Taking a look back at some of the deadliest earthquakes helps us realize just how unpredictable and destructive mother nature can be. These quakes occurred in various places across the globe, and the number of lives that were lost was astronomical.
1. Shaanxi, China – 1556
On January 23, 1556; a magnitude 8 earthquake struck the province of Shaanxi, China. With the epicenter about 50-miles from the capital of Shaanxi, this powerful earthquake could be felt up to 500 miles northeast. The aftermath of the quake resulted in landslides, fissures, 60-foot deep crevices, an estimated 830,000 lives lost. A lot of the casualties were due to poorly constructed structures, especially in the city of Huaxian where more than half of the residents were killed.
2. Tangshan, China – 1976
Also known as the Great Tangshan earthquake, this natural disaster took place on July 28, 1976. Now believed to be the largest earthquake of the 20th century, the 7.5 magnitude catastrophe resulted in the Chinese government releasing an estimated death toll of 655,000. That figure was later lowered to 255,000 deaths.
3. Aleppo, Syria – 1138
One of the deadliest earthquakes in world history occurred in the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria. During these times, record keeping and reporting weren’t as advanced as they are today. So most of the knowledge about this 1138 earthquake came from a chronicler in Damascus, Ibn al-Qalanisi. On October 10, he noted a small earthquake. The very next day, the huge quake struck and turned the city of Aleppo into rubble. Buildings collapsed, and the quake was felt as far as 220 miles south. An estimated 230,000 people were killed based on historical records.
4. Sumatra, Indonesia 2004
The Indian Ocean earthquake with an epicenter off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia struck in the wee hours of the morning on December 26, 2004. The magnitude 9.1-9.3 earthquake triggered massive tsunamis that devasted the cities along the coast, killing close to 230,000 people in 14 countries and displacing another 1.7 million.
5. Haiti – 2010
16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, a 7.0 Magnitude earthquake occurred in Haiti, causing major damage to the capital city and nearby Jacmel. Towns were leveled, and displaced residents were forced to seek refuge by sleeping on the pavement or in their vehicles. International aid was sent in to help those who had lost their homes and for those who were injured. In total, an estimated 222,570 were killed in the major quake and the dozens of aftershocks that rocked the country in the days thereafter.
6. Damghan, Iran – 856
The Damghan, Iran quake on Dec. 22, 856 had an estimated magnitude of 7.9. During a time when building codes and safety regulations weren’t in place, an earthquake of that size instantly destroyed the city and everything within a 220-mile radius. Damghan and the villages of Ahevanu, Astan, Tash, as well as the cities of Bastam and Shahrud were affected. This disastrous quake had an estimated death toll of 200,000.
7. Haiyuan County, China – 1920
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the Gansu Province of China caused total destruction in Haiyuan County on December 16, 1920. The quake triggered a massive landslide that buried an entire village in neighboring Xiji County, and almost all of the houses in the cities of Huining and Longde were demolished. Rivers were dammed and ground cracks formed along the epicenter. The death toll reached 2000,000, and 73,000 of them were in Haiyuan County alone.
8. Ardabil, Iran – 893
Historical sources have yet to determine the magnitude of the Ardabil quake that struck on March 23, 893. However, based on the number of lives lost, Armenian and Arabic chroniclers’ descriptions confirm the earthquake was massive. 150,000 lives were lost and one of the largest cities in the country of Iran was completely destroyed.
9. Kantō, Japan – 1923
Residents of the Kantō region in Japan were rattled out of their beds on the early morning of September 1, 1923. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in Izu Ōshima Island in Sagami Bay caused fires to spread, roads to collapse, and more than 142,800 deaths.
10. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – 1948
On the morning of October 5, 1948, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit Turkmenistan. The quake was centered near the small village of Gara-Gaidan just outside of Ashgabat. Nearby villages were destroyed, brick buildings collapsed, and freight trains were derailed. The number of casualties varied, especially since censorship in Turkmenistan banned the USSR from reporting the natural disaster. The extensive damages from the quake resulted in approximately 110,000 deaths.