80 years ago, on April 20, 1935, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Taiwan. Over 12,000 people were injured and another 3,270 died. It was the first of three major quakes that year and the most deadly in Taiwan’s history. On a worldwide scale, it’s solidly in the top 100 earthquakes by death toll since 1900, though there are many others beyond it, including six that can be measured in the 100,000s of deaths. The map below shows the deadliest quakes of the last 100 years or so.
View Earthquakes with over 1,000 deaths in a full screen map
Only one hit the United States, the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which killed about 3,000 people. North America’s only other deadly earthquakes were in Jamaica (1907), Mexico (1985), and Haiti (2010). The most recent of those three is also the most deadly of all time, with 316,000 fatalities estimated.
The next on the most deadly list is 1976’s Tangshan, China, earthquake, that saw 242,769 people perish. The Sumatran quake of 2004 is next with 227,898 deaths. Another Chinese quake, in 1920, is estimated to have killed 200,000.
Deadly quakes do not always mean a higher magnitude. A 9.5 earthquake in Chile in 1920 killed only 1,655. While still amongst the most deadly, it is in the lower half of those mapped above. On the other end of the spectrum, a comparatively small quake of 6.6 killed 31,000 in southeastern Iran in 2003.
The Middle East and Asia are the hardest hit in terms of both magnitude and deaths. More and stronger earthquakes tend to occur where tectonic plates meet. Poverty typically leads to higher casualties, as less-wealthy nations are not prepared for natural disasters, nor have the infrastructure in place to secure buildings.
Of course, even highly industrialized nations can be caught off guard. The most recent amongst the quakes mapped above is Japan’s 2011 disaster. The earthquake and tsunami severely damaged a nuclear power plant, and saw debris from damaged structures float all the way to the west coast of the United States. Over 20,000 people were killed or are still missing.
Earthquakes don’t have to be all about lives lost. If you’re interested in map-making, earthquakes are a great data source to explore. The USGS keeps a live feed of earthquakes for the past hour, day, week, or month. You can choose only quakes above a certain size or you can drink from the firehose and have the entire world’s seismic activity (often hundreds of events per day).
Try downloading a CSV, then upload it to BatchGeo to instantly visualize the latest earthquakes.