The World's Costliest Earthquakes

Devestation caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

An earthquake is an unexpected trembling of the earth’s surface due to energy released within the earth’s lithosphere. Earthquakes vary in magnitude and are measured on the Richter scale. Earthquakes of magnitudes greater than 7 on the Richter scale usually cause destruction of property and loss of life. The initial tremor and subsequent shockwaves destroy buildings, cause landslides and if they are within the sea they cause tsunamis.

The World's Costliest Earthquakes

2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami

In 2011 Japan experienced an earthquake of the magnitude 9.1 which was the most powerful earthquake to ever hit the nation and the world’s fourth most powerful ever recorded in history. The earthquake caused a tsunami with waves that exceeded over 120 feet in height which in turn caused nuclear accidents at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. According to the Japanese National Police Agency the earthquake caused over 15,000 deaths, and the property damage valued at about $360 billion making it not only the most costly earthquake ever but also the most costly natural disaster ever. The earthquake caused over 100,000 buildings to completely collapse as well as structural damage to infrastructure such as railways and roads. Naoto Kan, the Japanese Prime Minister at the time, said that it was the most difficult disaster for Japan since World War II. The nuclear accidents at the Fukushima power plant contributed to around 4.4 million households being left without electricity. The earthquake caused the failure of the Fujinuma dam and the subsequent floods washed away 5 homes.

1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake

On January 17, 1995 Japan was hit by an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale. The earthquake was one of the most intense in Japan’s history with a confirmed death toll of about 6,434 people and property damage estimated at $197 billion. The earthquake caused lasting damage to around 400,000 buildings, started around 300 fires, and caused extensive damage to transport infrastructure. The most affected road was the elevated Hanshin expressway of which over 2,000 feet collapsed. Railways in the region could only function at 30% of the usual capacity following the collapse of support structures. Citizens experienced interruption in the supply of gas, electricity, and water immediately after the earthquake. The earthquake also had a devastating effect on the region’s economy as it destroyed facilities at the port of Kobe.

2008 Sichuan Earthquake

The deadliest earthquake to hit China in the 21st century was the Sichuan earthquake. The earthquake had a magnitude of 8.0 on the Richter scale and caused 69,000 deaths. More than 4.8 million people were left homeless after more than 200,000 landslides was experienced. The earthquake damaged all the major roads into Wenchuan which slowed down the arrival of emergency services. A school in Dujiangyan City collapsed burying 900 students while in Shifang about 80 tons of ammonia leaked after two chemical plants collapsed. The total property damage caused by the earthquake was estimated at $148 billion.

Recovery After an Earthquake

The governments of most countries in earthquake-prone areas have policies in place to provide immediate support to the victims of an earthquake. They have early warning systems that can alert people of the impending danger. They have also put in place measure to revive the economies of the affected area to ensure that life goes on as normal after the earthquake.

The World's Costliest Earthquakes

RankEventCountryMagnitudeCost (billions)
12011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunamiJapan9.1$360
21995 Great Hanshin earthquakeJapan6.9$197
32008 Sichuan earthquakeChina8$148
41994 Northridge earthquakeUnited States6.7$49
52011 Christchurch earthquakeNew Zealand6.3$40
62010 Chile earthquakeChile8.8$30
72004 Chūetsu earthquakeJapan6.8$28
81999 İzmit earthquakeTurkey7.6$19
92012 Northern ItalyItaly6.1$16
101980 Irpinia earthquakeItaly6.9$15
112004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsuanmiIndia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia9.3$15
122010 Haiti EarthquakeHaiti7$14
131976 Tangshan earthquakeChina7.8$10
142015 Nepal EarthquakeNepal7.8$10
152017 Iran Iraq EarthquakIran and Iraq7.3$6
161985 Mexico CityMexico8$5
172017 Central MexicoMexico7.1$4
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