Earthquake that destroyed Tokyo last week, caused a tsunami, and then the eruption of the volcano, just one in a string of disasters that have befallen in the history of humans on our planet. We present you the ten most terrible earthquakes of all time most of which occurred in shaken Asia.
Shaanxi, China 1556
The deadliest quake of all time might be one of the least talked about, considering it occurred nearly 450 years ago. Centered in China’s central Shaanxi province, the 1556 quake claimed the lives of some 830,000 people. Why the massive death toll? Blame the quake’s strength (8.0 on the Richter scale, or more than 30 times more powerful than the recent quake in Haiti) as well as timing and location. The pre-modern structures were utterly unable to withstand a quake of such force, and massive landslides contributed to the casualties. All told, an area some 500 miles wide was wiped out.
Tangshan, China 1976
China has the misfortune to have had the second deadliest earthquake on record, the 1976 Great Tangshan Earthquake, which struck in the country’s northeast. It’d be more accurate to call this a binary quake: an aftershock that struck 16 hours after the initial temblor measured an identical 7.8 on the Richter scale and was equally destructive. Death estimates are hard to pin down — initial reports placed the toll at nearly 700,000, but those have since been revised down to some 250,000. Compounding the massive casualty count was the decision by the Chinese government to accept no international aid in the aftermath of the quakes.
Indian Ocean Tsunami 2004
On Dec. 26, 2004 a 9.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the bottom of the Indian Ocean, releasing energy equivalent to that of 23,000 atomic bombs. The largest earthquake in 40 years, the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake (so named because the epicenter was near the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra) launched a tsunami across the Indian Ocean, sending a series of waves as high as 50 feet crashing onto the shores of 11 countries. Some people were swept out to sea while others drowned in their homes, unable to escape. According to the U.S. Geological survey, the official death toll was 227,898.
Haiyuan, China 1920
The Dec. 16, 1920 Haiyuan earthquake — which registered a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale — caused rivers to change course and sent landslides pouring down mountains. Destruction stretched across seven Chinese provinces. Sujiahe, a town in in Xiji County, was completely buried under a landslide. An estimated 200,000 people died in the disaster, which was felt as far away as Norway.
Kanto, Japan 1923
Shortly before noon on September 1, 1923, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale sent shockwaves through the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area. The violent tremors left few buildings habitable and prompted a tsunami that surged up to 40 ft. (12 m.) high. But the damage continued for days: by the time the fires stemming from the quake were contained, 90% of Yokohama’s buildings were reportedly damaged or in ruins, and some two-fifths of Tokyo’s had been destroyed — leaving half its population homeless. Nearly 143,000 people died.
In a matter of minutes, an October earthquake measuring 7.3 turned the city of Ashgabat into a pile of rubble. A thousand Soviet doctors, nurses and other medical personnel flooded in from Moscow and other cities to aid sufferers in what is now Turkmenistan. Despite their efforts, 110,000 people perished.
Sichuan Province, China 2008
Over 87,00 people died in China’s deadly 2008 earthquake, and an estimated 10 million were left homeless. The 7.9-magnitude disaster struck the mountainous Sichuan Province in western China, destroying millions of buildings and causing an estimated $86 billion worth of damage. Nearly 10,000 children died in schools — trapped under rubble when the buildings collapsed — leading to public outcry and a government investigation that found that as many as 20 percent of primary schools may have been shoddily constructed and unsafe. Grieving parents’ initial calls for justice, however, have been silenced to a large extent by intimidation and alleged payoffs.
Kashmir, Pakistan 2005
Kashmir, the site of a prolonged and violent border dispute between India and Pakistan, is beleaguered enough; a massive earthquake on Oct. 8, 2005 only added to the province’s woes. Measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, the quake killed 79,000 and left millions more homeless. The remote, mountainous terrain compounded problems for rescue and recovery efforts, as crews struggled to reach the injured.
Messina, Italy 1908
By today’s standards, the earthquake that struck beneath the Messina Strait — which separates the regions of Sicily and Calabria — on December 28, 1908, was a magnitude 7.5. A subsequent tsunami sent waves as much as 40 feet high crashing into the Italian coast. More than 80,000 people were killed and dozens of towns destroyed. Refugees from Messina were relocated to cities throughout Italy. Many were eventually transported to North America, aboard ships like the Florida — which, before reaching New York City, collided with another vessel, killing three already traumatized Italian passengers.
Chimbote, Peru 197o
The Great Peruvian Earthquake hit the coastal town of Chimbote, Peru on May 31, 1970 — measuring a 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale. The epicenter of the quake was 15 miles away from the city, in the Pacific Ocean, yet the disaster claimed the lives of some 70,000 people and left more than 800,000 homeless. Landslides, with debris traveling at speeds of up to 200 mph down the sides of the Navado Huascaran mountain, destroyed whole villages. Tremors could be felt in Lima — some 400 miles away.