Japan's devastating earthquake: How it ranks in world history
Japan's 8.9-magnitude quake is one of the most powerful ever recorded. Here's how it compares to other historic temblors
A geoscience monitor shows the curve of the earthquake that hit Japan, the fifth strongest quake ever recorded.
A geoscience monitor shows the curve of the earthquake that hit Japan, the fifth strongest quake ever recorded.

The massive earthquake that rocked Japan Friday morning was the largest ever to hit the island nation, and one of the worst on record anywhere in the world. With a magnitude of 8.9, and with casualties expected to number in the hundreds, at least, it "is going to be among the top 10 earthquakes recorded since we have had seismographs," said seismologist Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey. Here's a look at history's largest earth-shakers:


1. Valdivia, Chile (1960) — 9.5
The most powerful quake on record killed at least 1,600 people and left 2 million homeless in Chile. The tsunami caused hundreds more deaths in Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines. It caused $550 million in damage, including $500,000 along the U.S. West Coast.

2. Prince William Sound, Alaska (1964) — 9.2 
The earthquake off the Alaska coast, plus the ensuing tsunami, killed 128 people. It caused $311 million in property damage, and the three-minute quake razed 30 blocks of downtown Anchorage, including the new Four Seasons apartment complex. Waves as high as 220 feet were recorded.

3. Off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia (2004) 9.1
The Christmas Tsunami, sparked by an undersea temblor off the western coast of Sumatra, wreaked havoc in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa, especially Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand. Waves reached 100 feet. With almost 230,000 people killed, it is one of the deadliest quakes on record.

4. Kamchatka, Russia (1952) — 9.0
The Kamchatka quake, off of Russia's eastern coast, sent 30-foot waves to Hawaii, as well as smaller waves to Alaska and California. No deaths were reported, but a Hawaiian farmer reported that six of his cattle were killed.

5. Off the coast of Japan (2011) — 8.9
The extent of the damage from Japan's biggest-ever quake isn't known yet, but it washed out trains, set parts of Tokyo aflame, shut down four nuclear reactors, and swept away buildings and boats. It is expected to cause billions of dollars worth of damage, and deaths will likely number in the thousands.

6. Off the coasts of Maule, Chile (2010) and Ecuador (1906) — 8.8
The Chile earthquake killed 524 people, and the tsunami it unleashed affected a quarter of the globe. The Ecuador quake killed as many as 1,500 people and set of a tsunami that hit as far away as Hawaii.

7. Rat Islands, Alaska (1965) — 8.7
The huge earthquake cause 35-foot-high waves, but didn't do much damage in the Aleutian Islands.

8. Sumatra, Indonesia (2005), Assam, Tibet (1950), and Andreanof Islands, Alaska (1957) — 8.6
The Sumatra quake killed about 1,300 people. The 1950 Tibet quake killed at least 1,530 people, washing out about 70 villages and sweeping others into the river; related flooding washed out a major dam in the area. The Alaska quake caused some damage at Alaska Sand Bay before moving on to destroy two villages in Hawaii.

9. Sumatra, Indonesia (2007), Indonesia (1938), Kamchatka, Russia (1923), Chile-Argentina border (1922), and Kuril Islands (1963) — 8.5
None of these earthquakes were as destructive as those at the top of this list, though a big wave from the Sumatra quake killed 25 people.



1. Shaanxi, China (1556)
More than 830,000 deaths. Estimated 8.0 magnitude

2. Tangshan, China (1976)
Between 255,000 deaths and 655,000 deaths.  7.5 magnitude

3. Syria (1138)
An estimated 230,000 deaths. Magnitude unknown

4. Sumatra (2004)
227,898 deaths. 9.1 magnitude

5. Haiti (2010)
222,570 deaths. 7.0 magnitude

6. Iran (856)
An estimated 200,000 deaths. Magnitude unknown

7. Haiyuan, Ningxia, China (1920)
200,000 deaths. 7.8 magnitude

8. Iran (893)
An estimated 150,000 deaths. Magnitude unknown

9. Kanto, Japan (1923)
142,800 deaths. 7.9 magnitude

Sources: USGS (2), Newsweek, Daily News, L.A. Times



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