What Is the Biggest Earthquake Ever Recorded?
Thought most earthquakes are big enough to cause major damage to buildings and injure or kill people, there are some earthquakes that are massive when compared to other geological events. Records indicated that the “biggest” earthquake recorded by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) took place in Chile in 1960. In fact, this South American catastrophe is known as the Great Chilean Earthquake.
This event measure 9.5 on the Richter scale, which is used to measure the amount of activity and the strength of the quake. Estimates show that more than 1,600 people were killed in this earthquake. Damage was measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
In addition to the 1,600+ killed, there were more than 3,000 reported injuries as a result of the quake. Two million people or more were left without homes. The loss of life and the property damage reached far from Chile, however. Sixty people died in Hawaii because of a tsunami caused by the quake. Nearly 200 died in Japan and the Philippines. The west coast of the United States experienced damage as well.
Ocean waves created by the earthquake reached nearly 40 feet high. The water reached two miles inland in some places. Waves reached 35 feet in height in Hawaii and 18 feet in Japan, all the way across the Pacific Ocean. A volcano erupted after the earthquake and continued to rumble and send ash and steam into the air for weeks. Scientists estimated that the rupture involved in the Earth’s surface was hundreds of miles long.
There are theories that some earthquakes that occurred before accurate measurements were taken might have registered higher on the Richter scale. An earthquake in Portugal in 1755 is said to have been as massive as any ever experienced. Another huge earthquake occurred in China in the 16th century, according to written records. This may have killed the most people of any earthquake, possibly as many as one million. But it may not have been as strong as the Chilean earthquake, according to the Richter scale.
Other massive earthquakes have reached into the 9.0 range on the scale. For example, the 1964 quake in Alaska hit 9.2. The earthquake that caused the massive tsunami in 2004 (Indian Ocean) measured 9.1. Scientists who follow earthquake and other geological events know that earthquakes of lesser magnitude may have more effect now because of the increased human population and the presence of towns and cities in places that were uninhabited centuries ago.
New technology has allowed scientists to provide more accurate ideas about when an earthquake might occur. But it is widely accepted that quakes cannot be predicted precisely. Because these events are caused by movement of massive plates that make up the Earth’s crust they certainly cannot be controlled. The only thing human beings can do is prepare for quakes by having evacuation, medical and social plans in place. While the Chilean earthquake was the “biggest” according to the scale of magnitude, there have been earthquakes in the same range of severity for centuries.