10 Most Destructive Tsunamis in Human History

Written By CriminalJustice.com Staff

Tsunamis are one of Mother Nature’s worst nightmares. These powerful waves can move as fast as a jet airliner and are capable of destroying anything and everything in its path, from office buildings to entire neighborhoods and villages. The most devastating tsunamis have formed after massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and underwater explosions, spurred on from the seismic activity occurring under the ocean. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at 10 of the most destructive tsunamis in human history:

  1. 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami: The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami was one of the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters in human history. The undersea megathrust earthquake struck the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, on Dec. 26, 2004. The earthquake had a magnitude of 9.1-9.3 and is the third largest recorded earthquake. After the powerful earthquake that was said to release the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, a series of tsunamis followed. The 100-feet-high waves sped across the Indian Ocean and devastated 11 coastal countries, including Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, killing more than 230,000 people.
  2. 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Tsunami: The 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami was a very destructive natural disaster. The Nov. 1, 1755, megathrust earthquake was centered in the Atlantic Ocean and severely damaged Lisbon, Portugal. Researchers suggest that the quake may have reached a magnitude of 9.0. A deadly tsunami immediately followed the earthquake, washing over the harbor and downtown area. The waves swept up people and debris into the sea, wrecked boats and destroyed homes and buildings. The devastating effects of the tsunami could be felt in most coastal towns throughout Spain, Portugal and North Africa. Approximately 10,000 people in Lisbon died during the natural disaster.
  3. 1868 Arica Tsunami: On Aug. 16, 1868, an 8.5-magnitude earthquake hit the Peru-Chile Trench off the southern coast of Peru, turning the city of Arica into rubble. Following the earthquake, a massive trans-Pacific tsunami formed and came crashing into Arica. The tsunami’s 90-foot waves hit two American ships, killing all but two crewmembers. The port of Arica was also wiped out by the tsunami by knocking down buildings and homes and causing an estimated 25,000 casualties. In total, the tsunami caused about $300 million in damage, and took the lives of 70,000 in South America.
  4. 1908 Messina Earthquake and Tsunami: On Dec. 28, 1908, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Messina, Italy, caused a deadly tsunami to form. Moments later, 40-foot waves came crashing into Messina and other coastal towns. There was no warning about the tsunami and the town was extremely underprepared. The earthquake and the tsunami destroyed almost all of the buildings in Messina, and may have killed as many as 200,000 people, which significantly reduced the city’s population.
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  6. 2011 Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami: The Sendai megathrust earthquake recently hit the Pacific Ocean near Northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. The massive earthquake had a magnitude of 8.9-9.0, which triggered powerful tsunamis around the Pacific Ocean. Within minutes after the quake, 33-foot high waves came ashore along Japan’s coast, damaging roads, railways and causing a dam to collapse. Two nuclear reactors partially melted down, prompting additional evacuations within the Fukushima Prefecture. As of today, the National Police Agency has confirmed 2,414 casualties, but thousands are still missing and the death toll is predicted to increase as more bodies are found.
  7. 1960 Hilo Tsunami: On May 23, 1960, Hilo, Hawaii, was hit by a powerful tsunami that destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses downtown and killed 61 people. The tsunami was caused by an 8.25-8.5-magnitude earthquake off the west coast of South America. About 15 hours later, the 35-foot waves crashed into Hilo Bay and some parts of the island. The tsunami consisted of eight separate waves that ranged from 4 to 14 feet above sea level. The damages reached an upwards of $75 million.
  8. 1896 Honshu Tsunami: On June 16, 1896, a deadly tsunami hit Honshu, Japan, after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake took place at the underwater fault and caused a serious displacement of water. People in Kamaishi and along the Sanriku coast of Honshu felt the quake that happened 120 miles away, but many of them ignored it. Less than 30 minutes later, 115-foot waves came crashing into the town and destroyed many coastal villages. Nearly 27,000 people were killed by the tsunami that day.
  9. 1498 Meio Nankaido Earthquake and Tsunami: On Sept. 20, 1498, an 8.6-magnitude earthquake occurred near the Nankai Trough, which runs parallel to the southern coast of Honshu, and triggered a powerful tsunami that hit the coast of Meio Nankai, Japan. The 56-foot-high waves came ashore and killed an estimated 31,000 people.
  10. 1946 Aleutian Tsunami: On April 1, 1946, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake near the Aleutian Trench in Alaska caused a large section of the seafloor to lift up along the fault and generate a Pacific-wide tsunami. After the earthquake, 100-foot waves came crashing into the U.S. Coast Guard’s lighthouse on Scotch Cap, located on Unimak Island, and destroyed the building, killing all five occupants. The Alaskan mainland was shielded by the Aleutian Islands, but the shorelines of the Hawaii Islands weren’t as lucky. The tsunami destroyed Hilo’s entire waterfront and flooded about half a mile of city, killing 159 people.
  11. 1883 Krakatoa Tsunami: On Aug. 27, 1883, the volcanic island of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait erupted. After multiple eruptions, the walls of the volcano began to open and sea water poured into the magma chamber, which resulted in a catastrophic explosion that destroyed two-thirds of the island. A deadly series of tsunamis followed the explosion, sending 90-foot-high waves ashore in Indonesia, India and surrounding islands. The powerful tsunami wiped out several coastal settlements and killed more than 36,000 people.