China Earthquake: History of World's Most Catastrophic Quakes

1976 Tangshan Earthquake in China

There's news today of a massive 7.8 earthquake that struck central China. While it's still too early to assess the damage or the number of casualties, if you look at the history of world's most deadliest quakes and their resulting deaths, China's history is replete with monster quakes and massive death tolls.

On January 23, 1556, an estimated 8.0 quake struck Shansi, China. The death toll was astounding with the number dead an estimated 830,000 people. This quake is considered the most deadliest quake in the world's history.

The second most deadly quake to strike China, a 7.5, occurred in 1976 in Tangshan with an official death toll of 255,000.

The third most devastating quake to strike China happened in 1927 near Xining, an estimated 7.9 with 200,000 deaths. This tied with an earlier quake in 1920 in Gansu, an estimated 8.6 with 200,000 deaths.

Shansi or Shaanxi Earthquake of 1556

The death toll was unfathomable, an estimated 830,000 people died from what scientists estimate was an 8.0 quake. What factors contributed to such catastrophic loss of life?

The quake was estimated to have destroyed an area 520 miles wide where 60% of population were killed. People lived in what were called yaodongs, artificial caves in cliffs that collapsed. The area is known as the Loess Plateau. Loess is the name of the silty soil deposited by windstorms from the Gobi Desert. Many of the population lived in the Yaodongs, or artificial caves which were destroyed by landslides caused by the massive 8.0 quake.

China's official Xinhau News Agency is reporting that 80% of structures in Beichuan County in Sichuan Province have been destroyed with an estimated 5,000 dead. The total population of the area is 160,000 so the casualty count could go higher.

The single most contributing factor to the massive death toll of the 1556 quake in Shaanxi were the Yaodungs, or artificial caves built in silty soil, that most of the population resided in, whereas today most buildings are much more structurally sound.
Even so the Chinese News Agency is reporting 80% of the buildings in the Beichuan county have collapsed.


Source - Live Science - Deadliest Earthquakes
Source - Wikipedia
Image - Tangshan
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