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9 of the Most Devastating Earthquakes Ever Recorded

Humans have been recording natural disasters for millennia. The earliest earthquake known to man occurred in 1831 BC in the Shandong province of China, but devastating natural disasters have been part of human existence since the very origins of humankind. Today, we rate earthquakes by the Richter magnitude scale (or its equivalents), which places the strength of an earthquake on a scale from 0 to 10.
Please bear in mind that, for most ancient earthquakes, we have little to no information about exact death tolls and the scale of destruction, so we rely on the educated guess of geologists and historical chronicles. On this list, we feature 9 of the most devastating and deadly earthquakes in history - in rising order according to the Richter scale.

1. Aleppo earthquake, Syria

Date: October 11, 1138
Magnitude: 7.1
The Worst Earthquakes Aleppo
The ancient Syrian city of Aleppo was always prone to quakes, as it’s located on the junction of the Arabian and African tectonic plates. But the earthquake that struck the city in 1138 was especially forceful. According to ancient texts, the city’s citadel shattered like glass and that surrounding houses collapsed, burying more than 230,000 victims under the rubble.
This makes the Aleppo disaster the third deadliest earthquake ever recorded. Due to the fact that this earthquake had occurred almost 900 years ago, 797 years before the invention of the Richter magnitude scale, the exact magnitude of the quake is unknown. However, researchers have since estimated that it was at least a seven on the scale.

2. Antioch earthquake, modern-day Turkey

Date: late May, 526
Magnitude: 7.5
The Worst Earthquakes Antioch
3D reconstruction of ancient Antioch Image Source: Imgur.
The Ancient Roman city of Antioch was one of the largest and most developed cities in the entire empire. Alas, all that’s left from the Byzantine city of Antioch today are ruins. Since the city is located on a fault, it was damaged by several earthquakes through the centuries. The final blow occurred in late May of 526 AD when thousands of visitors flocked to the city to commemorate Ascension Day, the Christian feast celebrating Jesus' ascension to heaven.
Since the disaster occurred millennia ago, the magnitude and precise death toll of the Antioch earthquake is lost in time. A later chronicle by one John Malalas reports that up to 250,000 people fell victim to the disaster. The fire that followed right after the earthquake had destroyed the ruins of Antioch that the earthquake spared.

3. Tangshan earthquake, China

Date: July 28, 1976
Magnitude: 7.8

The Worst Earthquakes Tangshan earthquake
Image Source: Imgur
The second-deadliest earthquake in recent history occurred in China. Unlike the two ancient quakes mentioned previously, the Tangshan earthquake hit China in 1976, so many people can still remember hearing the news about the devastating disaster. Tangshan, an industrial city in the Hebei province, was struck by the quake in the middle of the night.
In a matter of minutes, 85% of the city’s buildings fell or were unstable, the majority of bridges were damaged, and all services failed. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed at least 242,000 people, but some estimates state that the real death toll was three times that.

4. Kanto earthquake, Japan

Date: September 1, 1923
Magnitude: 7.9
The Worst Earthquakes Kanto earthquake
Almost a century ago, Japan witnessed the deadliest quake in the country's history. The disaster inflicted widespread damage in the Kanto Region of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. The 7.9-magnitude earthquake only lasted between four and ten minutes, but it devastated the entire Tokyo-Yokohama area.
The earthquake took 142,000 lives. The subsequent firestorms and even a fire tornado burned down 380 more houses and brought even more chaos. Fires are, sadly, a common side effect of earthquakes. Earthquakes break electrical and gas lines that often spark fires. Some of these fires can cause even more damage than the quake itself.

5. Shaanxi earthquake, China

Date: January 23, 1556
Magnitude: around 8

The Worst Earthquakes Shaanxi

The Shaanxi earthquake is known under the name ‘the deadliest earthquake in history.’ Historical records show that an area of 621 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) was completely reduced to rubble. The Shaanxi province of China lost almost 60% of its population - 830,000 people - during the 8-magnitude earthquake.

People who inhabited the region traditionally lived in carved cave homes known as yaodong, most of which collapsed during the quake, trapping and burying people alive.

6. Severo-Kurilsk Earthquake, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia

Date: November 4, 1952
Magnitude: 9
The Worst Earthquakes Severo-Kurilsk Earthquake
Image Source: Pikabu
When earthquakes happen away from land, they can be even more dangerous - because they can cause tsunamis. The Kamchatka Peninsula is located in the Russian Far East - bordering the Pacific ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk. This is also the place where the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet. In 1952, a so-called megathrust earthquake, which is a massive earthquake that occurs when one of the earth's tectonic plates is pushed under another, occurred in the region.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that causes 50-feet (15 m) tall waves wiped out life and buildings in the sparsely-populated Kamchatka peninsula and the Kuril Islands. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Russia, and the impact was felt all the way in Japan, Hawaii, Alaska, Chile, and New Zealand.

7. Great Alaska Earthquake, Alaska, USA

Date: March 28, 1964 
Magnitude: 9.2
The Worst Earthquakes Great Alaska Earthquake
The largest recorded earthquake in U.S. history struck the coast of Alaska in March of 1964. It too was a megathrust earthquake with a magnitude of 9.2 - the third most powerful quake ever recorded. The earthquake originated in Prince William Sound and caused worldwide tsunamis.
The majority of the damage and destruction fell to Valdez, Anchorage, and several small villages on the coast of Alaska. Approximately 130 people died in Alaska, Oregon, and California as a result of the quake. Most casualties were attributed not to the earthquake itself, but rather the resulting tsunami.

8. Indian Ocean Earthquake, off the west coast of Sumatra

Date: December 26, 2004
Magnitude: 9.3

The Worst Earthquakes Indian Ocean Earthquake
Image Source: Imgur
Also known under the names Sumatra-Andaman Islands Earthquake, and the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami, this massive natural disaster engulfed 14 countries in the Indian Ocean. We can all remember seeing in the news how the devastating quake hit Indonesia’s island of Sumatra, spurring an even more dangerous tsunami only 20 minutes after - leaving little to no time for people to save themselves.
In some places, such as the epicenter - Indonesia, the waves reached the height of over 100 feet (30 meters)! The resulting chaos displaced 2 million and killed over 227,000 people in South Asia and East Africa. An additional 50,000 people disappeared. All this makes the  Sumatra-Andaman Islands tsunami the most devastating and deadly tsunami in recorded history.

9. Valdivia earthquake, Chile

Date: May 22, 1960
Magnitude: 9.5
The Worst Earthquakes Valdivia earthquake
Image Source: Imgur
The Valdivia earthquake and tsunami that caused mass destruction in Chile in 1960 is the most powerful earthquake in history. The earthquake reached 9.5 on the Richter scale and lasted 10 minutes. Then, an 8-meter-high (26 ft) tsunami hit the coast of Chile at a speed of 150 km/h (93 mph).
And if that wasn’t enough, the terrifying quake made the nearby Puyehue volcano erupt 2 days later, and some of the surrounding mountains shattered, causing a massive flood. All this mass destruction took 5,700 lives and left a quarter of the country’s entire population homeless. The impact of the massive disaster was felt all around the world, and the Valdivia earthquake is still remembered as one of the most terrifying natural disasters in history.
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