reached an all-time high as the caves collapsed, killing those inside. Modern estimates predict the magnitude was around 8.0, not a record high, but the earthquake still ranks third on the list of deadliest natural disasters in history.
Although some say there were early warnings of the Tangshan earthquake, it hit Chinese civilians unexpectedly at 3:42 a.m. on July 28, 1976, shaking people from their beds and leveling the entire city in a matter of seconds. The 7.8-magnitude quake killed more than 240,000 people, leaving survivors without access to water, food, or electricity. Relief workers also caused an accidental traffic jam on the only drivable road, and although 80 percent of those stuck under the rubble were saved, a 7.1-magnitude aftershock struck the afternoon of the 28th, killing many more and cutting off access to those trying to provide aid, making it one of the deadliest quakes of the 20th century.
The Haiyuan earthquake hit Dec. 16, 1920, killing more than 73,000 in China’s Haiyuan County and approximately 127,000 in surrounding areas. The 7.8-magnitude quake—reported as 8.5 magnitude by Chinese news sources—caused nearly all of the houses to collapse in Longde and Huining, with damages in seven provinces and regions, including dammed rivers, landslides, and severe cracks in the ground. Seiches were even observed in various lakes and fjords in Norway. Aftershocks from the earthquake occurred as long as three years later, but the effects did not come close to the severity of the first.
Set in a nest of fault lines in northern Syria, Aleppo—now known as Halab—was hit with an 8.5-magnitude earthquake in 1138, jolting areas as far as 200 miles away from the city. The most damage was seen in Harem, where crusaders had built a large citadel that was crumbled below the castle, killing 600 castle guards at the time. Although residents of Aleppo were warned by foreshocks and some fled to the countryside, the quake was much larger than anticipated, and the city and all homes surrounding it were brought to the ground.
Indian Ocean Earthquake
Underwater earthquakes are believed to be the most dangerous because they can create tsunamis and tidal waves, which is exactly what happened on Dec. 26, 2004, when the Indian Ocean earthquake wreaked havoc on India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand—and beyond. With a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3, this earthquake is the second largest ever recorded, and it also had the longest duration, lasting between eight and 10 minutes. Devastating tsunamis hit land masses bordering the ocean, prompting a widespread humanitarian response. Initially, reports said the quake killed approximately 100,000, but later calculations showed it resulted in more than 230,000 deaths.
In 856, in the area we now know as Iran, an earthquake of 8.0 magnitude hit the capital city of Damghan, destroying the city, countryside, and nearly every village within 200 miles of the epicenter. Situated between two major tectonic plates, Iran is an area of frequent earthquake activity, but residents of Damghan were unprepared for a temblor of this magnitude. The quake resulted in approximately 200,000 deaths.
Another Iranian earthquake hit Feb. 28, 1997, when the 15-second quake rippled through northern Iran, with deaths tallying up to 150,000. There was severe damage to roads and electrical power lines, and all communications and water distribution became near impossible, leaving the city of Ardabil in a state of desperation. Hospitals overflowed with patients, and even as it tried to recover, the area was hit with nearly 350 aftershocks, the highest recorded at 5.2 on the Richter scale.
In 1730, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake hit Japan’s second largest island, Hokkaido, causing landslides, power outages, road damage, and a tsunami causing 137,000 fatalities. The island was struck by a similar, though not as intense, earthquake in 2003.
The 7.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, in 1948 tore much of the city down, collapsing almost all of its brick buildings, heavily damaging concrete structures, and derailing freight trains with effects felt across the border in the Darreh Gaz region of Iran. The Turkmen government has upwardly revised the official death toll from 110,000 to 176,000 the quake also killed the mother of future dictator Saparmurat Niyazov and resulted in his placement in a Soviet orphanage, an important component of the former leader’s self-mythology.
Great Kanto Earthquake
The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 devastated Tokyo and Yokohama, causing huge fires and resulting in as many as 142,000 deaths, but it may be best remembered for its horrific aftermath, when rumors that Koreans were looting businesses and poisoning wells led to the deaths of an estimated 2,500 non-Japanese immigrants. The Japanese government has heavily funded disaster preparation ever since, holding “Disaster Prevention Day” on Sept. 1, the Kanto quake’s anniversary.
Acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has fictionally incorporated the earthquake and its effects on northern Iran into multiple films of his. In And Life Goes On (1992), a director and his son search for child actors from a previous Kiarostami film Where Is the Friend's Home? (1986), which was shot in a city that, by the time of the second film's production, is recovering from the earthquake. Kiarostami's next film Through the Olive Trees (1994) follows a film crew as they shoot scenes from Life, and Nothing More. in one of these scenes a man discusses his marriage having taken place a day after the earthquake. Critics and scholars often refer to these three films as the Koker trilogy, and rank them among the director's finest works.
- ^ abc ISC (19 January 2015), ISC-GEM Global Instrumental Earthquake Catalogue (1900–2009), Version 2.0, International Seismological Centre
- ^Berberian et al. 1992, pp. 1752, 1753
- ^ abcd
- USGS (September 4, 2009), PAGER-CAT Earthquake Catalog, Version 2008_06.1, United States Geological Survey
- ^Berberian et al. 1992, p. 1731
- Berberian, M. Qorashi, M. Jackson, J. A. Priestley, K. Wallace, T. (1992), "The Rudbar-Tarom earthquake of 20 June 1990 in NW Persia: Preliminary field and seismological observations, and its tectonic significance", Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 82 (4): 1726–1755
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Massive Earthquake Devastates Iran, Killing 15,000 and Destroying Towns
IRAN--At least 15,000 people have died in a severe earthquake that struck Iran Saturday night at 7:38 p.m. local time, demolishing 40 villages and badly damaging 60 others.
Rescue workers in Iran said yesterday they feared the official death toll would exceed 15,000 because they have not yet received reports from remote areas of the country, where thousands are believed buried under the rubble. Officials added many people may be trapped alive in the ruins.
The worst damage occurred in the ancient city of Tabas, where the earthquake registered the most severe tremors. Observers in Tabas said yesterday the city was completely flattened, as most of the city's buildings were completely destroyed in the warthquake.
The quake killed an estimated three-fourths of Tabas' 13,000 inhabitants. Most of the survivors were seriously injured, and many flew to Tehran for treatment.
The earthquake affected two-thirds of the country, shaking buildings as far away as those in the capital city of Tehran, 400 miles from the center of the earthquake.
The Iranian army sent 700 soldiers, four medical teams and many rescue workers to help house 1000 survivors in tents along Tabas' airport runway. Planes dispatched by the Iranian air force maintained an airlift of blankets, food, water, tents and medical supplies.
One eyewitness said yesterday of the damage, "Tabas has become a mound of rubble, bent iron beams and dirt."
The city, on the edge of the Iranian desert, is an agricultural center in a region which produces dates, grains, and oranges.
Iranian officials said yesterday the casualty rate may be very high because many people in the smaller villages go to bed earlier and were trapped in their homes when the earthquake struck.
New tremors continued to shake Iran yesterday, as many residents feared a second earthquake.
In addition to the damage inflicted on Tabas, Iranian officials said yesterday the earthquake destroyed at least 80 per cent of the town of Firdaus, about 100 miles east of Tabas. The officials could not estimate the death toll in Firdaus.
The earthquake also struck the towns of Isfahan, Kerman, Rafsanjan, and many other towns and villages near the Kaveer Desert.
The earthquake reached 7.7 on the Richter scale. The Richter scale is a measure of ground motion recorded on seismographs. Every increase of one number means a ten-fold increase in the magnitude of the earthquake.
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi declared a three-day mourning period, and the government radio broadcast readings from the Koran.
The Shah and his wife, Empress Fara, appealed to Iranians to contribute to a relief fund. Tens of thousands of Iranians remain homeless after the earthquake, and government officials expressed concern that the severely cold nights and hot days would endanger the health of those remaining without shelter.
The earthquake comes shortly after another national disaster in Iran--a theater fire that killed hundreds of people. The fire set off rioting throughout Iran to protest the Shah's government.
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