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Deadliest Tsunamis

List of the World's Top Ten Deadliest Tsunamis



Tsunami hazard zone warning sign on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Liz Whitaker/Getty Images
Updated June 02, 2014

A tsunami is defined as a series of ocean waves that are generated by large movements or disturbances on the ocean's floor. The causes of these disturbances include volcanic eruptions, landslides and underwater explosions. Earthquakes however are the most common cause. Tsunamis can occur close to the shore or travel thousands of miles if the disturbance occurs in the deep ocean. Where ever they occur though, they often have devastating consequences for the areas in which they hit.

For example, on March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that was centered in the ocean 80 miles (130 km) east of the city of Sendai. The earthquake was so large that it triggered a massive tsunami that devastated Sendai and the surrounding area. The earthquake also caused smaller tsunamis to travel across much of the Pacific Ocean and cause damage in places like Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. Thousands were killed as a result of both the earthquake and tsunami and many more were displaced.

Unfortunately large tsunamis such as the one that struck Japan are not uncommon. In addition, while thousands were killed in Japan because of the twin disasters, the March 2011 tsunami is not the world's deadliest. Throughout history there have been many earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other disturbances that have caused very large tsunamis that have killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The following is a list of the world's ten deadliest tsunamis as provided by Infoplease.com:

1) Indian Ocean (Sumatra, Indonesia)
Estimated Number of Deaths: 350,000
Year: 2004

2) Ancient Greece (Islands of Crete and Santorini)
Estimated Number of Deaths: 100,000
Year: 1410 B.C.E

3) Portugal, Morocco, Ireland and the United Kingdom
Estimated Number of Deaths: 100,000
Year: 1755

4) Messina, Italy
Estimated Number of Deaths: 100,000
Year: 1908

5) South China Sea (Taiwan)
Estimated Number of Deaths: 40,000
Year: 1782

6) Krakatau, Indonesia
Estimated Number of Deaths: 36,500
Year: 1883

7) Tokaido-Nankaido, Japan
Estimated Numver of Deaths: 30,000
Year: 1707

8) Sanriku, Japan
Estimated Number of Deaths: 26,300
Year: 1896

9) Northern Chile
Estimated Number of Deaths: 25,674
Year: 1868

10) Kyushu Island, Japan
Estimated Number of Deaths: 15,030
Year: 1972

To learn more about tsunamis, visit the Tsunami Page on Geology at About.com and the article, "Prepare for Tsunami" from Geography at About.com.


Briney, Amanda. (31 March 2011). "Tsunami - Learn Information about Tsunamis." Geography at About.com. Retrieved from: http://geography.about.com/od/hazardsanddisasters/a/tsunami-overview.htm

Briney, Amanda. (22 March 2011). "Japan - Learn the Geography of the East Asian Nation of Japan." Geography at About.com. Retrieved from: http://geography.about.com/od/japanmaps/a/japan-geography-history.htm

Brunner, Borgna and Beth Rowen. (n.d.). "Tsunami Factfile: Learn about the Tsunami that Struck Japan in March 2011 and the Indian Ocean in 2004 - Infoplease.com." Infoplease.com. Retrieved from: http://www.infoplease.com/science/weather/japan-tsunami-2011.html

National Geographic News. (7 January 2005). "The Deadliest Tsunami in History?" National Geographic. Retrieved from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1227_041226_tsunami.html

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