Special Report

Worst Earthquakes of All Time

Humans have experienced earthquakes for thousands of years. Earthquakes are among the most common geological phenomena, with small tremors occurring hundreds of times per day, medium size quakes several times per month, and magnitude 8 or higher as frequently as once per year.

Large earthquakes are relatively common in the United States. However, because of early warning systems deployed by the United States Geological Survey, generally more durable infrastructure, and the work of emergency response personnel, fatalities from earthquakes are relatively rare in the U.S.

In fact, while five of the 25 most powerful earthquakes ever recorded occurred in the United States, none made this list of deadly earthquakes.

The most powerful earthquake to strike the United States was a magnitude 9.2 recorded in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 28, 1964. The quake resulted in 139 deaths — nowhere near many of the most destructive quakes on record.

The most powerful earthquake ever recorded on Earth was a magnitude 9.5 in Chile on May 22, 1960. There were more than 2,000 fatalities — among the worst 200 earthquakes ever recorded, but a far cry from the death tolls from many of the earthquakes on this list. The deadliest quakes claimed the lives of tens and hundreds of thousands people.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed total deaths caused by earthquakes as well as by secondary effects such as tsunamis and volcanoes from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Significant Earthquake Database. The database catalogs earthquakes going back to 2150 B.C. The magnitude of each earthquake and the areas affected also came from NOAA’s database. Areas affected are listed as present-day names.

Click here to see the worst earthquakes of all time.

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