Worst Earthquakes of All Time

November 1, 2018 by Thomas C. Frohlich

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.

Source: Public Domain

30. 1939 Erzincan earthquake
> Total deaths: 32,700
> Magnitude: 7.7
> Affected areas: Turkey: Erzincan

Source: Public Domain

29. 1721 Tabriz earthquake
> Total deaths: 40,000
> Magnitude: 7.7
> Affected areas: Iran: Tabriz

Source: julianpetersphotography / iStock

28. 1797 Riobamba earthquake
> Total deaths: 40,000
> Magnitude: 8.3
> Affected areas: Ecuador: Riobamba, Quito, Cuzco

Source: Public Domain

27. 1927 Gansu earthquake
> Total deaths: 40,912
> Magnitude: 7.6
> Affected areas: China: Gansu Province

Source: bushton3 / iStock

26. 1668 Shandong earthquake
> Total deaths: 42,578
> Magnitude: 8.5
> Affected areas: China: Shandong Province

Source: JoyfulThailand / iStock

25. 1042 Tabriz earthquake
> Total deaths: 50,000
> Magnitude: 7.6
> Affected areas: Iran: Tabriz

Source: NOAA / NGDC / Wikimedia Commons

24. 1990 Rudbar-Manjil earthquake
> Total deaths: 50,000
> Magnitude: 7.7
> Affected areas: Iran: Rasht, Qazvin, Zanjan, Rudbar, Manjil

Source: Public Domain

23. 1780 Tabriz earthquake
> Total deaths: 50,000
> Magnitude: 7.7
> Affected areas: Iran: Tabriz

Source: Purplexsu / iStock

22. 1739 Ningxia earthquake
> Total deaths: 50,000
> Magnitude: 8.0
> Affected areas: China: Ningxia

Source: Public Domain

21. 1755 Lisbon earthquake
> Total deaths: 50,000
> Magnitude: 8.5
> Affected areas: Portugal: Lisbon

Source: Unknown, copper engraving Germany, 1696 / Wikimedia Commons

20. 1693 Sicily earthquake
> Total deaths: 60,000
> Magnitude: 6.0
> Affected areas: Italy: Sicily, Calabria, Catania

Source: armanco / iStock

19. 1101 Khorasan earthquake
> Total deaths: 60,000
> Magnitude: 6.5
> Affected areas: Iran: Khorasan

Source: Public Domain

18. 1935 Quetta earthquake
> Total deaths: 60,000
> Magnitude: 7.5
> Affected areas: Pakistan: Quetta

Source: Roba7400 / Wikimedia Commons

17. 1970 Ancash earthquake
> Total deaths: 66,794
> Magnitude: 7.9
> Affected areas: Peru: Northern regions, Pisco, Chiclayo

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. 1868 Ecuador earthquakes
> Total deaths: 70,000
> Magnitude: 7.7
> Affected areas: Ecuador: Guayaquil, Ibarra; Colombia: San Pablo

Source: rickwang / iStock

15. 1718 Gansu earthquake
> Total deaths: 73,000
> Magnitude: 7.5
> Affected areas: China: Gansu Province

Source: Warrick Page / Getty Images

14. 2005 South Asia earthquake
> Total deaths: 76,213
> Magnitude: 7.6
> Affected areas: Pakistan: Muzaffarabad, Uri, Anantnag, Baramulla

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

13. 1908 Messina earthquake
> Total deaths: 80,000
> Magnitude: 7.0
> Affected areas: Italy: Messina, Sicily, Calabria

Source: Armastas / iStock

12. 1667 Shemakha earthquake
> Total deaths: 80,000
> Magnitude: 6.9
> Affected areas: Azerbaijan: Shemakha (Samaxi)

Source: Xieyouding / Getty Images

11. 2008 Sichuan earthquake
> Total deaths: 87,652
> Magnitude: 7.9
> Affected areas: China: Sichuan Province

Source: Yuanping / iStock

10. 1290 Nei Mongol earthquake
> Total deaths: 100,000
> Magnitude: 6.8
> Affected areas: China: Inner Mongolia: Ningcheng

Source: Public Domain

9. 1948 Ashkhabad earthquake
> Total deaths: 110,000
> Magnitude: 7.3
> Affected areas: Turkmenistan: Ashkhabad

Source: wikimediacommons / Flickr

8. 1923 Great Kanto earthquake
> Total deaths: 142,807
> Magnitude: 7.9
> Affected areas: Japan: Tokyo, Yokohama

Source: Mikenorton / Wikimedia Commons

7. 856 Damghan earthquake
> Total deaths: 200,000
> Magnitude: 7.9
> Affected areas: Iran: Damghan, Qumis

Source: The Real Bear / Wikimedia Commons

6. 1920 Haiyuan earthquake
> Total deaths: 200,000
> Magnitude: 8.3
> Affected areas: China: Gansu Province, Shanxi Province

Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

5. 1976 Ne earthquake
> Total deaths: 242,769
> Magnitude: 7.5
> Affected areas: China: Ne: Tangshan

Source: SanerG / Getty Images

4. 525 Antioch earthquake
> Total deaths: 250,000
> Magnitude: 7.0
> Affected areas: Turkey: Antakya (Antioch), Samandag

Source: SanerG / Getty Images

3. 115 Antioch earthquake
> Total deaths: 260,000
> Magnitude: 7.5
> Affected areas: Turkey: Antakya (Antioch)

Source: Claudiad / Getty Images

2. 2010 Haiti earthquake
> Total deaths: 316,000
> Magnitude: 7.0
> Affected areas: Haiti: Port-Au-Prince

Source: Public Domain

1. 1556 Shaanxi earthquake
> Total deaths: 830,000
> Magnitude: 8.0
> Affected areas: China: Shaanxi Province