Earthquake of 1960
most powerful earthquake ever recorded struck
Chile on May 22, 1960. It was followed by
tsunamis and volcanoes.
On the morning of May 21, 1960, Valdivia, Chile,
was struck by a magnitude 7.6 earthquake. That
quake killed several people and caused
significant damage, but proved to be only a
foreshock. At least two more tremors were felt
before 3:11 p.m. on May 22, when about 150,000
square miles of Chilean coastline were shaken by
an earthquake measuring 8.5 on the Richter Scale
(initial reports indicating a magnitude of 9.5
were later revised). Valdivia bore the brunt of
this quake as well, as did the town of Puerto
Montt. Aftershocks, many of magnitude 7.0 or
greater, continued to be felt in Chile until
November. Many areas that escaped direct damage
from the earthquakes were hit by massive
The devastation caused by the
foreshocks and main earthquake was significant,
but worse was yet to come. Centered about 100
miles off the coast, the quake spawned a series
of tsunami waves, with a 26-foot-tall wave wiping
out the port of Corral about an hour after the
major earthquake and another 33-foot wave hitting
the coast about ten minutes after that. It is
estimated that this wave alone killed more than
1,000 people, including many who thought they had
moved safely to high ground.
The tsunami waves spawned by the Chilean
earthquake traveled up the South, Central, and
North American coasts as far north as Canada.
Fortunately for most of those areas the waves hit
at an angle that lessened their impact. Coastal
areas across the Pacific Ocean were not so lucky,
however. Waves up to 35 feet high hit Hawaii, and
18-foot waves made it all the way to Japan and
the Philippines. New Zealand and Australia were
also hit by tsunami waves, but neither received
any significant damage.
Two days after the earthquake Cordón Caulle,
a volcanic vent close to Puyehue Volcano erupted.
It continued to spew ash and lava until July 22.
Fortunately the volcano was (and still is)
isolated, so no damage resulted. Other volcanic
eruptions were also reported, but most were in
sparsely populated areas and caused little
The earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides
killed an estimated 1,655 Chileans and injured
another 3,000. Damage was estimated at $550
million. Tsunamis caused 61 deaths and $75
million damage in Hawaii; 138 deaths and $50
million damage in Japan, 32 deaths in the
Philippines, and $500,000 damage to the west
coast of the United States.
prays in a Valdivia churh destroyed by
the earthquake of May 21.
walks down a devastated street in
Valdivia after the May 22 earthquake.
survivors in Puerto Montt await news of
other members of their families.
|Corral in the autumn of
1960, months after being devastated by
of Cordón Caulle.
it hit the coast at a near-right angle,
the tsunami still caused major flooding
in Crescent City, California.
tsunami wave reached a height of 35 feet
before it crashed into and devastated
Hilo, Hawaii, over 6,600 miles away from
the epicenter of the Chilean earthquake.
ship was thrown onto a house by an
18-foot tsunami that hit Ofunato Harbor,
Japan, over 10,000 miles away from the
Chilean earthquake epicenter.
Britannica Book of the Year 1961
Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1961
Extreme Science http://www.extremescience.com/greatest-earthquake.htm
U.S. Geological Survey http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/events/1960_05_22.php
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