Top Ten Strongest Earthquakes in the World

Worst Tremors Since 1900 With Magnitudes Ranging From 8.5 to 9.5

According to the US Geological Survey, the most violent earthquakes in the world have occurred in Chile, Alaska, Sumatra, Russia, and Ecuador since 1900.

The ranking of the top ten earthquakes by the U.S. Geological Survey is based on magnitude according to the Richter scale. Earthquakes with lower magnitudes sometimes cause more severe damage to property and higher death tolls than higher magnitude earthquakes.

Why Do Some Earthquakes Cause More Damage Than Others?

The worst risk during an earthquake is the shaking. Structures that are not earthquake-proof can crumble. If the building is not flexible, it is more apt to fall. A recent example is a devastating earthquake in Haiti where many buildings were constructed of cement block.

Earthquakes send waves through below the earth’s surface and travel at higher speeds through soil or sand but slow down through bedrock. In San Francisco, many buildings collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake because some were built on landfill resulting from the disposal of debris from the 1906 earthquake.

Ten Strongest Earthquakes in the World

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the top ten deadliest earthquakes since 1900 are as follows:

Southern Chile: May 22, 1960 Magnitude 9.5

  • The most severe damage occurred in the Valdivia and Puerto Montt areas. Approximately 1,655 killed, 3,000 injured, 2,000,000 homeless, and $550 million damage. *
  • A massive tsunami spread across the Pacific Ocean. It caused 61 deaths, $75 million damage in Hawaii; 138 deaths and $50 million damage in Japan; 32 dead and missing in the Philippines; and $500,000 damage to the west coast of the United States. *

The Great Chilean Earthquake, the largest seismic event ever recorded, occurred off the south-central coast of Chile and caused a devastating tsunami in the Pacific.

On May 22, 1960, the earthquake that struck Valdivia Chile had a magnitude of 9.5 on the Richter scale. This is the strongest earthquake ever recorded by instruments in the world. On the previous day, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 struck the city of Concepción which is north of Valdivia.

Prince William Sound Alaska: March 28, 1964 Magnitude 9.1

The second strongest earthquake in the world occurred on December 26 2004 and had a magnitude of 9.3. The epicenter was on the ocean floor near the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, and caused a deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

  • Anchorage suffered the most damage as well as other cities including Kodiak, Seward, and Valdez. The tsunami generated by the earthquake affected the west coast of Canada and the U.S. and Hawaii.
  • The earthquake and tsunami resulted in 113 deaths from the tsunami and 15 from the earthquake. It caused approximately $311 million in property loss. *

West Coast Northern Sumatra: December 26, 2004 Magnitude 9.1

  • This earthquake is best known for the giant tsunami that raced across the Indian Ocean. This tsunami holds the record for causing the highest number of deaths and the most destruction.
  • 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, India, and East Africa. *

Kamchatka Russia: November 4, 1952 Magnitude 9.0

  • The tsunami resulting from this earthquake adversely affected Hawaii and only caused minor damage in Alaska.
  • Property damage from these waves was estimated at $800,000 to $1,000,000, but no lives were lost. *

Coast of Ecuador: January 31, 1906 Magnitude 8.8

  • This earthquake generated a powerful tsunami that hit the coast of Ecuador and Colombia. The giant wave also struck Hilo and Honolulu in Hawaii.
  • Approximately 500 to 1500 people were killed in Ecuador and Colombia. *

Rat Islands Alaska: February 4, 1965 Magnitude 8.7

The third-strongest earthquake occurred on Good Friday, March 27, 1964, in Alaska, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.2 struck Prince William Sound and caused extensive damage in Anchorage.

  • Because the areas affected by this earthquake were sparsely populated, there was little damage and no deaths. A 30-foot tsunami affected the nearby islands in the Aleutian chain.
  • Loss caused by flooding on Amchitka Island was estimated at $10,000. *
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Northern Sumatra: March 28, 2005 Magnitude 8.6

  • Surrounding islands in Sumatra suffered damage and a 10-foot tsunami caused flooding in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Maldives.
  • At least 1000 people killed, 300 injured in Nias; 100 people killed in Simeulue; 200 people killed in Kepulauan, Banyak; 3 people killed, 40 injured. At least 10 people were killed during the evacuation of the coast of Sri Lanka. *

Assam & Tibet: August 15, 1950 Magnitude 8.6

  • Buildings suffered extensive damage and landslides occurred in eastern Tibet. Areas of Assam in India experienced landslides and a natural dam broke, which created a 23-foot high wave.
  • At least 780 people killed in Tibet and 536 people died in Assam. * It is believed that this was not the final total.

Andreanof Islands Alaska: March 9, 1957 Magnitude 8.6

  • Docks and bridges were destroyed in neighboring islands in the Aleutians by a 15-foot tsunami. The giant wave continued to Hawaii.
  • The tsunami caused about $5 million in property damage on Oahu and Kauai Islands. *

Southern Sumatra Indonesia: September 12, 2007 Magnitude 8.5

  • Many buildings were destroyed or damaged in Bengkulu and Sumatera Barat. This earthquake occurred in the Sunda trench, which was ruptured by the earthquake on December 26th, 2004.
  • At least 25 people were killed, 161 injured, 52,522 buildings were damaged or destroyed. *

Five of the world’s strongest earthquakes generated devastating tsunamis that hit Hawaii. Two earthquakes spawned tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

Three earthquakes occurred in Indonesia and three earthquakes took place in Alaska. Two earthquakes were located on the west coast of South America.

All earthquakes, except for Assam & Tibet, occurred in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which circles the Pacific Ocean. It continues to be the most active seismic area in the world.

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