Biggest Tsunami Countdown
The Top Five Biggest Tsunami

Tsunamis have been with us for as long as there have been underwater geologic activity to generate them. They are commonly caused by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, far below the sea. If you were at sea in a boat, you might never even be aware that a tsunami was passing beneath you. As the force of water nears land, however, it's destructive power can forever change the landscape, and the lives of the people who live there.

This is a countdown of the five biggest tsunami waves, in recorded history. Each tsunami has been judged on a scale of the destruction they caused, and the number of lives lost.

Biggest Tsunami Countdown #5
Hilo, Hawaii aftermath. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy (from the NGDC)

Biggest Tsunami Countdown #5:
The Chilean Tsunami of 1960

On May 22, 1960, the strongest magnitude earthquake in recorded history, occurred off the coast of South Central Chile. Measuring 9.5 on the Richter scale, it triggered a tsunami 30 feet high. Source:
BBC News To give the respect a 9.5 deserves, consider this: the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb released energy equlivent to a 5.7 earthquake on the Richter scale. The Chilean quake was 9.5. Source:

Nearly fifteen minutes after the earthquake, the tsunami first hit land, flooding more than 500 miles of the Chilean coast. With the combined earthquake, tsunami, and mudslide damages, it was estimated that one in every three houses in the earthquake zone had been lost. Source: The estimated cost was more than $550 million (1960 dollars), and loss of life was estimated at 2,000.

But the tsunami was far from over. The waves hit Hilo, Hawaii, 15 hours later, killing 61 people and badly injuring 282 others. Because of a confusion over the warning siren, people returned to their homes after the first wave, only to be later caught in the deafening 20 foot wave that followed.

22 hours after the 9.5 earthquake, the tsunami radiated from the Chilean epicenter and reached Japan. For hours, the populace endured waves as high as 14 feet. After the destruction was over, 122 Japanese people lost their lives to the torrential water. Source:

By the time the Pacific-wide tsunami had subsided, the total fatalities is thought to have been as high as 3,000 lives lost. Even though the 9.5 earthquake was the largest in recorded history, more people died from the ensuing tsunami, than from the quake itself. Source:

Other excellent sources on the Internet concerning the Chilean Tsunami of 1960 are:

Note: While other tsunami have taken more lives, and did more destruction to land, The Chilean Tsunami of 1960 was chosen as #5 on this countdown, because of the magnitude of the earthquake that started it. Another event that could be #5 is The South China Sea Tsunami of 1782, that killed an estimated 40,000 people. (Source: National Geographic) The NGDC Tsunami Event Database Search is an excellent place to find out more about individual tsunami events.

Biggest Tsunami Countdown #4 -->

Image courtesy of the USGS.

For more information about tsunami safety and the science behind the waves, see these excellent sites:

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