The 10 deadliest U.S. earthquakes

top 10 deadliest earthquake in US history
top 10 deadliest earthquake in US history

If you are reading this post, you probably wonder what are the ten deadliest earthquake in US history.

So here you go!

1. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake

The deadliest earthquake in U.S. history is the M7.9 1906 San Francisco earthquake that hit the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, killing more than 3,000 people.

san francisco earthquake map, san francisco earthquake map1906 san francisco earthquake map
1906 san francisco earthquake map

More than 80% of San Francisco was destroyed. This photo, taken several months after the earthquake, shows the devastation, including the ruins of City Hall.

The deadliest earthquake in the US is the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
The deadliest earthquake in the US is the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

2. 1946 Aleutian Islands Earthquake (Unimak Island) in Alaska

In 1946, the M8.6 earthquake on Unimak Island in Alaska occurred on April 1 and triggered a gigantic 55 feet high tsunami, travelling at 500 miles an hour across the Pacific Ocean.

M 8.6 - 1946 Aleutian Islands (Unimak Island) Earthquake, Alaska
M 8.6 – 1946 Aleutian Islands (Unimak Island) Earthquake, Alaska

The giant wave reached Kauai, and Hilo, Hawaii, 4.5 hours and 4.9 hours later, respectively, where 173 were killed, 163 injured, and more than 1,500 buildings were heavily damaged to destroyed. 5 others were killed in Alaska and 1 in California.

In the below photo, a man (see arrow) is about to be killed by the wave in Hilo, Hawaii.

1946 Aleutian Islands Earthquake
1946 Aleutian Islands Earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed about 200 people in Hawaii. Picture: Corbis

The tsunami is known as the April Fools’ Day Tsunami in Hawaii because it happened on April 1 and many thought it to be an April Fool’s Day prank.

3. 1964 Alaska Earthquake

The M9.2 Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami occurred on March 27, 1964 at 5:36pm local time (March 28 at 3:36 UTC) in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska.

1964 alaska earthquake and tsunami, 1964 alaska earthquake and tsunami map, 1964 alaska earthquake and tsunami location
1964 alaska earthquake and tsunami. Map via USGS

The Great Alaskan earthquake, which lasted approximately 4.5 minutes, is the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. history and the second largest ever recorded, next to the M9.5 earthquake in Chile in 1960.

During its 4.5 minutes of heavy shaking, the Good Friday earthquake caused the ground to shift vertically by as much as 50 feet in places, creating a destructive 130-acre landlide that resulted in a giant tsunami.

deadliest earthquake usa 1964 M9.2 Alaska Earthquake
deadliest earthquake usa 1964 M9.2 Alaska Earthquake. Picture: USGS

The huge wave – that reached 220 feet in some places – killed 128 people, including 11 people in Crescent City, California.

4. 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, California

The offshore M6.4 Long Beach Earthquake hit on March 10 at 5:54 P.M. PST on the Newport–Inglewood Fault, south of downtown Los Angeles.

1933 Long Beach Earthquake map. Picture via Nature

Despite its lower magnitude, the quake killed about 115 people – mostly those running out of buildings and thus exposing themselves to the falling debris.

deadliest earthquake usa 1933 M6.3 Long Beach Earthquake
Road in Long Island destroyed by the 1933 earthquake. Picture: W.W. Bradley

5. 1868 Hawaii earthquake

The 1868 Hawaii Earthquake hit at 4 p.m. local time on April 2, 1868.

Map of the major earthquakes on Hawaii Big Island. Picture HVO

The massive, sudden movement of the south flank of Hawaii’s Big Island triggered a magnitude 7.9 earthquake which resulted in a landslide and tsunami that killed 77 people.

The major quake was related to the activity of the two active volcanoes on Big Island, the Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. The aftershock sequence for this event has continued up to the present day.

deadliest earthquake usa M7.9 1868 Hawaii earthquake
M7.9 1868 Hawaii Earthquake. Picture: Hawaiian Historical Society

It has been hypothesized that the magma pushing up from below the earth’s crust forced the side of the island to expand, sliding along the ocean crust and causing a major earthquake.

6. 1971 San Fernando Earthquake

The 1971 San Fernando earthquake occurred at 6 am on February 9 in a sparsely populated area of the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California.

deadliest earthquake usa 1971 San Fernando earthquake
1971 San Fernando earthquake map via USGS

The M6.5 earthquake, also known as the Sylmar earthquake, killed 65 people and injured 2,000.

Some of the most spectacular damage occurred at Olive View Hospital in Sylmar, California, where 49 people died despite its supposedly earthquake-resistant construction.

Olive View Hospital in Sylmar, California after 1971 San Fernando earthquake. Picture USGS

7. 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

The M6.9 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake occurred on October 17 at 5:04 p.m. local time, 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Santa Cruz on a section of the San Andreas Fault System.

1989 Loma Prieta earthquake map, deadliest earthquake usa 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake map
1989 Loma Prieta earthquake map. USGS

The Loma Prieta segment of the San Andreas Fault System had been designated a seismic gap by USGS since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Then two moderate foreshocks occurred in June 1988 and again in August 1989.

deadliest earthquake usa 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake
A car crushed by a house after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Picture: USGS

The strong quake managed to kill 63 people and injure more than 3,750, most of them on a collapsed highway in Oakland.

8. 1960 Valdivia earthquake

The 1960 Valdivia earthquake occurred at 19:11 GMT (15:11 local time) on May 22, 1960 and is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded around the world.

deadliest earthquake usa 1960 Valdivia Earthquake Chile
1960 Valdivia Earthquake Chile map USGS

The M9.4 Great Chilean earthquake lasted for approximately 10 minutes.

The powerful megathrust earthquake created huge tsunamis that affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia, and the Aleutian Islands. Can you imagine that?

The Terremoto de Valdivia killed around 1,600 people and left 2 million homeless in southern Chile.

The resulting tsunami killed 138 people in Japan and 61 people in Hawaii, making it one of the deadliest quakes in U.S. history despite happening on another continent.

9. 1994 Northridge Earthquake

The 1994 Northridge earthquake occurred on January 17, 1994, at 4:30 a.m. PST in the San Fernando Valley, California.

1994 Northridge Earthquake, 1994 Northridge Earthquake map, 1994 Northridge Earthquake deadliest earthquake usa
1994 Northridge Earthquake map. USGS

The M6.7 quake occurred on a previously undiscovered fault, now named the Northridge blind thrust fault (or Pico thrust fault).

The major disaster killed 60 people and injured about 8,700 in approximately 10–20 seconds, thus exposing major weaknesses in the building codes as many of the 60 victims died buried under collapsed buildings. 

10. 1886 Charleston Earthquake, NC

The 1886 Charleston Earthquake occurred at 9:50 p.m. local time on August 31, 1886.

1886 Charleston Earthquake, 1886 Charleston Earthquake map, deadliest us earthquake
1886 Charleston Earthquake map

The M7.3 intraplate earthquake is one of the most powerful and damaging earthquakes to hit the East Coast of the United States, killing 60 people and damaging thousands of buildings.

1886 Charleston Earthquake, 1886 Charleston Earthquake map, deadliest us earthquake
Destroyed homes and road after the 1886 Charleston Earthquake. USGS

More than 130 years later, the cause of this quake is still not well understood since very little to no historical earthquake activity had occurred in the same seismic area.

Now that you know the 10 deadliest earthquakes in US history, here are the most dangerous fault lines across the United States. More geology news on Strange Sounds and Steve Quayle.

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  1. “No where in the world is safe any more.”

    Actually not true.

    The lower Great Lakes are one of the safest, if not boring parts of this country, no forest fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and very few tornadoes.

    Plus we have one -fifth of all of earth’s fresh water in our system!

    Just ignore the Trump crazies!

  2. Been through the Sylmar and Northridge quakes. Prompting me to leave that state permanently. Should have left sooner. Was awake for both, and Northridge knocked me off my feet. Every alarm in the city went off. It was violent. Sylmar was more of a roller.
    No fun my chums.

      • Some are rollers and deeper down. The violent ones are shakers. Northridge spooked me. I was eight miles from epicenter. Knocked me on my butt. Crawled to the doorway for safety. My dog woke me just before it struck. All my bookshelves fell on me in my bed. That’s why I jumped out. That’s when it knocked me off my feet.

  3. I believe you forgot the New Madrid quake of 1811, 1812 which was a 7.2-8.2 (depending on who is reporting) with a 7.4 aftershock. The Mississippi river ran backwards, settlements were completely destroyed and Reel Foot lake was formed. It was felt as far away as Boston where chimneys were toppled.

      • not true. The new Madrid was one of the deadliest because as it rolled backwards, indian villages and cities on it’s back were complete destroyed killing many tribes. you are a liar.

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