List of the world’s deadliest earthquakes

Large earthquakes can lead to catastrophic consequences, resulting in devastating loss of life and extensive economic damage. Let us take a look at some of the deadliest earthquakes.

Earthquakes pose significant threats as one of the deadliest natural disasters. Approximately 100 earthquakes occur each year with the potential to inflict serious damage. Striking suddenly and without warning, earthquake-prone regions often overlap with densely populated areas. In these locations, large earthquakes can lead to catastrophic consequences, resulting in devastating loss of life and extensive economic damage. Let us take a look at some of the deadliest earthquakes.

Sumatra, Indonesia, 2004

The massive 9.1 magnitude earthquake that occurred along a 1,300-kilometer segment of the Sumatran megathrust plate boundary was the result of centuries-long tectonic processes. The Burma microplate’s movement overriding the India tectonic plate, a process known as subduction, triggered this immense seismic event.

The earthquake caused a significant uplift on the ocean floor, exceeding 20 meters, and generated a devastating tsunami wave reaching heights of over 30 meters. This catastrophic wave struck coastal areas in 14 countries, resulting in an estimated death toll of 228,000 people, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand bearing the brunt of the casualties.

This earthquake stands as the most powerful ever recorded in Asia and remains the deadliest natural disaster of the 21st century.

Tohoku, Japan, 2011

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck, marking the most significant earthquake ever recorded in Japan. Its epicentre was located approximately 72 kilometres off the northeast coast of Honshu, the country’s largest island. The earthquake was so powerful that it shifted the Earth’s axis by an estimated 10 to 25 centimetres, while Honshu itself moved 2.4 meters eastward.


The tsunami wave unleashed by the earthquake engulfed entire towns and villages and overwhelmed defences that had been installed following previous tsunami events. Some coastal areas experienced tsunami waves exceeding 40 meters in height, far surpassing the expectations of planners who had constructed seawalls for protection.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was also severely impacted, as the tsunami destroyed its power supply, leading to a loss of cooling to the reactor cores and subsequent meltdowns, resulting in a significant release of nuclear material into the atmosphere. The disaster claimed over 22,000 lives, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in Japan’s history.

Chile, 2010

In the early hours of February 27, 2010, a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck the coast of central Chile near the city of Concepcion. The intense shaking lasted approximately 3 minutes and was felt as far away as Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is 4,620 kilometres distant.

Concepcion has a history of devastating earthquakes. In 1939, powerful shockwaves destroyed large parts of the city, resulting in the loss of 28,000 lives. Subsequent significant earthquakes occurred in 1953 and 1960, causing further damage and loss of life.

Due to the magnitude of the 2010 earthquake and its origin beneath the ocean floor, tsunami warnings were issued in 53 countries. The resulting tsunami reached as far as Japan and the coast of California in the United States.

Indian Ocean, 2012

On April 11, 2012, a significant 8.6 magnitude earthquake occurred approximately 610 km off the coast of Banda Aceh, followed closely by another registering 8.2 magnitude. The strength and location of these earthquakes triggered widespread panic, prompting inhabitants to flee coastal areas. Despite concerns, actual damage was minimal, with minor reports of building damage in some regions, and no tsunami wave materialised.

This seismic event marked the largest-ever recorded instance of a strike-slip earthquake, where the crust on either side of two tectonic plates moves horizontally against each other, as opposed to vertically. Unlike vertical strike-slip faults, these types of earthquakes are less likely to generate large tsunami waves.

Aleutian Islands,  1946

In April 1946, a powerful 8.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific Ocean, situated between Alaska (USA) and the Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia). This seismic event triggered a widespread tsunami that rapidly traversed the Pacific Ocean, reportedly travelling at a speed of 800 km/h and causing extensive devastation.

The tsunami reached the Hawaiian Islands just 5 hours after the earthquake, covering a distance of over 3,900 km. The resulting devastation claimed the lives of 159 people and flattened numerous buildings in Hawaii.

The impact of the tsunami was not limited to Hawaii alone. Near the epicentre, wave heights as high as 42 meters were recorded at Unimak Island. Even Antarctica, located over 15,500 km away, experienced tsunami waves generated by this massive earthquake.

Assam, India, 1950

The most powerful earthquake ever recorded on land occurred between Assam in India and Tibet, with its epicentre situated in the Mishmi Hills of northeastern India. This significant quake resulted from the collision of two continental plates, namely the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate.

In Tibet, the 8.6 magnitude earthquake triggered massive landslides and fissures in the land, causing entire villages to slide into rivers and be swept away. Similarly, India also suffered extensive damage, with 70 villages destroyed by landslides and the collapse of natural dams.

The event claimed the lives of approximately 4,800 individuals, with around 1,500 fatalities in India and 3,300 in Tibet.

Rat Island, USA, 1965

The Rat Islands, part of the broader Aleutian Islands chain, are situated at the juncture of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, leading to frequent seismic activity.

In 1965, an earthquake originating from Rat Island triggered a tsunami wave exceeding 10 meters in height on Shemya Island, located 304 kilometres away. Remarkably, even in Hawaii, USA, approximately 4,200 kilometres from the epicentre, the resulting tsunami wave reached a height of 1 meter.

Fortunately, despite the considerable strength of the earthquake, reported damage and casualties were minimal, primarily due to the sparse population in the area.

Earthquakes are one of nature’s most terrifying and destructive forces. The immense power unleashed by these seismic events can level entire cities, trigger devastating tsunamis, and claim countless lives.


This article has been modified using Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools.