Hang On! The World’s Most Lethal Earthquakes in Human History

If you live on the West Coast of the United States, in parts of China, or in other parts of the world that are prone to earthquakes, then you’ve most likely experienced one or two.Most smaller earthquakes are semi-routine and you push the possibility of a huge one out of your mind and go on living.

However, people in parts of the world where earthquakes aren’t very prominent feel that earthquakes are terrifying.

Well, they’re certainly nothing to be taken lightly – especially the big ones. The largest earthquake ever to be recorded was not the deadliest; there was one other in recorded history that took more lives, and beats any other quake by large margin.

1. Shaanxi Earthquake (January 23, 1556); Death toll 830,000

The deadliest quake ever occurred in Shaanxi, China and measured about 8.2 on the Richter scale. It was so massive that it affected people and structures that were over 300 miles away. About 60% of the population in the areas affected died as a result of the quake. This massive destruction killed an estimated 820,000 to 830,000 people.

2. Indian Ocean Earthquake (December 26, 2004); Death toll 300,000

This is one that should still be fresh in your mind. You may recall waking up the day after Christmas and hearing all about it or reading it in the newspaper. This colossal event, which took place just before 1:00 a.m. measured as a 9.3 earthquake on the Richter scale. It actually occurred in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but affected many countries.

An overwhelming tsunami with waves as high as 100 feet invaded the coastal areas of 11 countries and killed hundreds of thousands of people. This immense tremor from the earth was the longest ever recorded in history, and said to have lasted eight to ten minutes.

This quake triggered additional earthquakes and after shocks as far away as Alaska. The largest “aftershock” was truly large enough to be considered its own earthquake and measured as 8.7. Though the death toll climbed for quite a while after the devastation, the estimated total amount of people killed was around 300,000.

3. Tangshan Earthquake (July 28, 1976); Death toll over 240,000

At 3:42 a.m. on the morning of July 28, 1976, a tragic earthquake struck Tangshan in the northeast portion of China. Unlike most earthquakes, this one had no foreshocks, so people didn’t know it was coming. There were other subtle warning signs, but they were ignored.

Because no one anticipated this quake and also because the buildings in the area weren’t built to withstand them, the city was basically leveled. Unfortunately, rescue crews couldn’t get in to rescue survivors that were trapped under rubble because there was only one road not in ruins.

With a 7.8 seismic reading and a tremor that lasted 14 to 16 seconds, the effects of this quake were disastrous. The official death toll associated with this tragedy was 242,419.

4. Aleppo Earthquake (October 11, 1138); Death toll estimated at 230,000

Due to the early date of this earthquake, no one is sure precisely what the magnitude was, but it has been determined that it was over 7.0 on the Richter scale. The quake hit near a town called Aleppo located in northern Syria. A foreshock the day before alerted local residents, so  they fled the area.

The next day, the massive earthquake hit the area destroying buildings and structures all over the area. Areas around Aleppo were also hit hard and the quake allegedly could be felt from over 200 miles away. The total number of deaths is unknown but has been estimated at around 230,000.

5. Damghan, Persia (Iran) Earthquake (December 22, 856); Death toll of about 200,000

This devastating quake hit the area of Damghan, Persia, which we know today as Iran. Though we can’t be certain, the magnitude of the earthquake is thought to have been around an 8.0. This event was so catastrophic that it affected and destroyed not only that local area, but damaged areas and killed people within about a 100 mile radius of Damghan.

6. Haiyuan Earthquake (December 16, 1920); Death toll 200,000

At about 8:06 p.m. local time on December 16th, one of the largest and most tragic events ever to happen in China occurred. This earthquake caused a series of aftershocks that lasted for three years. There’s a discrepancy in the magnitude of the earthquake, but the official seismic reading was 7.8. Though Chinese media claims that the quake was of a magnitude of 8.5, this has never been verified. Damage and death was spread among seven different provinces.

7. Ardabil, Persia (Iran) Earthquake (March 23, 893); Death toll 150,000

Less than 40 years after the major earthquake in Damghan, a nearby region was hit almost as hard. Not much confirmed information is known about this disaster, but the the quake was said to have taken about 150,000 lives.

8. Ashgabat Earthquake (October 5, 1948); Death toll 110,000

With a seismic magnitude of 7.3, the earthquake of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (which was the Soviet Union back then) destroyed nearly everything in this town. There was also damage in northern Iran due to this quake as well. Many sources thought that the death toll was only 10,000, but the confirmed death toll, released in 1988, is 110,000.

9. Great Kanto Earthquake (September 1, 1923); Death toll 105,000

At 11:58 a.m. local time on September 1st, a major earthquake struck the Kanto plain located on the Japanese island of Honshu. With a magnitude of 8.3, the quake lasted between 4 and 10 minutes and did an immense amount of damage.

To give you an idea of just how intense this earthquake is, you should know that it caused a 93 ton statue of Buddha to move. It slid almost two feet!

10. The Great Lisbon Earthquake (November 1, 1755); Death toll around 80,000

The affects of this quake, located in Lisbon, Portugal, were widespread over all of Europe and some other parts of the world as well. Not only was the earthquake devastating, but it also happened on a very religious holiday in Portugal at the time, All Souls Day. The initial shaking of the main quake lasted about 10 minutes. Tremendous shaking was felt in North Africa, which caused many losses of life. Moderate shaking and damage was felt in Algiers, Spain, France, Northern Italy, and Switzerland.

Many people that survived the initial quake looked for refuge along the coast. This turned out to be not such a safe area since about a half an hour after the quake, a tsunami hit with three distinct waves. These hit the shore bringing people and debris out to sea with it. The highest wave was said to have been about 100 feet high, and caused damage in Portugal, Spain, and Morocco.

For days following the main quake, several aftershocks occurred triggering massive firs in Lisbon and surrounding areas. Total death toll amounts are reported as anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 people.

Next time you experience a small quake, just hope and pray that it never turns out to be as bad as these!

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