Naturkatastrophen (pixcove.com CC0)

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
05/22/1960
Chile
Puerto Montt, Valdivia9.52,000
03/28/1964
United States
Alaska9.215
12/26/2004
Indonesia
Sumatra (Aceh: Off West Coast)9.11,001
03/11/2011
Japan
Honshu9.01,476
11/04/1952
Russia
Kamchatka Peninsula9.00
02/27/2010
Chile
Maule, Concepcion, Talcahuano8.8402
02/04/1965
United States
Aleutian Islands (Rat Islands)8.70
03/28/2005
Indonesia
Sumatera (Sw)8.61,303
08/15/1950
India
India-china8.61,530
04/11/2012
Indonesia
N Sumatra (Off West Coast)8.610
03/09/1957
United States
Alaska8.60
10/13/1963
Russia
Kuril Islands8.50
06/23/2001
Peru
Arequipa, Moquegua, Tacna, Ayacucho8.477
09/12/2007
Indonesia
Sumatra8.425
09/16/2015
Chile
Central8.37
10/04/1994
Russia
Kuril Islands; Japan (Hokkaido)8.311
09/25/2003
Japan
Hokkaido8.30
11/06/1958
Russia
Kuril Islands8.30
11/04/1963
Indonesia
Banda Sea8.30
11/15/2006
Russia
Kuril 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
04/10/1815
Indonesia
Tambora711,000
1000
North Korea
Changbaishan70
08/27/1883
Indonesia
Krakatau62,000
1660
Papua New Guinea
Long Island62,000
10/24/1902
Guatemala
Santa Maria61,500
06/15/1991
Philippines
Pinatubo6450
02/19/1600
Peru
Huaynaputina61,400
450
El Salvador
Ilopango630,000
1452
Vanuatu
Kuwae60
09/06/1912
United States
Novarupta62
02/01/1477
Iceland
Bardarbunga60
1280
Ecuador
Quilotoa60
540
Papua New Guinea
Rabaul60
800
Papua New Guinea
Dakataua60
800
United States
Bona-Churchill60
710
Papua New Guinea
Pago60
240
Russia
Ksudach60
230
New Zealand
Taupo60
2060
United States
Bona-Churchill60
2050
Vanuatu
Ambrym60


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
12/26/2004
Indonesia
Off W. Coast Of Sumatra50 m227,899
11/01/1755
Portugal
Lisbon18 m50,000
03/11/2011
Japan
Honshu Island38 m18,453
06/15/1896
Japan
Sanriku38 m27,122
08/27/1883
Indonesia
Krakatau41 m34,417
05/21/1792
Japan
Shimabara Bay, Kyushu Island55 m14,524
05/22/1960
Chile
Southern Chile25 m2,223
12/07/1944
Japan
Off Southeast Coast Kii Peninsula10 m1,223
12/12/1992
Indonesia
Flores Sea26 m1,169
04/24/1771
Japan
Ryukyu Islands85 m13,486
12/30/1703
Japan
Off Sw Boso Peninsula10 m5,233
09/20/1498
Japan
Enshunada Sea10 m5,000
10/28/1707
Japan
Nankaido25 m5,000
03/02/1933
Japan
Sanriku29 m3,022
12/24/1854
Japan
Nankaido28 m3,000
10/28/1707
Japan
Enshunada11 m2,000
12/28/1908
Italy
Messina Strait, Ionian Sea13 m2,000
12/20/1946
Japan
Honshu: S Coast6 m1,362
06/16/1026
Japan
Off Masuda, Shimane Prefecture10 m1,001
09/01/1923
Japan
Sagami Bay13 m2,144