The top 10 deadliest US earthquakes

The Top 10 Deadliest US Earthquakes

Earthquake deaths are mercifully rare in the U.S. these days, but the devastation these natural disasters can wreak still captivates us. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, here's a look at the top 10 deadliest earthquakes to affect the U.S.

The most recent earthquake on the list, the Northridge earthquake occurred on a previously unmapped fault line, causing massive damage with little warning. The earthquake sparked a new push for better earthquake prediction in the region; Southern California has gone from seven seismic monitoring stations to over 400.

One of the most damaging quakes the East Coast has experienced, the Charleston earthquake in South Carolina came as a shock for the usually stable region. An example of relatively rare intraplate earthquake, the quake left almost no buildings undamaged.

Some of the worst earthquakes in history:

The deadliest earthquakes in US history
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The top 10 deadliest US earthquakes
Damaged Kaiser Medical Building in the Northridge Reseda area of Los Angeles after 1994 earthquake (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
A car at a Mazda dealership crushed in the Los Angeles earthquake of January 17, 1994 (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

April 1960: Valdivia, Chile

(Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

picture taken in April 1960 in Valdivia of people looking at an enormous crack on a street due to the earthquake that struck the area on May 22, 1960. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STF/AFP/Getty Images)

October 18, 1989: San Francisco, California

(Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)

August 24, 2014: Napa, California

(Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

March 10, 1933: Long Beach, California

(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Damaged building exterior, damage caused by the 1933 earthquake, Long Beach, California, March 12, 1933. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Part of a long line of homeless earthquake victims as they wait for food rations at a relief tent set up after a series of devastating quakes, Long Beach, California, March 13, 1933. The powerful quakes began March 11 and killed 115 people and did $75,000,000 in damage. Signs on the tent read 'Free Food' and 'Food Administer.' (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

April 6, 1946: Aleutian Islands

(Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

April 9, 1946: Hilo, Hawaii 

Homeless people are taken to emergency accommodation on US Army trucks, 9th April 1946, after a Pacific-wide tsunami hit Hilo, Hawaii. The tidal wave, on 1st April, was caused by an earthquake near the Aleutian Islands. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

1906: Full-length view of pedestrians examining frame houses, which lean to one side on the verge of collapse after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1906: View of a cobblestone street, which was split down the middle after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. A wooden cart has fallen into the crack. (Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)

The largest earthquake ever recorded happened in 1960 off the coast of Chile, where it killed thousands and caused millions of dollars in damages. But tsunamis generated from the quake managed to affect regions around the world — including Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.

The 1989 World Series was interrupted by this California quake, which caused widespread damage across the Bay Area. The most disastrous loss of life came when a section of the Nimitz freeway collapsed on itself, killing 42 people and injuring many others.

This disaster leveled both the Olive View Medical Center and the regional veterans' hospital in the San Fernando Valley, resulting in major losses of life. In the aftermath, California strengthened its building codes and passed a new zoning law to mitigate future earthquake damage in the region.

Hawaii's largest earthquake toppled almost every wood and stone structure in nearby villages and triggered lethal tidal waves and landslides, which killed 77 people.

A relatively modest 6.4-magnitude quake in Long Beach, California, leveled many shoddily constructed buildings built on unstable ground, including public schools. The destruction eventually led California to pass the Field Act, which regulated construction of California schools.

At magnitude 9.2, the Great Alaska earthquake is the second largest earthquake ever recorded. It also caused a devastating tsunami which wrecked many towns along the Gulf of Alaska, including Anchorage.

The 1946 earthquake off the coast of Unimak Island didn't directly cause much damage, but triggered a massive tsunami which swept away an Alaskan lighthouse and severely damaged the Hawaiian city of Hilo.

The most infamous example was the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which toppled buildings and sparked massive fires across the region. The catastrophe leveled about 80 percent of the city, and it's estimated at least 3,000 people died.

Earthquake prediction and preparedness have advanced by light-years since then, but individual preparedness is crucial, too. If you live in a tectonic hot zone, it's important to establish a plan, prepare some emergency supplies and participate in an earthquake drill or two.
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