The 10 Worst Earthquakes In U.S. History

August 15, 2014

Earthquakes are often the most feared force of nature. Unlike storms that build and are visible in the sky, earthquakes can hit at any time with no warning. People who live along fault lines have to take special care to be prepared, but quakes can happen anywhere. The following are some of the worst historical earthquakes according to magnitude.

1. 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake
At a magnitude of 9.2, this earthquake and the tsunami that followed claimed a total of 131 lives. The estimated property loss was $2.3 billion. Over 15 cities in Alaska were affected, but the largest amount of damage was recorded in Anchorage. There were about 30 blocks that were either completely destroyed or sustained major damage during the few minutes the quake lasted. There was a vertical displacement covering an area of over 500,000 square kilometers.

2. 1700 Cascadia Subduction Zone
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the Cascadia region that includes parts of California, Oregon and Washington. It was the largest recorded earthquake in history to happen in what is now the lower 48 states. The quake hit in January of 1700 and was so powerful it caused a tsunami that carried damage as far as Japan.

3. 1965 Rat Islands, Alaska
This quake had a magnitude of 8.7. The shaking caused cracks in asphalt runways and in prefabricated buildings. In addition to this, a tsunami followed that caused about $10,000 in flood damage on Amchitka Island.

4. 1957 Andreanof Islands, Alaska
This 8.6 magnitude earthquake damaged houses, ruined docks, destroyed bridges and left large cracks in roads. After being dormant for 200 years, Mount Vsevidof erupted after the quake. Tsunamis ensued after the shaking, and oil lines and buildings were destroyed because of it. Aftershocks caused more tsunamis that brought damage as far as Japan, California, El Salvador and Chile.

5. 1938 Shumigan Islands, Alaska
This earthquake took place in the ocean east of the Shumigan Islands. Shaking was felt in surrounding islands and as far as Anchorage, but the quake caused a tsunmai that traveled as far as Hawaii.

6. 1946 Unimak Islands, Alaska
The land damage from this 8.1 quake was only minor, but a tsunami followed it and not only destroyed a lighthouse but also killed the people inside of it. The tsunami traveled as far as South America and Hawaii, and it caused a total of $26 million in property damage and losses. There was also one death reported in the state of California because of the tsunami.

7. 1899 Yakutat Bay, Alaska
The largest of the series of earthquakes in this area measured 8.0 on the Richter scale. Villages within a 400 kilometer radius felt the shakes and sustained damage. The main quake caused major topographic changes, which were studied half a decade later. Fissures, upturned beaches, avalanches and craters were noted. There was also a destructive tsunami that affected several Alaskan coastal areas. A glacier was shattered as well.

8. 2002 Denali Fault, Alaska
This 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit the world's longest strike-slip fault system. It was one of the biggest earthquakes recorded on U.S. soil, and the region had not had a quake of that magnitude in at least one century.

9. 1987 Gulf of Alaska
In 1987, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit northwest of Juneau. Cracks to foundations, windows and walls were reported. Several surrounding towns also sustained minor damages. People near the epicenter said the shaking was so severe it was hard to walk or stand. There was a small tsunami that hit Sitka, Yakutat and Seward. It was the region's strongest event since 1900.

10. Andreanof Islands, Alaska
A 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit this region and caused moderate structural damages. Beams, foundations and partitions failed in some structures, and walls were cracked in most buildings. It also caused sand blows, soil liquefaction and a small tsunami.

It is important to be prepared for earthquakes. They can hit any area at any time. Insurance is essential for every homeowner and business. To learn more or to review current coverage, discuss concerns with an agent.


Click here to return to Amity Insurance E-Newsletter August 15, 2014.