Historic Earthquakes

1960 May 22 19:11:14 UTC
Magnitude 9.5

The Largest Earthquake in the World

Approximately 1,655 killed, 3,000 injured, 2,000,000 homeless, and $550 million damage in southern Chile; tsunami caused 61 deaths, $75 million damage in Hawaii; 138 deaths and $50 million damage in Japan; 32 dead and missing in the Philippines; and $500,000 damage to the west coast of the United States.

Abridged from United States Earthquakes, 1960.

Severe damage from shaking occurred in the Valdivia-Puerto Montt area. Most of the casualties and much of the damage was because of large tsunamis which caused damage along the coast of Chile from Lebu to Puerto Aisen and in many areas of the Pacific Ocean. Puerto Saavedra was completely destroyed by waves which reached heights of 11.5 m (38 ft) and carried remains of houses inland as much as 3 km (2 mi). Wave heights of 8 m (26 ft) caused much damage at Corral.

Tsunamis caused 61 deaths and severe damage in Hawaii, mostly at Hilo, where the runup height reached 10.6 m (35 ft). Waves as high as 5.5 m (18 ft) struck northern Honshu about 1 day after the quake, where it destroyed more than 1600 homes and left 185 people dead or missing. Another 32 people were dead or missing in the Philippines after the tsunami hit those islands. Damage also occurred on Easter Island, in the Samoa Islands and in California. One to 1.5 m (3-5 ft) of subsidence occurred along the Chilean coast from the south end of the Arauco Peninsula to Quellon on Chiloe Island. As much of 3 m (10 ft) of uplift occurred on Isla Guafo. Many landslides occurred in the Chilean Lake District from Lago Villarica to Lago Todos los Santos.

On May 24, Volcan Puyehue erupted, sending ash and steam as high as 6,000 m. The eruption continued for several weeks.

This quake was preceded by 4 foreshocks bigger than magnitude 7.0, including a magnitude 7.9 on May 21 that caused severe damage in the Concepcion area. Many aftershocks occurred, with 5 of magnitude 7.0 or greater through Nov 1.

This is the largest earthquake of the 20th Century. The rupture zone is estimated to be about 1000 km long, from Lebu to Puerto Aisen.

Note that the tsunami deaths from outside Chile are included in the 1,655 total. This is still considerably fewer than some estimates which were as high as 5,700. However, Rothe and others state that the initial reports were greatly overestimated. The death toll for this huge earthquake was less than it might have been because it it occurred in the middle of the afternoon, many of the structures had been built to be earthquake-resistant and the series of strong foreshocks had made the population wary. [ 8ae,312,40,307A,327,305A,322,339,303A,92]

Damage in Valdivia
Valdivia suffered catastrophic damage because of its proximity to the epicenter of the massive quake.