20 Biggest Earthquakes of the History

Earthquakes are one of the most destructive natural disasters. Earthquakes have the force to cause the incomprehensible amount of damage in a very short period. Earthquakes not only killed people but they also destroyed whole cities. They destroyed buildings, infrastructures, houses, and everything in the target. Earthquakes are the primary reason behind Tsunamis. For example, the deadliest tsunami in the history of the world was due to the earthquake in the Indian Ocean, and it affected people of more than 12 countries. Earthquakes are also the major reason behind land sliding which destroyed villages in mountains and hill areas. Approximately all major countries have faced earthquakes, but the China had faced highest number of deadliest earthquakes. And these earthquakes killed thousands of people of every time. Here is the list of 20 greatest and deadliest earthquakes in the world.

1. 1556 Shaanxi Earthquake

The 1556 Shaanxi Earthquake or Jiajing earthquake was a catastrophic earthquake and the deadliest earthquake on the record. Due to earthquake killed more than 830,000 people. It happened on the morning of January 23, 1556, in Shaanxi. 97 counties in the provinces of Shaanxi were affected such as Hunan, Shanxi, Hebei, Gansu, Shandong, Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Henan. Buildings in the cities of Chengdu, Beijing, and Shanghai also damaged slightly. The area of 840 kilometers wide was destroyed in that natural disaster. 60% population was killed in some counties. Most of the population at the time lived in yaodongs, and artificial caves, many of which collapsed. The cost of damage is almost impossible to measure in modern times. However, the death toll has been given as 820,000 to 830,000. The whole region of entire China had been destroyed in the disaster.

2. 1976 Tangshan Earthquake

The Tangshan Earthquake or the Great Tangshan Earthquake was a natural disaster, took place on 28 July 1976. It was the largest earthquake of the 20th century by death toll. The center of the disaster was the near Tangshan in Hebei, an industrial city of China with a population of one million inhabitants approximately. Initially, the number of deaths was 655,000 by the government of China. More than 164,000 people were recorded severely injured due to disaster. It occurred between a series of political events of the Communist Party of China. According to traditional Chines thought, the earthquakes are seen as a precursor of government change. The disaster hit in the morning and lasted 14 to 16 seconds. According to officials, the magnitude of the earthquake was 7.8 on the Richter magnitude scale. However, some sources thought that it was higher than 8.2. The disaster was generated by the 25-mile long Tangshan Fault which runs near the city.

3. 1920 Haiyuan Earthquake

Haiyuan Earthquake occurred on 16 December 1920 in Haiyuan County, Province Ningxia, Republic of China. The earthquake is also referred to as 1920 Gansu Earthquake, as Haiyuan was the part of Gansu Province at the time of Earthquake. The earthquake hit Haiyuan at 20:05:53 according to Beijing time and the magnitude of the earthquake was 7.8 on the Richter magnitude scale. Now, Chinese media claimed that the magnitude was 8.5. The disaster killed more than 73,000 people in Haiyuan County. The landslide buried the sujiahe village in Xiji County. Over 30,000 people died in Guyuan County. Approximately all the houses in the city of Huining and Londge collapsed. Total damage occurred in 7 provinces of China including the major cities such as Taiyuan, Lanzhou, Xi’an, Xining, and Yinchuan. Total reported deaths were 200,000 according to the United States Geological Survey. The Sufi Muslim Leader Ma Yuanzhang and his son died in the earthquake. There were a large number of ground cracks and landslides occurred throughout the epicentral area.

4. 526 Antioch Earthquake

The Antioch Earthquake hit Antioch and Syria in the Byzantine Empire in 526. It struck on probably 20-29 May, at morning and killed more than 250,000 people. The earthquake destroyed most of the buildings in major cities. The intensity of the earthquake in Antioch was between VIII and IX on the Mercalli Intensity Scale. The approximate magnitude of the earthquake was 7.0. The disaster was followed by 18 months of aftershocks. It caused higher damages to many buildings in Antioch such as Great octagonal church Domus Aurea constructed on an island in the Orontes River. Only houses near to the mountain had survived. However, most of the damage was due to the fires that went on for many days aftermath of the earthquake. Euphrasius, the Patriarch of Antioch, was among the victims of the disaster. Death toll varied between 250,000 and 30,000.

5. 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake took place on December 26 on the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. It had a moment magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3 the undersea megathrust earthquake occurred when the Burma Plate subducted the Indian Plate and triggered a series of worst tsunamis along the coasts of numerous landmasses with the Indian Ocean. More than 14 countries were affected by Tsunami. The Tsunami was one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of World which killed people between 230,000 and 280,000. Major destructions occurred in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. It was the third largest quake, recorded on a seismograph, with the longest duration of faulting observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. The earthquake caused the whole planet to vibrate as 1 centimeter and triggered other earthquakes such as in Alaska. The center of the earthquake was between Simeulue and mainland Indonesia. Worldwide communities donated 14 billion US dollars to the affected countries. The event is also popular as the Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake by the scientific community.

6. 1138 Aleppo Earthquake

The Aleppo Earthquake was one of the deadliest earthquakes in the history. The name of the disaster was taken from the city of Aleppo, North Syria. The disaster occurred on October 11, 1138, and was after a smaller quake on the 10th. It is the 3rhd deadliest earthquake in history, after the Shensi and Tangshan earthquakes in China. The worst hit area was Harem, where Crusaders had constructed a large citadel. Castle was destroyed completely, and the church fell on it. The fort of Atharib was also destroyed. The collapse of Citadel killed more than 600 castle guards. The small shock had warned the residents of Aleppo, and they fled to the countryside before the major earthquake. Further damage was recorded at Bizaah, Azrab, Tell Amar, and Tell Khalid. The earthquake killed more than 230,000 people.

7. 2010 Haiti Earthquake

The Haiti Earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The disaster occurred on Tuesday at 16:53 local time, 12 January 2010. By 24 January, approximately 53 small quakes had been recorded with magnitude 4.5 or greater. The earthquake affected more than three million people. Death toll ranges between 100,0000 and 160,000. According to Haitian Government, deaths figures from 220,000 to 316,000. According to the government, approximately 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed. The disaster caused primary damage in Jacmel, Port-au-Prince, and other settlements in the region. Notable buildings were significantly destroyed or damaged, including the National Assembly, Presidential Palace, the main jail and the Port-au-Prince Cathedral. The headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, collapsed, killing many, including the Mission Chief. Many countries sent funds, dispatching rescue, medical teams, engineers and support personnel. The earthquake had damaged air, land, communication systems, hospitals, electrical networks, and sea transport facilities.

8. 1303 Hongdong Earthquake

The 1303 Hongdong Earthquake occurred in China, on 25 September. The disaster was one of the deadliest recorded earthquakes in history. The epicenter was almost near the present day towns of Zhaocheng and Hngdong. The disaster occurred on the taigu fault zone in Shanxi. The magnitude of the earthquake was 8.0 on the moment magnitude, by modern seismologists. In the nearby town of Hongdong and Zhaocheng, every major school building and temple collapsed, and half of the town’s population died. Every building in Huo county of Shanxi was destroyed. In Pingyang and Taiyuan, approximately 100,000 housed collapsed and more than 200,000 people died from loess caves and collapsing buildings. According to some reports, the disaster leveled hills and mountains, changing the topographic makeup of the region. Cracks in the grounds changed into Miniature Rivers, and major canals in Shanxi province were destroyed. By some records, another similar earthquake occurred on 6 August 1303.

9. 856 Damghan Earthquake

The Damghan Earthquake or the 856 Qumis Earthquake occurred on December 22, 856 AD. The estimated magnitude of the disaster was 7.9 and maximum intensity of X on the Mercalli Intensity Scale. The meizonseismal area extended for 350 km along the southern edge of the eastern Alborz Mountains of Persia, including parts of Gorgan and Tabaristan. The epicenter of the earthquake was close to the city of Damghan, which was the capital of the Persian province, Qumis. The disaster killed more than 200,000 people and the USGS lists Damghan Earthquake as the sixth deadliest earthquake in recorded history. The earthquake affected the towns of Astan, Ahevanu, Bastan, Tash, and Shahrud. Hecatompylos, The former capital of Parthia, was destroyed. Half Damghan and the third part of the town of Bastam were destroyed. The effects of that natural disaster were still visible in the area between Damghan and Bastam many years later.

10. 893 Ardabil Earthquake

Many historical sources and earthquake catalogs describe the Ardabil Earthquake as the destructive earthquake that struck the city of Ardabil, Persia, on March 23, 893. The magnitude of the disaster is unknown. According to USGS reports, an earthquake killed more than 150,000 people, which makes it the ninth deadliest earthquake in the history of the world. However, the 893 Ardabil Earthquake is considered to be mistaken earthquake based on a misunderstanding of the Armenian sources for the 893 Dvin Earthquake, due to some confusions.

11. 1908 Messina Earthquake

The Messina Earthquake or the 1908 Messina and Reggio Earthquake occurred on December 28, in Calabria and Sicily, South Italy. The magnitude of the earthquake was 7.1, and the intensity was XI on Mercalli Intensity scale. The cities of Reggio Calabria and Messina were completely destroyed. Approximately, 91 % of structures in Messina was damaged or destroyed, and disaster killed more than 75,000 people in the city and suburbs. It killed more than 25,000 people in Reggio Calabria and other locations in Calabria. It was the most destructive earthquake of Europe. Due to the earthquake, the ground shook for 30 to 40 seconds. It damaged everything within 300-kilometer radius. After ten minutes after the earthquake, the sea on both sides of the Strait withdraw, and a 12-meter tsunami swept in. The whole seafront was destroyed and a large number of people perished. Along the coast of Pellaro and Lazzaro houses and a railway bridge were washed away.

12. 1948 Ashgabat Earthquake

The Ashgabat Earthquake occurred on October 6, 1948, with a maximum Mercalli intensity of X and a surface wave magnitude of 7.3. The earthquake struck in Turkmenistan near Ashgabat. Due to censorship by the government, the incident was not reported in the USSR’s media. The epicenter of the disaster was situated near the small village of Gara-Gaudan, 25 kilometers away from Ashgabat. It caused extreme damage in Ashgabat and nearby towns or villages, destroyed all brick buildings, heavily damaged concrete structures and derailed freight trains. The number of the casualties vary from 10,000 to 110,000, approximately equal to 10% of the Turkmen SSR’s population at the time. According to survivors, the infrastructure of the city was damaged badly, except water pipes. The disaster killed future Turkmen president mother and the rest of his family, leaving him an orphan. The Soviet Army provided aid to victims, restoration of infrastructure and basic needs.

13. 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake

The Great Kantō Earthquake struck the Kanto Plain on the Japanese Island of Honshu at 11:58:44 a.m, 1 September 1923 on Saturday. According to varied accounts, the duration of the earthquake was between four and ten minutes. The magnitude of the earthquake was 7.0 on the moment magnitude scale. It devastated Tokyo, the port city of Yokohama, and the surrounding towns of Shizuoka, Chiba, and Kanagawa. It caused widespread damage throughout the region. That heavy earthquake moved the Great Buddha statue of 93 short tons, almost two feet. The earthquake killed approximately 142,800 people, including 40,000 who went missing and presumed dead. The damage was the greatest sustained by prewar Japan. The government of Japan declared September 1 as an annual “Disaster Prevention Day” in 1961. A large number of homes were buried or swept away by landslides in the hills and mountains coastal areas in western Kanagawa Prefecture. A tsunami with waves up to 10 m struck the coasts of Boso Peninsula, Sagami Bay, Izu Islands, and the east coast of Izu Peninsula within minutes. The tsunami also called many deaths. The estimated damage of Great Kantō Earthquake has exceeded 14 billion US dollars of today.

14. 1290 Chihli Earthquake

The Chihli Earthquake occurred on September 27, 1290, within an epicenter near Ningcheng, Inner Mongolia. The estimated magnitude of the earthquake was 6.8, with maximum felt intensity of IX on the Mercalli intensity scale. The earthquake damaged approximately 480 storehouses and a unlimited number of houses in Ningcheng. The earthquake also affected the Hejing, Xiongxian, Renquie, Yixian, Baoding, and Baixiang County. The disaster damaged the Fengguo Temple in Yixian. According to some reports, the estimated death toll were 100,000.

15. 2005 Kashmir Earthquake

The Kashmir Earthquake occurred at 8:50:39 Pak Time on October 8, 2005, in the Pakistani territory of Azad Kashmir. The center of the earthquake was near the city of Muzaffarabad, and it affected the Pakistani Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The register magnitude of the disaster was 7.6, and the maximum intensity on Mercalli Intensity scale was VIII. The earthquake also affected the neighboring regions such as Afghanistan, Chinese Xinjiang, and Tajikistan. In Azad Kashmir, it badly affected the three main districts. The earthquake damaged the Muzaffarabad badly. Schools, Hospitals, and rescue services were paralysed. The estimated death toll could reach over 100,000. It injured more than 138,000 people. According to the government, 19,000 children died in the incident, most of them due to collapse of school buildings. It affected more than 500,000 families. The Margalla Towers, in Capital Islamabad, collapsed and killed many of the residents. By 27 October, more than 978 aftershocks hit the area with a magnitude of 4.0 and above. In the initial rescue operation, the Pakistan medical corps, corps of Engineers, and a large number of infantry units played a primary role.

16. April 2015 Nepal Earthquake

The Nepal Earthquake or the Gorkha Earthquake occurred at 11:56 Nepal Standard time on April 25, 2015, with the magnitude of 7.8 or 8.1 and the maximum intensity of IX. The center of the earthquake was east of Gorkha District at Barpak, Gorkha. It was the worst nature disasters to strike Nepal after the 1934 Nepal-Behar earthquake. It triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest and killed 21, making 25 April, the deadliest day on the mountain in history. It also triggered another huge avalanche in the Langtang valley, where 250 reported missing. The earthquake destroyed many centuries’ old buildings at UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Kathmandu Valley such as the Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Changu Narayan temple, and the Swayambhunath Stupa. Aftershock continued occurring throughout the country at the Intervals of 15 to 20 minutes. The earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and injured approximately 22,000. Another major aftershock occurred on May 12, 2015, and killed more than 200 people and injured 2,500.

17. 1999 İzmit Earthquake

The İzmit Earthquake or the Marma Earthquake occurred on August 17, in the northwestern Turkey. The earthquake had the magnitude of 7.6 and the maximum intensity of IX. It lasted for 37 seconds and killed more than 17,000 people. According to some sources, the death figures have been closer to 45,000. The natural disaster left half a million people homeless. The city of Izmit was destroyed badly. The earthquake had a rupture length of 150 km extending from the city of Duzce into the Sea of Marmara. Major destructions occurred in the west district Avcilar, Istanbul. It was heavily felt in the industrial and highly populated area of the country including several automotive plants, oil refineries, and the Turkish navy headquarters. The earthquake left 30,000 people homeless. There was high damage to many bridges and other structures on the Trans-European Motorway including viaducts, tunnels, and some overpasses. The disaster sparked a fire at the Tupras petroleum refinery. It also caused a tsunami in the Sea of Marmara and caused the deaths of 155 people.

18. 1990 Manjil–Rudbar Earthquake

The Manjil–Rudbar Earthquake occurred at 00:30:14 on 21 June 1990 in northern Iran. The magnitude of the earthquake was 7.4 with Mercalli Intensity of X. Heavy damage occurred to the northwest of the capital city Tehran, including the cities of Majil and Rudbar. According to the National Geophysical Center, damage of 8 billion US dollars occurred in the affected area. The earthquake killed people between the range of 35,000 and 50,000 and injured between 60,000 and 105,000.

19. 1693 Sicily Earthquake

The Sicily Earthquake occurred on January 11, 1693, at around 9 pm in southern Italy near Sicily, Malta, and Calabria. The estimated magnitude of the earthquake on the moment magnitude scale was 7.4, and it was the most powerful earthquake in history. The maximum intensity of disaster was XI. It destroyed at least 70 cities and towns, affecting an area of 5,600 square kilometers and caused the death of 60,000 people. The natural disaster was followed by tsunamis that destructed the coastal villages in the Straits of Messina and on the coastal villages on the Ionian Sea. The earthquake killed two-third of the whole population of Catania. The epicenter of the earthquake was closer to the coast, although the exact position is unknown. It caused large damage, especially in Augusta where half of the houses were destroyed. Many buildings in two districts of Avola collapsed, and numerous buildings destroyed in Floridia, Noto, Mellili, and Lentini. It killed 63% population of Catania and 51% of Ragusa.

20. 1498 Nankai Earthquake

The Nankai Earthquake occurred at 08:00 local time of Japan off the coast of Nankaido, Japan on September 20, 1498. The magnitude was 8.6, and it triggered a large tsunami. The reported causalities of Nankai Earthquake were between 26,000 and 31,000. The tsunami washed away the building statue of the Great Buddha in Kamakura. Many shaking caused by the earthquake were recorded from Kii Peninsula in the Southwest to Boso Peninsula in the Northwest. A great tsunami was recorded at Kamakura and Suruga Bay. There is evidence of shaking of ground liquefaction in the Nankai area. According to records, seafloor uplifted up to 4 meters, with a much smaller subsidence near the coast. The tsunami made Lake Hamana the brackish lake because it broke through low-lying land between the Pacific Ocean and the Lake.

Aaric Hale

Aaric Hale is a writer whose expertise includes an array of topics across several industries—having done several articles on science, history, and the latest trends. Interested in the act of learning itself, he tries to keep his mind busy with exploring histories, global news, and about the world. Aaric Hale also wants to contribute to the popularization of science and communicate ideas across the globe.