Largest Earthquake Ever Recorded

Earthquake, Chile

Valdivia after earthquake, 1960. Image credit: National Geophysical Data Center, Natural Hazards Slides

The largest earthquake ever recorded took place in Valdivia, Chile on the evening of May 22, 1960.  The U.S. Geological Survey explains that it reached a magnitude of 9.5 on the Richter scale (the energy equivalent of 10+18 joules) and spanned roughly 1,000 kilometers of land (10+04) from Lebu to Puerto Aisen.

The earthquake left approximately 1,655 people dead, 3,000 injured, 2,000,000 homeless, and caused a total of $550 million in damages (10+06).  But that wasn’t all.

A tsunami followed with waves as high as 26 feet.  It caused death and destruction in Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, as well as on the west coast of the United States.  Just two days later, Volcan Puyehue erupted, which continued spewing ash for several weeks.

The earthquake was preceded by four foreshocks, each with a magnitude between 7.0 and 8.0, and in the six weeks that followed, more than five aftershocks occurred with a magnitude of 7.0 or greater.  To this day, the world has never witnessed or felt a more powerful earthquake than the one on May 22 in Chile.

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