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World's Worst Earthquakes


When faults let loose with a mighty rumble, the reverberations are felt across the globe. As Mother Nature takes lives and property with such minute warning, super temblors anywhere in the world remind those in quake-prone zones of the vulnerability of great metropolitan regions and remind us to be prepared with good building codes and swift emergency response. Here are the world's worst shakers.

1. Shensi province, China: Jan. 23, 1556

This is the deadliest earthquake in recorded history, with a stunning estimate of 830,000 people killed in the temblor. The province is considered a cradle of Chinese civilization, and the destruction was spread out over an estimated 520 square miles. Many of the dead were peasants who lived in artificial caves in the Loess Plateau that collapsed during the shaking. The city of Huaxian, near the epicenter, was completely destroyed and more than half of its residents were killed. Modern estimates peg the magnitude at around 8.0.

2. Tangshan, China: July 27, 1976

This stands as the worst earthquake to hit China in the 20th century, with a death toll of between 255,000 and 655,000 and nearly 800,000 injuries. The epicenter was on the northeast coast of China, with rumblings felt as far as 470 miles away. The magnitude 7.5 quake struck before 4 a.m. and thus caught many victims in their beds. The wide estimate in the death toll is due to the restrictions on information released by the communist government, particularly at the time. Tangshan was completely rebuilt and now is home to a million people.

3. Sumatra: Dec. 26, 2004

(Photo by Andrew Wong/Getty Images)
Even though this was the third greatest magnitude earthquake in the world since 1990, the magnitude 9.1 temblor is remembered for the deadly tsunami that the undersea quake let loose. he earthquake was felt in Sumatra, parts of Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and the ensuing tsunami hit 14 countries as far away as South Africa. The death toll was 227,898. The fault line that slipped has been estimated at 994 miles long. The tragedy has resulted in numerous tsunami watches ever since when earthquakes have occurred near oceans.

4. Haiyuan, Ningxia, China: Dec. 16, 1920

U.S. Geological Survey
This earthquake resulted in 125 miles of faulting pushed to the surface and total destruction in several cities. The 7.8 magnitude quake was felt from the Yellow Sea to Inner Mongolia and was so powerful that some rivers changed course as a result. An estimated 200,000 people lost their lives, though Chinese estimates are a bit higher, and the survivors tolerated three years of aftershocks. The quake, which traveled a long distance at high velocity, caused waves in in 2 lakes and 3 fjords in western Norway, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

5. Kanto, Japan: Sept. 1, 1923

Imagine being caught in a 7.9 magnitude earthquake with four to 10 minutes of terrifying shaking: That's the time estimate range in witness accounts from this deadly temblor, which also sparked the Great Tokyo Fire that burned about 381,000 homes in the Tokyo-Yokohama area. The quake also touched off a tsunami with waves as high as 39 feet. The shaking also managed to move a 93-ton Buddha statue by two feet. The quake that killed 142,800 people struck at lunchtime, taking the fire that many were using to cook and spreading it with high winds.
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