The 1960 Chile earthquake was the largest earthquake of the 20th Century. It struck off the coast of South Central Chile on May 22, 1960. Since that earthquake Chile was struck on February 27, 2010 with an 8.8 earthquake that caused the Earth to spin slightly faster.
1960 Valdivia earthquake damage, USGS
The 1960 earthquake in Chile was the largest earthquake ever recorded by seismographs. It was a 9.5 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile. The Nazca Plate, an oceanic plate, is subducting beneath the North American Plate, a continental plate.
A megathrust earthquake was caused in the subduction zone by the movement of the plates. Megathrust earthquakes are very large earthquakes were the rocks break along a long section of a fault zone.
Thirty minutes before the 9.5 earthquake a foreshock shook the area near the towns of Valdivia and Puerto Montt. A foreshock is a smaller tremor that occurs before the much larger earthquake.
People ran outside in terror evacuating almost all the buildings and homes in the area prior to the great quake. This evacuation of homes and buildings prior to the much larger 9.5 earthquake saved many lives. The earthquake when it struck 30 minutes large destroyed most of the buildings and homes near the epicenter.
Huge tsunami waves struck the coast 10 to 15 minutes after the major earthquake. They were approximately 30 m ( 75 feet) high and killed many people along the coastline. On Chiloe Island people ran to their boats to escape when the shaking started. Tsunami waves coming ashore shortly thereafter destroyed all the boats filled with people.
The Nazca Plate movement relative to the Northern American Plate was approximately 54 feet. The The movement occurred over a 570 mile stretch of the fault was about 72 feet. The earthquake destroyed one in every three homes in the port city of Valparaiso.
Approximately two million people were left homeless. There has been no accurate accounting of the number of lives lost during the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. It is believed though that most of the loss of life were caused by the tsunami.
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