Special Report

The Most Powerful Earthquakes Ever Recorded

Source: ubclibrary_digicentre / Flickr

20. Sanriku earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.4
> Location: Off the east coast of Honshu, Japan
> Year: 1933

On March 2, 1933, a powerful earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan’s main island was hardly felt onshore, but the massive tsunami that followed reached heights of 70 feet, causing catastrophic destruction to boats and homes and killing 6,000 people. A nearly identical earthquake and tsunami that struck the region in 1896 killed over 26,000.

Source: Getty Images / Getty Images News via Getty Images

19. Arequipa earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.4
> Location: Off the coast of southern Peru
> Year: 2001

This quake on June 23, 2001, near the coastal desert city of Ilo caused numerous landslides and massive ground collapse as well as multiple tsunamis. Although there were only 81 confirmed casualties (and 64 people missing,) over 17,500 homes were destroyed and twice that many were damaged. Because of southwestern Peru’s location over the meeting of two tectonic plates, major earthquakes are common in the region.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

18. Southern Sumatra earthquakes
> Magnitude: 8.4
> Location: Off the coast of southern Sumatra, Indonesia
> Year: 2007

On Sept. 12 and 13, 2007, multiple earthquakes occurred along the Sunda Trench in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra – the largest of them having magnitudes of 8.4 and 7.9. Aftershocks went on for days and some of the quakes were felt as far away as Thailand. The earthquakes led to blackouts in Bengkulu, violent shaking in highrises in Jakarta, and multiple tsunami warnings, but minimal damage was reported.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

17. Kamchatka earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.4
> Location: Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
> Year: 1923

A February 3, 1923 earthquake with an epicenter on the southeastern coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula triggered a 25-foot tsunami that crossed the Pacific, reaching Japan, Hawaii, and California. The tsunami killed two people in Russia and a single fisherman in Hawaii. Two months later, a similar earthquake on the peninsula – a tectonically active area known for its powerful earthquakes – triggered a larger tsunami that killed 36 people.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. Kuril Islands earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.5
> Location: Kuril Islands
> Year: 1963

The Kuril Islands, a volcanic archipelago that stretches between the Japanese island of Hokkaido and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, are in an area of intense seismic activity formed by the subduction of the Pacific tectonic plate under the Eurasian Plate. A quake here on October 13, 1963, triggered a tsunami that reached much of the west coast of North America, from Canada to Mexico. Luckily, no damage or deaths were reported.

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