Special Report

The Most Powerful Earthquakes Ever Recorded

5. Severo-Kurilsk earthquake
> Magnitude: 9.0
> Location: Off the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
> Year: 1952

The most powerful earthquake in Russian history, this November 4, 1952 earthquake caused massive tsunamis that struck the Kuril Islands and the southern Kamchatka Peninsula, destroying the town of Severo-Kurilsk. Many residents fled to higher ground after the first tsunami, but over 2,000 were killed by the second wave after they returned to town. The tsunamis reached Hawaii, where damage exceeded $800,000, but no deaths were reported.

Source: Chris McGrath / Getty Images News via Getty Images

4. Tōhoku earthquake
> Magnitude: 9.1
> Location: Off the east coast of Tōhoku, Japan
> Year: 2011

Centered 45 miles east of Japan’s Oshika Peninsula, this March 11, 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused widespread death and destruction in the region, and led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Tsunami waves reaching up to 133 feet high swept six miles inland in some areas. Over 19,000 people were killed, while over 6,000 were injured and hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes. The estimated economic loss was over $309 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in history.

Source: Getty Images / Getty Images News via Getty Images

3. Sumatra-Andaman earthquake
> Magnitude: 9.1
> Location: Off the west coast of northern Sumatra
> Year: 2004

With origins in the Indian Ocean, this massive earthquake lasted eight to 10 minutes and triggered subsequent earthquakes as far away as Alaska. It resulted in the single most deadly tsunami in history, with 100-foot waves that devastated nearby coastal communities, killing over 283,000 people in 14 Asian and African countries and displacing over 1 million. The countries that experienced the most loss of life are (in order) Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

2. Great Alaskan earthquake
> Magnitude: 9.2
> Location: Off the southern coast of Alaska
> Year: 1964

This four-minute-and-38 s-cond earthquake originating in the Prince William Sound caused massive geological failures including soil liquefaction, landslides, and ground fissures that led to significant structural damage in Anchorage as well as landslide damage in Port Valdez. Subsequent tsunamis destroyed the village of Chinega and caused damage and some deaths in many other Alaskan towns as well as in British Columbia, on the West Coast of the U.S., and in Hawaii and Japan. The death toll is believed to be 131 and property damage is estimated at $311 million (in 1964 dollars).

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association

1. Valdivia earthquake
> Magnitude: 9.5
> Location: Bio-Bio, Chile
> Year: 1960

Also known as the Great Chilean earthquake, this May 22, 1960 quake is the most powerful ever recorded. It caused tsunamis that battered the Chilean coast and led to damage and deaths in numerous countries including Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, and New Zealand. A conservative worldwide death toll estimate is 1,655, with an additional 3,000 injuries and over 2 million people displaced. The damage to Chile was about $550 million, with another $75 million in damage in Hawaii and $50 million in Japan.

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