25 Most Devastating Earthquakes

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Our beautiful planet supports billions of humans and countless other living creatures, but sometimes it reminds us that it has a darker side too. Natural disasters, events that happen without much warning and leave disaster in their wake abound. While tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis are among the most destructive of these unpredictable events, this list focuses on earthquakes, highlighting just how destructive these disasters can be.

25. Valdivia Earthquake

25. Valdivia Earthquake

The city of Valdivia in Chile experienced an earthquake that was, by far, higher on the Richter scale than any other quake. This earthquake measured in at a magnitude of 9.5 which equates to roughly 1,000 atom bombs detonating simultaneously in the same place. It claimed 6,000 lives and caused over $1 billion in damages.

24. Shaanxi Earthquake

24. Shaanxi Earthquake

The deadliest earthquake in human history took place in Shaanxi, China in 1556. The quake caused landslides, sinkholes, and devastated cities across a 520 mile radius. The death toll from this quake was recorded at 830,000, killing more than half the inhabitants of the quake zone. This quake came in at 8.0 on the Richter scale.

23. Sumatra Earthquake

23. Sumatra Earthquake

Coming in close to the Valdivia quake, the Sumatra quake originated in Indonesia but sent several tsunamis careening toward all surrounding regions. Waves from this quake reached Thailand and the larger waves, by the end, had claimed 225,000 lives and caused more than $7 billion in damages.

22. Aleppo Earthquake

22. Aleppo Earthquake

This earthquake hit Syria in 1138 and left multiple towns completely levelled. The death toll for this quake came to 230,000 and destroyed several churches and other historical sites.

21. Tangshan Earthquake

21. Tangshan Earthquake

This earthquake hit China in 1976, killing over 250,000 people because the area was not earthquake-prone and therefore was not prepared for such a disaster. It came in as an 8.2 magnitude quake and caused $1.3 billion in damages.

20. Haiyuan Earthquake

20. Haiyuan Earthquake

Occurring in 1920, this earthquake’s Richter scale measurement is disputed by Chinese government authorities and U.S. Scientists (reported measurements range from 7.8 to 8.5), it left around 240,000 people dead.

19. Port-au-Prince Earthquake

19. Port-au-Prince Earthquake

This island country not only had to deal with the initial shock that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, they also had to endure aftershocks for 12 days after the quake, some having magnitudes above 4.5. One of the more devastating quakes in modern history, this quake left 316,000 dead and over 300,000 injured.

18. Xining Earthquake

18. Xining Earthquake

Hitting China in 1927, the devastation this quake caused wasn’t limited to a death toll of almost 200,000, it also left huge gaping tears in the land and leveled several cities.

17. Damghan Earthquake

17. Damghan Earthquake

The earliest recorded earthquake on our list, the Iranian town of Damghan experienced an 8.0 magnitude earthquake in 856. As buildings were not earthquake-proof back then, this quake claimed the lives of over 200,000 people and leveled several towns around Damghan.

16. Tohku Earthquake

16. Tohku Earthquake

The largest earthquake to ever hit the island nation of Japan, this quake came in at a 9.03 magnitude, making it one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. Even so, the death toll was much lower than other quakes on the list: 15,878 people died and 6,126 were injured.

15. Kanto Earthquake

15. Kanto Earthquake

With a whopping 57 aftershocks, and an initial shock that caused landslides and tsunamis, this earthquake hit Japan in 1923 and caused over 200,000 deaths. It also caused a fire which was dubbed the “Great Tokyo Fire” by historians.

14. Ashgabat Earthquake

14. Ashgabat Earthquake

This quake hit Russia in 1948 with a magnitude of 7.3. Statistics for this earthquake, such as death toll, persons missing or injured are not available due to the tight hold the Soviet government kept on such information but estimates range from 10,000 all the way up to 176,000.

13. Messina Earthquake

13. Messina Earthquake

In Southern Italy, a 1908 earthquake ravaged homes and cities in a 186 mile radius. Messina was almost entirely leveled by the quake, which turned over 91% of the structures into rubble and left between 100,000 and 200,000 dead.

12. Chihli Earthquake

12. Chihli Earthquake

Another one of the earliest recorded quakes, this earthquake ravaged China in 1290 and measured 6.8 on the Richter scale. Beyond destroying homes and buildings across the region, it left over 100,000 dead.

11. Sichuan Earthquake

11. Sichuan Earthquake

This earthquake hit China in modern times, in May 2008. It had a magnitude of 8.0 and killed almost 70,000 people, leaving many more injured or missing. This earthquake tops the charts as causing the most costly damage: the Chinese government dedicated $146.5 billion to recovery for this region.

10. Kashmir Earthquake

10. Kashmir Earthquake

Pakistan’s ’05 earthquake in Kashmir was a 7.6 magnitude quake that killed 85,000 and required $5.4 billion in recovery funds.

9. Shemakha Earthquake

9. Shemakha Earthquake

In November, 1667 a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit Azerbaijan, killing over 80,000 people and causing immense destruction to surrounding areas.

8. Tabriz Earthquake

8. Tabriz Earthquake

Another earthquake without reliable statistics, we do know that this earthquake occurred in 1721 in Tabriz Iran. Beyond that, estimates of the death toll range from 8,000 to 250,000. Residents interpreted the earthquake as an evil omen, and they were proven right when their town was taken by the Turks in 1722.

7. Lisbon Earthquake

7. Lisbon Earthquake

This earthquake is estimated to have been between an 8.5 to 9.0 magnitude. The quake caused fires and tsunamis that, on top of the quake itself, leveled the entire city of Lisbon. While figures on death toll range from 10,000 to 100,000, we do know that the devastation caused by the quake caused Europeans to begin studying earthquakes to find better ways of minimizing damage.

6. Yungay Earthquake

6. Yungay Earthquake

While this quake took place off the coast of Peru, the 8.0 magnitude quake caused avalanches that buried two Peruvian towns and killed over 80,000 people. Peruvian gross domestic product was reduced by more than $500 million due to the earthquake’s devastation.

5. Sicily Earthquake

5. Sicily Earthquake

In the latter part of the 17th century, Sicily was hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake that reduced over 70 Italian towns to rubble and killed over 60,000 people. A tsunami resulting from the quake killed almost 70% of the population of the city of Catania.

4. Rudbar Earthquake

4. Rudbar Earthquake

Iran’s second earthquake on this list occurred in 1990. It killed 40,000 Iranians and caused damage to 700 villages spread across the region.

3. Izmit Earthquake

3. Izmit Earthquake

A 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey in 1990 and while it lasted less than 4 seconds, it killed between 18,000 and 45,000 people and leveled about 200,000 buildings. It was Turkey’s most devastating quake.

2. Nankaido Earthquake

2. Nankaido Earthquake

Another one year after the end of World War II, in 1946, an 8.4 magnitude quake hit off the coast of Japan and caused an immense tsunami that killed 2,000 people and leveled 31,000 buildings.

1. Kathmandu Earthquake

1. Kathmandu Earthquake

Most recently, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. Over 5,000 were killed by the quake, which also destroyed over 10,000 buildings and several UNESCO world heritage sites including the Dharahara tower and several ancient temples.

16. Tohku Earthquake