10 Deadliest Earthquakes in History
A look at the worst earthquakes in recorded history, in loss of human life. (The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsumani that affected eastern Japan is not included because the fatalities caused, about 15,000, are fewer than those resulting from the temblors listed below.) Sources: United States Geological Survey, Encyclopedia Britannica
1: Shensi, China, Jan. 23, 1556
Magnitude about 8, about 830,000 deaths.
This earthquake occurred in the Shaanxi province (formerly Shensi), China, about 50 miles east-northeast of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi. More than 830,000 people are estimated to have been killed. Damage extended as far away as about 270 miles northeast of the epicenter, with reports as far as Liuyang in Hunan, more than 500 miles away. Geological effects reported with this earthquake included ground fissures, uplift, subsidence, liquefaction and landslides. Most towns in the damage area reported city walls collapsed, most to all houses collapsed and many of the towns reported ground fissures with water gushing out.
2: Tangshan, China, July 27, 1976
1976: Workers start rebuilding work following earthquake damage in the Chinese city of Tangshan, 100 miles east of Pekin, with a wrecked train carriage behind them. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Magnitude 7.5. Official casualty figure is 255,000 deaths. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000.
Damage extended as far as Beijing. This is probably the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries, and the second greatest in recorded history.
3: Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 9, 1138
Magnitude not known, about 230,000 deaths.
Contemporary accounts said the walls of Syria’s second-largest city crumbled and rocks cascaded into the streets. Aleppo’s citadel collapsed, killing hundreds of residents. Although Aleppo was the largest community affected by the earthquake, it likely did not suffer the worst of the damage. European Crusaders had constructed a citadel at nearby Harim, which was leveled by the quake. A Muslim fort at Al-Atarib was destroyed as well, and several smaller towns and manned forts were reduced to rubble. The quake was said to have been felt as far away as Damascus, about 220 miles to the south. The Aleppo earthquake was the first of several occurring between 1138 and 1139 that devastated areas in northern Syria and western Turkey.
4: Sumatra, Indonesia, Dec. 26, 2004
Magnitude 9.1, 227,898 deaths.
This was the third largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska temblor. In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. (In January 2005, the death toll was 286,000. In April 2005, Indonesia reduced its estimate for the number missing by over 50,000.)
5: Haiti, Jan 12, 2010
Magnitude 7.0. According to official estimates, 222,570 people killed.
According to official estimates, 300,000 were also injured, 1.3 million displaced, 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in the Port-au-Prince area and in much of southern Haiti. This includes at least 4 people killed by a local tsunami in the Petit Paradis area near Leogane. Tsunami waves were also reported at Jacmel, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Leogane, Luly and Anse a Galets.
6: Damghan, Iran, Dec. 22, 856
Magnitude not known, about 200,000 deaths.
This earthquake struck a 200-mile stretch of northeast Iran, with the epicenter directly below the city of Demghan, which was at that point the capital city. Most of the city was destroyed as well as the neighboring areas. Approximately 200,000 people were killed.
7: Haiyuan, Ningxia , China, Dec. 16, 1920
7.8 magnitude, about 200,000 deaths.
This earthquake brought total destruction to the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. Over 73,000 people were killed in Haiyuan County. A landslide buried the village of Sujiahe in Xiji County. More than 30,000 people were killed in Guyuan County. Nearly all the houses collapsed in the cities of Longde and Huining. About 125 miles of surface faulting was seen from Lijunbu through Ganyanchi to Jingtai. There were large numbers of landslides and ground cracks throughout the epicentral area. Some rivers were dammed, others changed course.
8: Ardabil, Iran, March. 23, 893
Magnitude not known, about 150,000 deaths
The memories of the massive Damghan earthquake (see above) had barely faded when only 37 years later, Iran was again hit by a huge earthquake. This time it cost 150,000 lives and destroyed the largest city in the northwestern section of the country. The area was again hit by a fatal earthquake in 1997.
9: Kanto, Japan, Sept. 1, 1923
7.9 magnitude, 142,800 deaths.
This earthquake brought extreme destruction in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, both from the temblor and subsequent firestorms, which burned about 381,000 of the more than 694,000 houses that were partially or completely destroyed. Although often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake (or the Great Tokyo Fire), the damage was most severe in Yokohama. Nearly 6 feet of permanent uplift was observed on the north shore of Sagami Bay and horizontal displacements of as much as 15 feet were measured on the Boso Peninsula.
10: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Oct. 5, 1948
7.3 magnitude, 110,000 deaths.
This quake brought extreme damage in Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) and nearby villages, where almost all the brick buildings collapsed, concrete structures were heavily damaged and freight trains were derailed. Damage and casualties also occurred in the Darreh Gaz area in neighboring Iran. Surface rupture was observed both northwest and southeast of Ashgabat. Many sources list the casualty total at 10,000, but a news release from the newly independent government on Dec. 9, 1988, advised that the correct death toll was 110,000. (Turkmenistan had been part of the Soviet Union, which tended to downplay the death tolls from man-made and natural disasters.)
11: 8 October, 2005 Kashmir earthquake
7.6 Magnitude, 86,000–87,351
The 2005 Kashmir earthquake occurred at 08:50:39 Pakistan Standard Time on 8 October in the Pakistani territory of Azad Kashmir. It was centered near the city of Muzaffarabad, and also affected Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It registered a moment magnitude of 7.6 and had a maximum Mercalli Intensity of VIII (Severe). The earthquake also affected countries in the surrounding region where tremors were felt in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chinese Xinjiang. The severity of the damage caused by the earthquake is attributed to severe upthrust.
12: 26 October, 2015. Afghanistan-Pakistan
7.7 – 8.1 magnitude
More than 260 people have died, mostly in Pakistan, after a magnitude-7.5 earthquake hit north-eastern Afghanistan.
Tremors from the quake were also felt in northern India and Tajikistan.
At least 12 of the victims were Afghan schoolgirls killed in a crush as they tried to get out of their building.
The earthquake was centred in the mountainous Hindu Kush region, 76km (45 miles) south of Faizabad, the US Geological Survey reported.
The death toll is set to rise as the most severely affected areas are very remote and communications have been cut off.
In Pakistan, the death toll has risen to at least 214, in the northern mountainous areas.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone, authorities said at least 179 people were known to have died, and more than 1,800 were injured.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is cutting short a visit abroad and returning home.
Sunnatullah Timour, a spokesman for the governor of the Afghan province of Takhar, told the BBC that as well as the fatalities at the girls’ school, another 25 students were injured in the stampede.
Deaths and injuries have also been reported in the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Badakhshan and Kunar, with at least 52 killed in total.
Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah tweeted that the government had asked aid agencies to work with it to help those in need.
Analysis by Jonathan Webb, BBC News science reporter
Even at its revised magnitude of 7.5, this was a powerful tremor. Around the world only about 20 quakes each year, on average, measure greater than 7.0.
But its focus was deep – much further below the surface than the 7.8 quake which brought widespread destruction to eastern Nepal in April. That event was only 8km deep and was followed in early May by an aftershock with magnitude 7.3.
Similarly, the devastating 2005 Kashmir earthquake was magnitude 7.6 and just 26km deep. Today’s quake, at a depth of more than 200km, appears to have caused widespread but less severe ground shaking.