The Top 5 Deadliest Earthquakes In History

Mother Nature’s fury, acts of God, natural disasters, whatever you want to call them, earthquakes are both deadly and destructive, and the damage ranges hugely from event to event. Measured by the Richter Magnitude Scale, often known just as the Richter Scale, this measures the energy emitted by a particular earthquake, and scores it on a range. The worst earthquakes in history measure high on the Richter Scale.

For further information on the many, many earthquakes that have hit the globe, check out this resource, for really interesting reading (and lots of stats!).

The world is built on tectonic plates, pieces of the earth’s crust, and then they move, an earthquake is the outcome. Of course, it’s a lot more technical than that, but that’s the simplified version. We’ve all heard of the most recent, and worst, earthquake in living memory, and that’s the Haiti earthquake, back in 2010, and that stands as the second most deadly earthquake in history.

Let’s look at the top five.


1     Shaanxi earthquake, China


On 23 January 1556, 830,000 people were killed when a violent and destructive earthquake hit the area. The surrounding 520 miles of land were destroyed and around 60% of the local population lost their lives due to falling debris, collapsed buildings etc. This stands to this day as the most deadly earthquake in history.


2    Haiti 2010

The most recent on the list is also the second deadliest in history. 316,000 people were killed when the earthquake hit on 12 January 2010. By as late as 24 January, 52 aftershocks measuring around 4.5 or higher on the Richter Scale had been recorded. A massive humanitarian effort took place worldwide, sending aid and help over to Haiti, but the country has struggled to recover.


3     Haiyuan earthquake, China1920_Gansu_earthquake

273,400 people were killed on 16 December 1920, when at 20.06 local time a massive earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale hit. The Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area was completely destroyed and aftershocks were felt for up to three years after the initial earthquake.


4     Antioch earthquake, Syria


Way back in 115, on 13 December, the fourth deadliest earthquake in history hit the Syrian region of Antioch, killing 260,000 people and destroying buildings. A local tsunami was triggered, causing further damage.


5     Antioch, Syria

The second mention on the top five list, a further earthquake hit Antioch in May 526, and killed somewhere between 250,000 – 300,000 people. The earthquake was followed by a subsequent fire, which destroyed the buildings which had managed to survive the earthquake.


As you can see, when an earthquake hits, there’s not a lot anyone can do, and they can easily be massively deadly. These days, the areas most at risk of earthquakes, such as those lying on a tectonic plate fault, take precautions, such as buildings erected in a way to minimise as much damage as possible, and people are educated on what to do in the event of an earthquake.

Whilst we can’t do anything to stop Mother Nature’s fury, we can educate ourselves and be prepared.




About Nicky Curtis

Nicky Curtis is a freelance writer of two years duration, although she has written for her own enjoyment for many years. Nicky specialises in all things travel and beauty, and she is currently writing her own book, set in Turkey, which has become her second home over the last few years. A typical "girly girl", Nicky writes about the topics that are dear to her heart, hoping readers connect in the same way.
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