Science News:The 25 Biggest Earthquakes Ever Recorded

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Contrary to popular belief, floods and droughts kill more Americans than hurricanes or earthquakes. Globally, however, earthquakes comprise some of the deadliest natural disasters in history.

In 1556, the Shaanxi Province earthquake in the People’s Republic of China killed an estimated 830,000 people, making it the deadliest earthquake on record. As a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, it is not one of the biggest in history. But, it caused large-scale destruction for two reasons: weak structural integrity of homes in the area and Shaanxi’s location near three major fault lines.

To estimate the magnitudes for earthquakes before the introduction of modern seismic measurement techniques, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey analyze various factors — including, but not limited to, estimated damage, location of the epicenter and nearby fault lines.

Thankfully, not all large earthquakes occur in highly inhabited areas, so death tolls rarely compare to the Shaanxi earthquake. Using data from the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC), the experts at FindTheData identified the 25 biggest earthquakes ever recorded. The largest earthquake had a 9.5 magnitude, and even No. 25, an Alaskan earthquake in 1957, was measured as an 8.6.

To give these chart-topping earthquakes context, the following slides visually depict the seismic activity of their respective countries both 20 years before and after. As one would imagine, these regions tend to experience more earthquakes in general. We have also included information on the damage done in dollars, deaths, structures and injuries. If we did not have a specific data point, it is not listed.

Though earthquakes might not be the biggest threat to most Americans, they incur heavy costs — both in mortality and financially — worldwide.

#25. Alaska

Location: Alaska
Date: March 9, 1957
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Deaths: 2

#24. Alaska: Unimak Island

Location: Alaska: Unimak Island
Date: April 1, 1946
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Damage (in millions): $26.046
Total Deaths: 167

#23. Indonesia: N Sumatra: Off West Coast

Location: Indonesia: N Sumatra: Off West Coast
Date: April 11, 2012
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Deaths: 10

#22. Peru: Trujillo, Piura, Santa

Location: Peru: Trujillo, Piura, Santa
Date: February 14, 1619
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Deaths: 350

#21. Ecuador: Off Coast

Location: Ecuador: Off Coast
Date: January 31, 1906
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Deaths: 1,000

#20. Indonesia: Sumatera: Sw

Location: Indonesia: Sumatera: Sw
Date: March 28, 2005
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Deaths: 1,313
Houses Destroyed: 300

#19. India-China

Location: India-China
Date: August 15, 1950
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Damage (in millions): $20
Total Deaths: 1,530

#18. Algeria: Algiers

Location: Algeria: Algiers
Date: May 1716
Magnitude: 8.6
Total Deaths: 20,000

#17. Peru

Location: Peru
Date: 1513
Magnitude: 8.7

#16. Greece: S

Location: Greece: S
Date: April 16, 1514
Magnitude: 8.7

#15. Japan: Off East Coast Honshu

Location: Japan: Off East Coast Honshu
Date: June 5, 1898
Magnitude: 8.7

#14. Alaska: Aleutian Islands: Rat Islands

Location: Alaska: Aleutian Islands: Rat Islands
Date: February 4, 1965
Magnitude: 8.7
Total Damage: $10,000

#13. New Zealand: Wellington

Location: New Zealand: Wellington
Date: September 21, 1897
Magnitude: 8.7

#12. Chile: Valparaiso

Location: Chile: Valparaiso
Date: July 8, 1730
Magnitude: 8.7
Total Deaths: 5

#11. Philippines: Mindanao, Zamboanga, Sulu, Isabela

Location: Philippines: Mindanao, Zamboanga, Sulu, Isabela
Date: September 21, 1897
Magnitude: 8.7
Total Deaths: 13

#10. Chile: Atacama

Location: Chile: Atacama
Date: November 11, 1922
Magnitude: 8.7
Total Deaths: 700

#9. Peru: Pueblo De Torata In Tacna

Location: Peru: Pueblo De Torata In Tacna
Date: February 6, 1716
Magnitude: 8.8

#8. Missouri: New Madrid

Location: Missouri: New Madrid
Date: February 7, 1812
Magnitude: 8.8

#7. Chile: Maule, Concepcion, Talcahuano

Location: Chile: Maule, Concepcion, Talcahuano
Date: February 27, 2010
Magnitude: 8.8
Total Damage (in millions): $30,000
Total Deaths: 558

#6. Cascadia Subduction Zone

Location: Cascadia Subduction Zone
Date: January 27, 1700
Magnitude: 9

#5. Russia: Kamchatka Peninsula

Location: Russia: Kamchatka Peninsula
Date: November 4, 1952
Magnitude: 9
Total Deaths: 4,000

#4. Japan: Honshu

Location: Japan: Honshu
Date: March 11, 2011
Magnitude: 9
Total Damage (in millions): $220,085
Total Deaths: 18,482
Houses Destroyed: 127,511

#3. Indonesia: Suamatra: Off West Coast

Location: Indonesia: Sumatra: Off West Coast
Date: December 26, 2004
Magnitude: 9.1
Total Damage (in millions): $10,000
Total Deaths: 227,899

#2. Alaska

Location: Alaska
Date: March 28, 1964
Magnitude: 9.2
Total Damage (in millions): $400
Total Deaths: 139

#1. Chile: Puerto Montt, Valdivia

Location: Chile: Puerto Montt, Valdivia
Date: May 22, 1960
Magnitude: 9.5
Total Damage (in millions): $1,000
Total Deaths: 2,223
Houses Destroyed: 58,622

Learn More About Earthquakes on FindTheData

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