The Top 5 Deadliest Earthquakes in History

The Top 5 Deadliest Earthquakes in History

Earthquakes are arguably the most catastrophic natural disaster that occurs on our planet. When an earthquake hits, everything from land, buildings, humans, and animals are directly affected. In a fraction of seconds, everything is demolished into bits and pieces. Earthquakes can be described as an abrupt shaking of the Earth’s surface resulting from a rapid discharge of energy in the Earth’s lithosphere that generates seismic waves. It can be caused by volcanic activity or tectonic slip or magmatic movement, or any other rapid stress in the Earth. They include activities from weak vibrations to cataclysmic trembling that lasts for many minutes. Depending on the strength and duration of the seismic waves, the resulting damages can be varied.

There are around 20,000 earthquakes detected in an average year (about 50 per day) worldwide. On the other hand, millions of earthquakes are generated under the Earth every year. In fact, most of them are too weak to be detected. The biggest earthquake ever recorded was a magnitude 9.5 that occurred in Chile (May 22, 1960).

Here are the Top 5 deadliest earthquakes in history.

Shaanxi, China (1556)

In the early morning of January 23, 1556, Shaanxi encountered a massive earthquake. It was marked as the deadliest earthquake ever occurred, engulfing the lives of 830,000 people with it. It had a magnitude of about 8, and Huaxian was the epicentre. Even though the earthquake lasted only for a few seconds, it deformed massive mountains, crippled the trajectories of rivers, inflicted massive flooding, etc. During that time, civilian properties were extremely fragile and were not sturdy enough to withstand such external physical forces. This natural disaster is considered to be the third deadliest ever registered in the history of our planet. It paved the way for droughts and famines all over the regions near the epicentre. Over 96 countries were directly or indirectly affected. At that time, the human world wasn’t prepared to handle such abrupt natural forces, which caused massive property losses and physical impairments.

Port-au-Prince, Haïti (2010)

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was hit with a 7 magnitude earthquake. About 316,000 were dead in the after-effects of this massive earthquake. More than 300,000 people suffered injuries. Over 5 million people became refugees. The earthquake was created from epicentre 6 miles under the Earth’s surface. Due to the shallow nature of the trembling, the physical damages were much worse than a standard 7 magnitude earthquake. Large multi-storied buildings in Port-au-Prince were the centre of mass destruction. The repercussions are far from over; Haiti has not fully healed from it until now. 

This disaster is a  lesson for the entire world. We cannot prevent a natural disaster, but we can surely be prepared. If buildings in Haiti had been designed according to the earthquake preventive guidelines and safety measures, the death toll could have been far less than the actual number. 

Antioch (115 A.D.) 

On December 13, an earthquake swept away two-thirds of Antioch. This 7.5 magnitude earthquake paved the way for 260,000 casualties. It even set off a tsunami that dismantled the harbour at Caesarea Maritima. The impact of this disaster extended far across the region. The fault lines caused by the earthquakes have been extensively researched. 

Antioch (526 A.D.)

In late May 526, Syria was struck by a catastrophic earthquake. The major damage was inflicted on the city of Antioch (Byzantine Empire). About 250,000 people were killed during the earthquake. The trembling was followed by a massive fire outbreak that demolished most of the civilian structures remaining after the earthquake in the city. The highest intensity in Antioch is approximated to be between X (Violent) and VIII (Severe) on the Mercalli scale.

Tangshan, China (1976)

On July 28, 1976, a cataclysmic earthquake bulldozed the entire mining city of Tangshan. A magnitude of 7.8 was recorded in the seismograph, one of the biggest earthquakes that occurred in Asia. Unfortunately, damages exceeded far more than a typical 7.8 earthquake could inflict. Even though the area was prone to constant earthquakes, the city was constructed with structures without taking account of earthquake effects. Almost 85% of the city’s buildings collapsed. The official death toll is 242,769, which is far less than the numbers that came from a few other reliable sources. It even points out that half of the city’s population was wiped out.