largest Earthquake of the 20th century

1960 Chile earthquake

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

largest earthquake ever recorded

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.

9.5 megathrust earthquake

A 9.5 megathrust earthquake occurred in the subduction zone when the plates locked and pressure built up in the rocks along the faultline.  The great megathrust earthquake occured when the rocks broke. The rupture zone was almost 1,000 km (621 mi.) long along the coastline of Chile. 

foreshocks caused people to run in terror

Foreshock 30 minutes before the main quake
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 a larger earthquake.

Many lives were saved by the foreshock
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.

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Tsunamis generated by the earthquake

Tsunami waves were 30 m high 
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.

People fleeing Chiloe Island tried to escape
On Chiloe Island, in southern Chile, people ran to their boats to escape the earthquake when the shaking started. Tsunami waves triggered by the earthquake and moving toward the shore destroyed all the boats filled with people as they were fleeing the area.

Tectonic plate movement

Movement of the Nazca Plate
The Nazca Plate movement relative to the Northern American Plate. The Nazca plate descended 15 meters underneath the South American Plate. The earthquake was 30.5 km off the Chilean coast. The earthquake destroyed one in three homes in the port city of Valparaiso.

effects on the People

Two million people left homeless
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 tsunamis as they swamped boats and came ashore in the coastal areas.


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