The Top 10 Largest Earthquakes Ever Recorded

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Earthquakes are a natural disaster that occurs because of the sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust. Seismic waves are created and the tremors that are felt can be measured by seismometers. Earthquakes are measured based on their magnitude (the Richter scale). There have only been a couple that registered over a magnitude of 9.0 on the seismometer. An earthquake with a magnitude greater than 9.0 is an extreme natural disaster and are very rare.

Here’s a countdown of the 10 largest earthquakes ever recorded:

10. Assam – Tibet Earthquake on August 15, 1950

assam tibet earthquake

The epicenter of the 1950 Assam-Tibet Earthquake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were at least 780 people who died in this 8.6 magnitude earthquake. Many buildings completely collapsed in areas of eastern Tibet. Landslides and ground cracks/fractures ended up washing away an entire village. The village of Yedong collapsed into the Yarlung Zangbo River and literally washed away.

About 70 villages ended up being destroyed during this massive earthquake, mostly due to landslides. The landslides ended up blocking the Subansiri River and creating a natural dam, which broke just eight days later killing over 500 people.

9. Sumatra Earthquake (aka Nias Earthquake) on March 28, 2005

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An epicentre map of the March 28, 2005 earthquake off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, was a devastating earthquake that killed about 1300 people. A majority of the devastation occurred on the island of Nias. The massive earthquake sparked a panic around countries along the Indian Ocean because there was a massive tsunami just three months earlier in December. The earthquake only created a small tsunami, however, and only moderate damage was caused.

8. Rat Islands, Alaska Earthquake on February 4, 1965

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Rat Island, Aleutian Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This earthquake was recorded at a magnitude of 8.7 and caused a big tsunami of over 10 m on Shemya Island. It barely caused any damage, though. Just two months after the initial shock, an aftershock earthquake at a magnitude of 7.6 hit the same area.

7. Coast of Ecuador – Earthquake on January 31, 1906

ecuador earthquake 1906

The epicenter of the 1906 earthquake off the coast of Ecuador (Photo credit: earthquake.usgs.gov)

Just off the coast of Ecuador, a catastrophic earthquake that, at the time, was calculated at an 8.2 magnitude generated a massive tsunami that killed up to 1500 people. All along the coast of Central America the tsunami was observed. In Columbia, the tsunami was 5 m and killed over 500 people just in their city. San Francisco and San Diego reported sightings of the tsunami.

6. Chile Earthquake on February 27, 2010

chile earthquake 2010

A building with severe earthquake damage in Maipu, Santiago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 2010 Chile earthquake ranks as the sixth largest earthquake to have ever been recorded on a seismograph. Recorded at a magnitude of 8.8, the shaking was felt at an intense level across six regions of Chile. Nearly 80% of the population is made up of the six regions that felt the earthquake. Several coastal towns in south- central Chile were damaged by the tsunami that was triggered by the earthquake.

It is estimated that the losses faced by the economy of Chile added up to $15 to $30 billion and the insurance industry in Chile took a hit of between $4 and $7 billion.

5. Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia on November 4, 1952

kamchatka peninsula earthquakes

A map showing earthquakes in and around Russia since 1900, showing a high level of seismic activity in the Kamchatka peninsula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was the first ever earthquake that was recorded with a magnitude of 9.0 or higher. In Hawaii, a severe tsunami hit as a result of the Kamchatka earthquake. There was nearly a million dollars in property damage, but fortunately no lives were lost, although boats, piers, and roads were all destroyed along the coastal fronts.

4. Honshu, Japan on March 11, 2011

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A helicopter flies over the damage in Sendai. Black smoke can be seen rising from the Nippon Oil refinery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck near the east coast of Honshu, Japan, triggering a tsunami that killed about 29,000 people and damaged some nuclear reactors in the area. This is the largest earthquake that has ever been recorded in Japan. On Honshu, there are still aftershocks from this original earthquake, adding up to more than 50 that have been greater than a magnitude 6.0 and 3 that were higher than magnitude 7.0.

3. Northern Sumatra Indian Ocean earthquake on December 26, 2004

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Tsunami striking Ao Nang, Thailand as a result of the earthquake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The giant earthquake of 2004 in Sumatra ruptured the longest fault length that has ever been recorded at over 900 miles. The rupture in the earth caused the ocean floor to spring back and lift up, creating a series of tsunami waves that pounded Sumatra, Thailand, and other countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. Some of the waves were over 100 feet tall.

2. Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 27, 1964

Great Alaskan Earthquake

Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska after the Great Alaskan Earthquake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This earthquake, just southeast of Anchorage, Alaska (the capitol), was a magnitude 9.2 and its effects were felt heavily in towns surrounding the area. The earthquake and tsunami took 128 lives and caused over $300 million in property damage and loss.

Anchorage felt the worst of the earthquake and suffered the most property damages. Houses, buildings, schools, and other structures were all devastated; some beyond repair. The tsunami was the most intense part of this earthquake, sending waves of up to 67 meters towards shore.

1. Valdivia, Chile on May 22, 1960

valdivia earthquake 1960

A street in Valdivia following the 1960 quake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re ever wondered “what is the biggest earthquake ever recorded”, this is it. The largest earthquake ever recorded was in Chile in 1960 and it was recorded at a magnitude 9.5. It is said that 1,655 people were found dead and over 3,000 were injured. Two million citizens of Chile were left homeless after this natural disaster.

In Hawaii, the tsunamis that came from the earthquake caused 61 deaths and waves as high as 5.5 meters destroyed over 1,600 homes. Before the giant earthquake, 4 foreshocks occurred that were higher than a magnitude 7.0. One of these was a magnitude 7.9 and caused serious damage to the Concepcion area. The aftershocks were severe, too, with 5 of them being higher than a magnitude 7.0. This earthquake in Chile is the largest one recorded in the 20th century. The rupture zone of the earthquake is estimated at about 1000 kilometers long, stretching from Lebu to Puerto Aisen.


6 Comments

  1. Ed Warmus

    October 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    “Stalking Gaia” reveals the connection between earthquakes and world wars.

  2. Yo mama

    March 20, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Lol

  3. Mike Unt

    May 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Anchorage isn’t the capital of alaska

  4. ANGRYKHUNT

    May 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Lol

  5. alexander beck

    September 17, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Good article

  6. alexander beck

    September 17, 2014 at 2:50 pm

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