Natural Disasters
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The Worst Earthquakes of the Century

Updated May 16, 2020 126.1k views35 items

As some of the most horrible natural disasters on record, the worst earthquakes of the century claimed thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars in damages. The massive earthquakes seen in the 21st century are among the worst in history, with many sadly claiming hundreds of thousands of lives at a time from the initial quake and resulting tsunamis, which also ranked among the worst earthquakes ever.

Sadly, earthquakes, like other natural disasters such as tornadoes and famines, are natural, often occur without warning, and leave no apologies. Many times caused by tectonic plate movement, earthquakes cannot be prevented and are too often deadly for those affected.

What are the worst earthquakes of the 21st century? Sadly, this list will give you that answer... for now.

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  • 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake - 9.1

    Photo: Philip A. McDaniel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Causing massive destruction in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and the Maldives, among other countries, the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake is known as the deadliest earthquake of this century. The quake itself, an estimated 9.1 magnitude, struck on Sunday, December 26, 2004, off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, but it was the resulting tsunami that proved to be the deadliest.

    Combining the figures from the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and the Indonesian Tsunami, which had waves of nearly 100 feet high, at least 225,000 lives were lost. Numerous others were injured and billions of dollars in damages were reported. 

    In addition to being the worst earthquake of the century in terms of magnitude, the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake ranks among the worst earthquakes in history.

  • 2011 Tohoku Earthquake - 9.0

    The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, also called the Great East Japan Earthquake, is one of the most recent on the list of the worst earthquakes of the century, occurring on Friday, March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. local time. The massive 9.0-magnitude tremor, was one of the top five earthquakes in terms of magnitude.

    This earthquake not only caused a powerful tsunami with waves up to 130 feet tall, but also moved the island of Honshu a reported eight feet east. As a result of both, over 20,000 people were killed, another 2,500 missing. Property damage, which also threatened the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants, was estimated around $300 billion.

  • 2005 Sumatra Earthquake - 8.7

    Photo: Jeremie Yoder / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Hitting Indonesia with yet another deadly quake, the 2005 Sumatra Earthquake shook the area on March 28, 2005. The 8.7-magnitude shake had a depth of 30 kilometers and was centered near off the northern coast of Sumatra. Similar to the 2004 tragedy, though much smaller, a tsunami followed the earthquake.

    The area affected by the earthquake was still very much in the process of rebuilding from the massive 2004 earthquake and saw additional damage from this tremor. Around 1,300 people were killed as a result of the disaster.

  • 2015 Chile Earthquake - 8.3

    On September 16, 2015, Chile was struck by a magnitude 8.3 earthquake. At least five people were killed and one million were evacuated from affected areas. The quake triggered tsunami alerts and coastal evacuations.

    The epicenter was reported to have been approximately 34 miles west of Illapel, at a depth of 20.5 miles.