Most Destructive Earthquakes that Shook the World

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World Map showing Most Destructive Earthquakes

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Every year hundreds of earthquakes strike different parts of the earth killing thousands of people and causing massive financial damages. Some of these are insignificant due to their low magnitude or to the fact that they hit some uninhabited area while others are massive and claim thousands of lives. In this list, we will take a look at a few earthquakes that have earned a place in history because of their magnitude, destruction causes, number of deaths or sheer intensity.

Shensi, China

When: January 23, 1556

Magnitude: More than 8

Number of deaths: Around 830,000

This earthquake may have occurred around 460 years ago, but it is rated as one of the deadliest. Though the death toll was staggering but the damages were colossal. It is said that some 500 miles were utterly destroyed. Many of the city walls could not stand the impact and collapsed, while most of the houses were razed to the ground.

Lisbon, Portugal

When: November 1, 1755

Magnitude: 8.7

Number of deaths: 10,000 -100,000 people

On November 1, this deadly earthquake almost totally destroyed the city of Lisbon. The earthquake claimed the lives of almost a quarter of Lisbon’s population. Resulting in a tsunami and fire, the impact of the earthquake was also felt in the European nations of northern Italy and France as well as the continent of Africa making it one of history’s most deadliest.

Haiyuan, Ningxia, China

When: December 16, 1920

Magnitude: 7.8

Number of deaths: 200,000

Among the deadliest earthquakes till date, causing massive destruction in the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. The earthquake claimed some 73,000 lives in Haiyuan County alone and some 30,000 in Guyuan County. Many houses were destroyed and a number of landslides occurred.

Kanto, Japan

When: September 1, 1923

Magnitude: 7.9

Number of deaths: 142,800

Often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake, it badly destroyed the Tokyo-Yokohama area. Apart from the massive casualties, some 381,000 of the 694,000 properties that were located here were either completely or partially destroyed in the earthquake.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

When: October 5, 1948

Magnitude: 7.3

Number of deaths: 110,000

Ashgabat and some nearby buildings were badly damaged in Ashgabat in Soviet Turkmenistan. But the destruction was not limited to Ashgabat, damages and casualties were also reported in Darreh Gaz, which was located in Iran. Rated among the deadliest earthquakes, the quake destroyed buildings and derailed trains.

Tangshan, China

When: July 27, 1976

Magnitude: 7.5

Number of deaths: Official estimate is 255,000

A massive and deadly earthquake claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, the damage from the earthquake was reported as far as Beijing. The damage was huge but the Chinese government refused international aid.

Indian Ocean

When: December 26, 2004

Magnitude: 9.2

Number of deaths: 227,898

Probably one of the most horrific earthquakes to have struck earth. The earthquake, which struck the bottom of the Indian Ocean, released energy equaling some 23,000 atomic bombs. The impact of the damaging earthquake was felt across 14 countries in South Asia and Africa. Apart from the huge death toll, the earthquake displaced approximately 1.7 million people.


When: January 12, 2010

Magnitude: 7

Number of deaths: 222,570

The earthquake devastated Haiti. Apart from the more that 200,000 dead, some 300,000 people were injured. The earthquake displaced around 1.3 million people.


When: April 25, 2015

Magnitude: 7.8

Number of deaths: Nearly 9,000

The April 2015 was one of the recent earthquakes and the worst to strike Nepal after the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake. The quake flattened buildings and destroyed age-old buildings in Nepal. Around 21 people were killed when the quake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest resulting in the deadliest day on the mountain.

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