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Top 10 Most Powerful Earthquakes in History

I am Aabis Ashfaq from Pakistan. I am studying in Pharm-D (Doctor of Pharmacy) at the University of Lahore.

Why Do Earthquakes Happen?

Many scientists believe that tectonic plates are enormous slabs of rock that make up entire portions of Earth's crust and mantle. These plates slide across one another as they slowly move about, pushed by convection currents from heat generated deep within the planet's core. This can cause two plates to collide into each other at their boundaries or pull apart from each other as new material is uncovered below them at diverging boundaries.

Either way, the plate boundaries can become distorted and unstable. As we all know from watching Action movies, even the best-maintained buildings and bridges buckle and break when put under too much stress. It's not a stretch to imagine that entire landmasses could be ruined because of this phenomenon. If you were to lay out North America one atop the other, it would look like what you see here:

There is an area where it looks as though two large plates are crashing into each other – which is precisely what's happening right now in Japan! The Pacific Plate (the larger one on top) has been moving beneath the Eurasian Plate for millions of years now. This activity has created some truly impressive mountain ranges all across Hokkaido, Honshu, and Shikoku. Unfortunately, it also has displaced large sections of the seafloor beneath them.

This is where the theory starts to become interesting: as those plates push against one another, that friction causes heat deep within Earth's mantle. The same process that heats a pan on your stove makes these plate boundaries very hot! Since hot things expand, this intense heat pushes those plates apart from each other. What we see now in Japan and Indonesia is likely an expansion of these two plates caused by extreme pressure and heat building up over time: the result is earthquakes and volcanic activity like we've never seen before.

Top 10 Most Powerful Earthquakes In History

Earthquakes are among the most devastating natural disasters. Over 300,000 people have died during earthquakes throughout history. Here are 10 of the deadliest earthquakes since 1900:

San Francisco Earthquake

The great San Francisco earthquake struck in 1906 and killed nearly 3000 people. Among numerous fires caused by the quake, one of them became famous for being difficult to extinguish. It's called "Ham and Eggs fire" because firefighters had problems extinguishing it with water, so they decided to use a less effective method: throwing ham and eggs at the blaze! This delayed their efforts even more and made the situation worse in another way. Due to the lack of food supplies in post-earthquake San Francisco, these thrown-away food supplies would later become a valuable commodity on black markets!

Tsunami in Indonesia

It is a tidal wave caused by large underwater earthquakes (such as 2004 in Indonesia) or volcanic eruptions. Tsunamis are responsible for about half of earthquake-related deaths. 1900's deadliest tsunami was 1960's one in the Cascadia subduction zone (off the coast of Japan, the US, and Canada). It killed nearly 4000 people after generating waves that were 130 feet tall!

Earthquake in Tangshan

1976 massive earthquake near Tangshan (China) is estimated to have killed 650,000-750,000 people! This might be number 1 on this list, but various estimates from different sources exist because China at that time didn't allow any outside investigations. Since then, it has become more open to foreign investigations, so it's difficult to estimate the number of deaths now.

Earthquake in Haiti

January 2010 earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and killed more than 200,000 people! It was among the most deadly earthquakes due to the amount of poorly constructed buildings. However, Haiti is also one of the poorest countries, making it hard to expect much better building standards. The recent massive magnitude seven earthquake that hit Chile might be an exception: Chile has stricter building codes, which made it possible for Chileans to save thousands of lives.

Earthquake in Iran

Another massive earthquake struck Northern Iran in 2003, killing about 26,000 people! This is all the more impressive because Iran lies in a relatively stable tectonic area. Iran also has stricter building codes than Haiti, which made it possible to save many lives in this earthquake.

Earthquake in China

Another massive underwater quake struck near the coast of China in 2010, killing hundreds of people! This is the deadliest earthquake since 2004's one in Indonesia!

Earthquake in Peru

A powerful eight magnitude earthquake killed nearly 500 people back in 2007. That might not sound that deadly but consider that these deaths resulted from a tiny population (about 3 million)! Back then, Earthquake risks weren't high on Peruvians' agendas, so they lacked knowledge about earthquakes and how real their chances are!

Earthquake in Turkey

1999 earthquake struck northwest Turkey near Izmit and caused more than 17,000 deaths. It's impressive that Turkey has strict building codes for earthquake-prone regions, but these codes are unfortunately not enough to save thousands of people!

Earthquake in Iran

25th October 2003 struck another deadly underwater earthquake near the Iranian port city of Bushehr. The quake caused a local tsunami that flooded 300 miles area around the epicenter, killing more than 1,500 people! This is also one of the deadliest tsunamis in history despite happening on a much smaller scale than the 1960's one in Chile or the 2004's one in Indonesia. This is mainly because bad construction isn't as big a problem for poorer countries as richer ones with stricter building codes!

Earthquake in Algeria

2003 earthquake caused the largest death toll on this list. It struck near Algiers, the capital city of Algeria and its magnitude was 7.6! This is one of the deadliest earthquakes that happened on land during the last decade, but it's impressive that only about 10% of deaths were direct casualties from shaking ground while 90% died from poor structures which collapsed. In comparison, almost 80-90% of Haiti earthquake victims died from shakes!

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