Special Report

The Most Powerful Earthquakes Ever Recorded

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

15. Vallenar earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.5
> Location: Atacama, Chile
> Year: 1922

The desertous Atacama region of Chile lies along a tectonic plate convergence that has been generating megathrust earthquakes for 500 million years. An earthquake near the Argentine border on November 11, 1922 and the subsequent tsunami caused an estimated $5 to $25 million in damage (unadjusted for inflation) and killed over 1,000 people. The quake was felt as far away as San Francisco, and the tsunami reached the Hawaiian Islands.

14. Banda Sea earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.5
> Location: Off the northwest coast of Tual, Indonesia
> Year: 1938

This earthquake in the Banda Sea on February 1, 1938, occurred at a depth of about 15 miles, and released energy equivalent to that of 5,300 atomic bombs. Despite being one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history, it caused only minor damage and no deaths – though it generated small tsunamis that led to destruction on Banda and Kai Islands.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

13. Aleutian Islands earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.6
> Location: Off the southern coast of Unimak Island, Alaska
> Year: 1946

This offshore earthquake on April 1, 1946 did little direct damage but triggered a Pacific-wide tsunami that destroyed the Scotch Cap Lighthouse on Unimak Island in the Aleutians, killing all five lighthouse keepers, and caused hundreds of millions in damage to the Hawaiian Islands. Casualties included 160 people in Hawaii and one in California.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

12. Andreanof Islands earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.6
> Location: Off the southern coast of Adak Island, Alaska
> Year: 1957

This March 9, 1957 earthquake occurred in the Aleutian Trench off the Andreanof Islands in the Aleutians. While it caused severe damage on nearby Adak Island, no casualties were reported. The subsequent tsunami, however, traveled as far as Chile and Japan and caused over $5.3 million in damage (in 1957 dollars) in the Hawaiian Islands, mostly on Oahu and Kauai.

Source: Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images News via Getty Images

11. Nias earthquake
> Magnitude: 8.6
> Location: Off the northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia
> Year: 2005

On March 28, 2005, an earthquake that occurred halfway between the islands of Nias and Simeulue killed over 1,300 people, 1,000 of them on Nias. It destroyed over 300 buildings and caused tsunamis in the surrounding area. Several major aftershocks followed the main quake, which was felt strongly in Bangkok, 620 miles away, and mildly in India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

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