According to seismologists, 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes are detected every year around the world. Not all of them result in massive casualties. Even some of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded on the Richter magnitude scale were not as deadly as those of lower magnitudes. Here we take a look at the top 10 biggest earthquakes that wreaked havoc and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Top 10 biggest earthquakes ever recorded
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan was of 9.0 magnitude on the scale, making it one of the biggest quakes ever recorded. But it doesn’t appear on this list because the number of people killed (about 29,000) is far less than the fatalities caused by many others throughout the recorded history.
The accurate recording of seismic activities began only after the development of the Richter scale in the 1930s. But humans have been recording earthquakes and their impacts for more than 4,000 years.
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10- Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (5th Oct, 1948)
The capital of Turkmenistan suffered a massive earthquake that destroyed almost all the brick buildings in Ashgabat as well as neighboring villages. The quake was estimated to be of 7.3 magnitude. It was so strong that the impact was felt in neighboring Iran. According to the official records, the death toll was above 110,000.
9- Great Tokyo Earthquake, Japan (1st Sept, 1923)
The Kanto region in Japan‘s main Honshu island is where Tokyo and Yokohama are located. An earthquake of 7.9 magnitude wreaked havoc in Tokyo, Yokohama, and neighboring areas, resulting into more than 142,800 deaths. The firestorms following the quake damaged almost 400,000 houses.
8- Ardabil, Iran (23rd March, 893)
More than a thousand years ago, one of the largest cities in Iran was hit by a massive earthquake that killed about 150,000 people and destroyed the city of Ardabil. Its magnitude is not known. The same region in Iran was hit by another strong quake in 1997.
7- Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi, China (16th Dec. 1920)
Famously known as the ‘1920 Haiyuan Earthquake,’ it completely destroyed the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area in the Ningxia Province of China. It registered a 7.8 magnitude on Richter scale. It was so strong that the devastation stretched across seven different provinces. The Haiyuan earthquake sent landslides pouring down mountains and caused rivers to change course. Massive landslides buried whole villages, and almost all houses in several towns were completely destroyed. It is estimated to have killed about 200,000 people.
6- Damghan, Iran (22nd Dec, 856)
An earthquake of estimated magnitude 8.0 struck a 200 miles area of Iran on 22nd December, 856. Its epicenter was traced to Damghan, the capital city in the north central part of Iran. Most of Damghan and neighboring areas were destroyed. About one-third of the town of Bustam was ruined. The quake was caused by the Alpide earthquake belt, one of the most seismically active areas in the world. The estimated death toll was above 200,000.
5- Haiti (12th Jan, 2010)
Haiti suffered one of the most devastating seismic activities in recent memory. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010 destroyed the capital city of Port-au-Prince. More than 222,500 people were killed and another 300,000 were injured. About 1.3 million people were displaced. According to the United Nations, about 80,000 buildings in Port-au-Prince and neighboring areas were destroyed.
4- Northern Sumatra, Indonesia (26th Dec. 2004)
This is one of the biggest earthquakes humanity has ever seen. I was in Chennai, India when it occurred (I was a teenager back then) and have seen the devastation first-hand. Horrible, just horrible! The 9.1 magnitude earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia triggered an enormous tsunami that affected several countries including Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India. It killed more than 227,000 people and nearly 1.7 million were displaced.
3- Aleppo, Syria (9th Aug. 1138)
A massive earthquake of unknown magnitude in 1138 killed about 230,000 people in the second largest city of Syria. The walls of the houses across Aleppo crumbled to the ground, as were several forts and citadels. It was followed by a series of minor quakes for over a year.
2- Tangshan, China (27th July, 1976)
The Great Tangshan Earthquake of 7.5 magnitude razed the industrial city of Tangshan, which is only about 70 miles east of Beijing. The official death toll is 255,000, but several estimates suggest as many as 650,000 people died in the earthquake. It was the deadliest earthquake of the 20th century that flattened an entire city.
1- Shaanxi, China (23rd January, 1556)
The deadliest earthquake in recorded history occurred in the Shaanxi Province of China in 1556. It is estimated to have killed more than 830,000 people. Local annals and historical records refer to it as the Jiajing Great Earthquake because it occurred during Emperor Jiajing’s rule. It caused floods, brought down mountains, and triggered fires that burned for several days. About 60% of the population was wiped out in several counties. After the development of the Richter scale, scientists estimated that the Shaanxi earthquake had the intensity of 8.0 to 8.3. It’s not the strongest, but it’s definitely the deadliest because the death toll is much higher than any other earthquake in recorded history.
According to seismologists, we will see earthquakes of higher magnitude and higher impact in the coming years.