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The most severe natural disasters worldwide

Natural catastrophes, natural and non-human caused events, influence the lives of people around the world. Earthquakes, volcanos and, as a result, tsunamis occur mainly at the edges of tectonic plates. In Europe or eastern US, we are mostly spared from this. Other countries, e.g. The Pacific countries are much more affected by this.

On this page, the most serious earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis of the modern era are listed.

The most severe earthquakes since 1950

Earthquakes are usually caused by shifts of tectonic plates at a depth of 20 to 50 kilometers. If two plates collide against one another, tensions and movements happen, which can lead to devastating damage on the surface of the earth. The adjacent map (source: NASA, DTAM project team) shows the most abundant epicentres of earthquakes, regardless of their strength, and thus clarifies these plate boundaries. Especially on the American west coast and along the Pacific fire ring, there are strikingly frequent earthquakes.

In the most severe earthquakes over the last 60 years, Chile, Alaska (USA) and Indonesia have appeared several times. The column of total damage includes destroyed houses and financial losses. Victims and damage are not included in the tsunamis, which may be caused by the earthquake.

Date CountryRegionMagnitudeDeathsTotal damage
05/22/1960ChilePuerto Montt, Valdivia9.52,000
03/28/1964United StatesAlaska9.215
12/26/2004IndonesiaSumatra (Aceh: Off West Coast)9.11,001
03/11/2011JapanHonshu9.01,476
11/04/1952RussiaKamchatka Peninsula9.00
02/27/2010ChileMaule, Concepcion, Talcahuano8.8402
02/04/1965United StatesAleutian Islands (Rat Islands)8.70
03/28/2005IndonesiaSumatera (Sw)8.61,303
08/15/1950IndiaIndia-china8.61,530
04/11/2012IndonesiaN Sumatra (Off West Coast)8.610
03/09/1957United StatesAlaska8.60
10/13/1963RussiaKuril Islands8.50
06/23/2001PeruArequipa, Moquegua, Tacna, Ayacucho8.477
09/12/2007IndonesiaSumatra8.425
09/16/2015ChileCentral8.37
10/04/1994RussiaKuril Islands; Japan (Hokkaido)8.311
09/25/2003JapanHokkaido8.30
11/06/1958RussiaKuril Islands8.30
11/04/1963IndonesiaBanda Sea8.30
11/15/2006RussiaKuril Islands8.30


The strongest volcanic eruptions of the past 2000 years

Volcanos also occur mostly in the regions where tectonic plates collide. As a result of the pressure in the interior of the earth, liquid rock (magma) makes its way through the resulting cracks to the earth's surface. If a volcano erupts, lava and rock masses are thrown out to high heights.

The strength of volcanos is measured in a volcanic explosivity index (VEI). Volcanos at a VEI of 8 or above are called supervolcanos, which occure extremely rarely. The last outbreak of a supervolcano took place around 26,500 years ago in New Zealand (volcano Taupo). The strongest values calculated for the last 2000 years achieved a VEI of 7, which nevertheless has enormous proportions. Tephramasses of up to 1000 km³ are thrown at heights above 25 km.

Eruption CountryVolcanoVEIDeathsTotal damage
04/10/1815IndonesiaTambora711,000
1000North KoreaChangbaishan70
08/27/1883IndonesiaKrakatau62,000
1660Papua New GuineaLong Island62,000
10/24/1902GuatemalaSanta Maria61,500
06/15/1991PhilippinesPinatubo6450
02/19/1600PeruHuaynaputina61,400
450El SalvadorIlopango630,000
1452VanuatuKuwae60
09/06/1912United StatesNovarupta62
02/01/1477IcelandBardarbunga60
1280EcuadorQuilotoa60
540Papua New GuineaRabaul60
800Papua New GuineaDakataua60
800United StatesBona-Churchill60
710Papua New GuineaPago60
240RussiaKsudach60
230New ZealandTaupo60
2060United StatesBona-Churchill60
2050VanuatuAmbrym60


The most disastrous tsunamis of the past 2000 years

As a result of earthquakes and volcanos, not only land masses, but often also water masses move. The more violent the displacement is, the stronger the tsunamis, which are hardly visible in the open sea. But in shallow waters the waves surge to dozens of meters and sometimes cause the most severe damage on landfall.

The largest floodwave measured so far reached a "megatsunami" in 1958 in the Lituya Bay in Alaska. Through a massive rock slop on one side of the fjord a 524 meter high tidal wave on the other side arose. The fjord was however only 3 km wide.

Unlike volcanos and earthquakes, the effects of tsunamis are often spread over large areas. In the most famous tsunami in December 2004 off the coast of Indonesia and Thailand a tidal wave arose and claimed death sacrifices in 17 countries. The wave reached a height of up to 50 meters and even reached the African continent.

Date OriginRegionWave heightDeathsTotal damage
12/26/2004IndonesiaOff W. Coast Of Sumatra50 m227,899
11/01/1755PortugalLisbon18 m50,000
03/11/2011JapanHonshu Island38 m18,453
06/15/1896JapanSanriku38 m27,122
08/27/1883IndonesiaKrakatau41 m34,417
05/21/1792JapanShimabara Bay, Kyushu Island55 m14,524
05/22/1960ChileSouthern Chile25 m2,223
12/07/1944JapanOff Southeast Coast Kii Peninsula10 m1,223
12/12/1992IndonesiaFlores Sea26 m1,169
04/24/1771JapanRyukyu Islands85 m13,486
12/30/1703JapanOff Sw Boso Peninsula10 m5,233
09/20/1498JapanEnshunada Sea10 m5,000
10/28/1707JapanNankaido25 m5,000
03/02/1933JapanSanriku29 m3,022
12/24/1854JapanNankaido28 m3,000
10/28/1707JapanEnshunada11 m2,000
12/28/1908ItalyMessina Strait, Ionian Sea13 m2,000
12/20/1946JapanHonshu: S Coast6 m1,362
06/16/1026JapanOff Masuda, Shimane Prefecture10 m1,001
09/01/1923JapanSagami Bay13 m2,144