Earth Quakes: A History of Catastrophic Proportions


Credit: Reuters/Kyodo. What remains of the port town of Minamisanriku is seen here on March 12, 2011

The Most recent earthquake to hit our Earth clocked in with an 8.9 magnitude, marking it as the 5th largest earthquake since they began being recorded in 1800.  The after effect of tsunamis especially devastated the coastal regions of Japan and left survivors without shelter, electricity, and food.  Japan is now dealing with the threat of unstable reactors at a nuclear power plant outside of Tokyo as well.  While it’s definitely one of the largest recorded and very devastating, it’s perhaps not the most destructive as in terms of the loss of human life.  Gratefully, this is in part thanks human ingenuity and advances in technology that have made it easier to detect weather patterns and appropriately prepare and evacuate for such catastrophes.


The country of Japan must now recover from their greatest crisis since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war.  As they do so, our hearts remain with them as they begin the recovery process.  Meanwhile, to better understand the magnitude of such natural disasters, here’s a look back at some other catastrophic earthquakes that have taken place over the span of history:

Sumatra-Andaman, 2004

In 2004, the 3rd largest earthquake to be recorded on a seismograph occurred with a 9.1 to 9.3 magnitude off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.  The resulting tsunamis devastated regions including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Maldives.  It was the sixth deadliest earthquake ever known to mankind.  In the quake’s aftermath, a heavy and heartfelt response of humanitarian aid from around the world occurred.

Shaanxi, 1556

During the Ming Dynasty in China, the most catastrophic earthquake in human history took place.  With an 8.0 magnitude, Shaanxi claimed between 820,000 and 830,000 lives.  Much of the devastated population lived a yaodongs, a type of shelter built into plateaus, which easily collapsed during the course of the destruction.

Tangshan, 1976

The most devastating earthquake of the 20th century occurred in Tangshan, Heibi, a province in China.  Its magnitude was between 7.5 and 7.8.  Although the official death toll still remains controversial due to the Chinese government’s political environment at the time, it’s estimated that the quake killed at least 242,419, thus making it the deadliest of the 20th century and the 2nd deadliest of all time.

Antioch, 526

During the Byzantine Empire in 526, a powerful earthquake effected much of modern-day Turkey and Syria.  Casualties are estimated to have been around 250,000 people, thus making it the 4th deadliest quake of all time.  It’s estimated that the quake had a magnitude of 8.0.

Haiyuan, 1920

This earth quake that occurred in Haiyuan County, China in 1920 caused 3 years of aftershocks after the initial quake and lead to major landslides, one of which buried an entire village.  235,502 fatalities were estimated from the quake.  The aftermath even lead some rivers to change course.  The magnitude of this quake was between 7.8 and 8.5.

Haiti, 2010

One of the most recent natural disasters to come to mind is the Haiti earth quake of 2010.  With a 7.0 magnitude reported, total fatalities are estimated to be between 92 and 316 thousand.  Haiti ranks as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, so preparedness and initial response efforts were minimum.  The quake produced 8 aftershocks in a 2 hour time-span following the quake.  Like the Sumatran earthquake of 2004, worldwide response produced a plethora of humanitarian aid.


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