Earthquakes are probably the most horrifying natural calamities to hit mankind. Our inability to predict and warn the populace in advance is what makes them so devastating. The following list presents the deadliest ever earthquakes.
1. Shaanxi, China – 1556
The 1556 Shaanxi winter earthquake is the deadliest earthquake on record. This 8.0 tremor resulted in more than 820,000 casualties. The most significant factor contributing to the high death toll was that the majority of population lived in artificial caves or “Yaodongs”, most of which collapsed. Such was the intensity of the earthquake that hills and valleys were formed in an instant and many rivers changed course.
2. Indian Ocean - 2004
The memories of this terrible calamity are still very fresh. This undersea earthquake, with an epicenter off the west coast of Indonesia, triggered tsunamis which smashed into coastal areas thousands of kilometers from the epicenter. A total of 227,898 lives were lost.
3. Tansghan, China - 1976
In 1976, a severe earthquake hit the Tansghan region of China. The quake hit at a time of great political turmoil in China which came to be known as a “Year of Curse”. By many accounts, the government tried to suppress the actual death toll, their official estimate being 240,000 while unofficial estimates touch 655,000. It was also discovered that a local geologist had observed anomalies and warned officials about the impending disaster. The earthquake was followed soon by the deaths of Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai, and Communist leader, Mao Tse-tung. For many, the disaster was an omen for the end of an era.
4. Aleppo, Syria – 1138
The great Aleppo earthquake in 1138 is estimated to have taken around 23000 lives. The earthquake destroyed the town and surroundings and also triggered a tsunami. The disaster occurred at the time of the Crusades and many mercenaries from both sides lost their lives.
5. Damghan, Iran – 856
Iran has always been highly susceptible to earthquakes due to its location along fault lines. The 856 Damghan earthquake, which cost an estimated 200,000 lives, was the most devastating in the nation’s history. The 2004 Bam earthquake was a vivid reminder of the havoc wreaked by this massive calamity more than a millennium ago
6. Haiyuan, China – 1920
This was another of many earthquakes to have hit China in the 20th century which have taken more than half a million lives. Haiyuan is located at the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau on a major fault line. The earthquake was estimated to have killed 200,000 people and ruptured an area around 237 km long.
7. Ardabil, Iran – 893
The memories of the massive Damghan earthquake had barely faded when only 37 years later, Persia was again hit by a huge earthquake. This time it cost 150,000 lives and destroyed the largest city in northwestern Persia. The town was again hit by a fatal earthquake in 1997.
8. Kanto, Japan – 1923
The great Kanto disaster was a combination of earthquake, the resulting firestorms and a typhoon which devastated Tokyo and the surrounding areas. A total of 142,000 people were killed with 38,000 burned in 15 minutes at a single location by a huge fire tornado.
9. Hokkaido, Japan – 1730
Japan is the world’s most earthquake prone country and the 1730 Hokkaido tremor was one of its deadliest ever. It was a unique “subduction zone” earthquake and also triggered a tsunami resulting in around 137,000 fatalities. The region also experienced a similar but less deadly earthquake in 2003.
10. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – 1948
In the early hours of October 6, 1948, the sleepy Ashgabat was destroyed by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake. The Soviet government initially downplayed the disaster and gave a death toll of 10,000 but it was later revealed that almost 110,000 people had lost their lives. The future dictator of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov also lost his entire family in the incident.