Top 5 Most Destructive Earthquakes in History

David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images
Earthquakes shake the ground all over the world, but the actual shaking doesn’t always cause the worst of the damage. They cause other natural disasters, such as flooding, tsunamis, landslides and even volcanic eruptions. This amounts to significant destruction that includes millions of dollars in damage and thousands of lives lost. Some of the most destructive earthquakes aren’t massive in magnitude, but they cause massive damage and casualties because of where and when they strike.

5 Shensi, China, 1556

The magnitude of an earthquake that occurred more than 400 years ago is estimated to be around 8, which isn’t as impressive as other destructive quakes. However, the Jan. 23 quake in Shenshi, China caused about 830,000 deaths in 1556. Confirmed damage from the quake extended about 270 miles northeast of the epicenter, which was in China's central Shaanxi province, although some report of damage were more than 500 miles away. The quake caused fissures to open in the ground, lifting and sinking of the ground, liquefaction and landslides. Most of the towns in the damaged areas reported that all houses collapsed as well. In the end, an area of about 500 miles wide was wiped out by the quake and its subsequent disasters.

4 Assam-Tibet, 1950

A magnitude 8.6 earthquake shook the regions of Assam and Tibet Aug. 15, 1950. Although its epicenter was in the Tibetan Plateau, the quake brought the most destruction to Assam. According to the U.S. National Geological Survey, 70 villages in this region disappeared in the wake of the disasters generated by the quake, which included landslides and severe flooding, and resulted in a death toll of about 1,500. Eight days after the first tremors, a natural dam on the Subansiri River burst, unleashing a 23-foot high wall of water over nearby villages and killing more than 500 people. Seismologists as far away as England and Norway noted "oscillations" in nearby lakes.

3 Alaska, 1964

A magnitude 9.2 earthquake devastated the Gulf of Alaska March 28, 1964, causing mudslides in Anchorage and raising parts of outlying islands by as much as 36 feet. It also brought a tsunami with waves as high as 220 feet and caused 128 deaths and $311 million in damages. The displacement of water was felt as far away as the Louisiana Gulf coast and Puerto Rico.

2 Chile, 1960

The most powerful earthquake ever occurred in Chile May 22, 1960. This quake shook the world with a staggering 9.5 magnitude, leaving 4,485 people dead and at least 2 million homeless. The tremors caused a tsunami that destroyed the port of Puerto Saavedra, causing $550 million in damages and killing an additional 170 people with its 16-foot high waves that hit the coasts of Japan and the Philippines. The day after, the Chilean volcano Volcán Puyehue erupted and spewed ash for several weeks.

1 Sumatra, Indonesia, 2004

Known as the cause of the deadliest tsunami in history, the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that hit Sumatra, Indonesia Dec. 26, 2004 caused massive damage and death. The tsunami’s force was felt in 14 countries across Asia and east Africa and was triggered by the Indian tectonic plate being pushed beneath the Burmese plate. Indonesia saw the most damage, and more than 227,000 people died. The final death toll is an estimate that took a month to establish. In addition to the loss of life, some communities lost more than half of their fishing and industrial infrastructure, and the quake resulted in more than $10 billion in damages.