The Most Earthquake Prone US States

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on November 22 2019 in Environment

A Santa Monica apartment building destroyed by the Northridge earthquake in 1994.
A Santa Monica apartment building destroyed by the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Earthquakes are experienced when the Earth’s surface shakes as a result of a sudden release of energy in the lithosphere that sends seismic waves from the epicenter. They can vary in size from the weak ones that cannot be felt to the violent ones that can destroy structures and kill people. Seismic activity in a region refers to the frequency, size, and type of earthquake experienced in a particular area over some time. If the epicenter of an earthquake is offshore and it is large enough, it could trigger a tsunami. Earthquakes can also trigger landslides and sometimes volcanic activity. In the US, several states are prone to earthquakes.


Alaska has experienced more earthquakes than any other state in the US. Between 1974 and 2003, Alaska has experienced 12,053 strong earthquakes. The 1946 earthquake that hit the Aleutian Islands in Alaska was among the deadliest in the state. The earthquake occurred on April 1, 1946, and had a magnitude of 8.6, resulting in the death of between 165 and 173 people. The damage to property was estimated at $26 million. The seafloor on the fault line was pushed up, generating a tsunami across the Pacific Ocean. The waves reached a height of between 25 feet and 130 feet high and traveling at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour. The tsunami took 4.5 hours to reach Hawaii.


Every year, California experiences numerous earthquakes, and most of them are small and can hardly be felt. Only a few are above the magnitude of 3.0. Between 1974 and 2003, the state has experienced 4,895 strong earthquakes. One of the worst earthquakes to hit California was the 1906 earthquake that struck the northern coast of California in San Francisco. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.9, and it caused a fire that consumed the city lasting for several days. Consequently, about 3,000 people lost their lives, and more than 80% of San Francisco city was destroyed. The event is remembered as one of the deadliest and the worst earthquakes in the history of the US. The death toll has remained the greatest loss of life as a result of natural disasters in the history of California.


Hawaii has two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Between 1974 and 2003, Hawaii has experienced about 1,533 strong earthquakes. The 1868 earthquake was the largest in the history of Hawaii that had a magnitude of 7.9. The earthquake occurred on April 2, 1868, and caused a tsunami and the landslide in the island state of Hawaii. The landslide caused by the earthquake covered a large area, and the largest mudslide was about 3 kilometers wide and 9 meters thick that resulted in 31 fatalities. The earthquake destroyed almost all Stonewall houses within Kaʻū District. The tsunami triggered by the earthquake flooded the previously dry land to a depth of about 1.5 meters. At Kapapala, the land subsided by about 2 meters.


The state of Nevada is among the states prone to earthquakes, and between 1974 and 2003, there have been 788 strong earthquakes in the state. State of Nevada is the fourth most seismically active state in the US. Active earthquake faults are found almost in all parts of the state. It is estimated that areas lying within 30 miles from Las Vegas have a 12% chance of receiving an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 within the next 50 years. One of the most destructive earthquakes experienced in the state of Nevada was in the Pleasant Valley on May 1915. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 and significantly altered the flow of streams and springs in the northern part of the state. The earthquake was felt in areas such as Oregon, South California, and the Pacific Coast.


The state of Washington is among the seismically-active states in the country, and between 1874 and 2030, it has experienced 424 strong earthquakes. One of the strongest earthquakes experienced in the state of Washington was the 2001 earthquake that tracks the state on February 28, 2001. The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.8, and the epicenter was located in Southern Puget Sound in the Northeast of Olympia. The shock waves were felt in regions such as Idaho, Oregon, and Canada. There was only one death as a result of a heart attack in about 400 people who suffered injuries as a result of the earthquake. The damage to property was estimated at $2billion.


Between 1973 and 2003, the state of Idaho experienced 404 strong earthquakes. One of the most destructive earthquakes in the state of Idaho was the Borah Peak earthquake that struck the state on October 28, 1983. The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.9, and it was the worst earthquake in the lower 48 states in more than 24 years. The cause of the earthquake was a slip along the lost river fault. The region of Challis - Mackay experienced extensive damage, and 39 homes and 11 commercial buildings sustained significant damage. Another 200 houses suffered minor damages. Estimated damage to property was about $12.5 million, while in some areas, water grounds shifted.

Other States Prone To Earthquakes

The state of Wyoming has experienced 217 strong earthquakes between 1974 and 2003, and the state of Montana over the same period has experienced 139 strong earthquakes. Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, and Arkansas have experienced 139, 73, 38, and 34 strong earthquakes respectively over the same period.

The Most Earthquake Prone US States

RankStateNumber of strong earthquakes from from 1974 to 2003.

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