Top 10 Most Destructive Tsunamis in History

A tsunami is a high sea wave that is usually caused by an undersea earthquake or disturbance such as volcanic eruption. Its height can reach tens of meters, and it can completely destroy and erase cities and towns from existence. It’s one of the most destructive natural disasters and its impact can be devastating. Check out the list of top 10 most destructive tsunamis in human history. These were some of the deadliest tsunamis and worst earthquake ever.

10. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
The Indian Ocean Tsunami in Sri Lanka 2004.

On December the 26th of 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 occurred undersea of the coast of the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. At first, the earthquake was estimated to be 8.8 but scientists changed its estimate to 9.1.

The earthquake was felt in many countries such as Bangladesh, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and the Maldives. Then, over the course of 7 hours, a deadly tsunami caused by the undersea earthquake, reached out across the Indian Ocean.

It’s estimated that the tsunami killed 225,000 and sustained a massive destruction. Thousands of tourists that were on vacation during the tsunami were killed or reported missing. The casualties were increasing due to the lack of food, clean water and supplies.

9. 1755 Lisbon Tsunami

1755 The Great Lisbon Earthquake and Tsunami, Portugal
1755 The Great Lisbon Earthquake and Tsunami, Portugal

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake is also known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake and the Disaster at Lisbon. The earthquake occurred in the Kingom of Portugal on November 1st of 1755. It’s estimated that the magnitude of the earthquake reached 9.0 on the magnitude scale.
When the earthquake occurred, people felt 3 distinct shocks. The second one was a lot stronger than the first and it sent buildings toppling down. The earthquake caused fires to break out that resulted in people burning to death after not being able to escape.

Exactly 40 minutes after the earthquake, an enormous tsunami wave engulfed the area. Three massive tsunami waves destroyed several towns, and some of the waves were almost 30 meters high. It was one of the most destructive earthquake and tsunami known in history to this day that resulted in the death of 70,00 in Portugal, Spain and Morocco.

8. 2011 Tohoku Tsunami

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011
Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011

6 Years ago, on March 11th 2011, an earthquake with a magnitude of 0.9-9.1 occurred undersea off the coast of Japan. The impact of the earthquake was felt around the world, and to this day Japan is still recovering from the earthquake and tsunami.

The tsunami that followed the earthquake is considered to be one of the most powerful tsunamis that reached the height of up to 40 meters. Thousands of lives were lost and more than 120,000 buildings were destroyed. The tsunami caused a failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant realsing radioactive materials.

7. 1703 Genroku Tsunami

Genroku Earthquake – 1703
Genroku Earthquake – 1703

On December 31th of 1703, an earthquake occurred in the southern Kanto region in Japan during the historical Genroku Era. It triggered a tsunami that had the height of a maximum of 10.5 at Wada and 10 meter at Izu Oshima and Ainohama.

It’s estimated that the earthquake and the tsunami caused the death of 200,000. Large fires broke out and a total of 8,007 houses were destroyed. 400 km of coastline was affected by the tsunami.

6. The 1883 Krakotoa Tsunami

Tsunami Waves Generated by the Explosion of the Krakatau (Krakatoa) Volcano
Tsunami Waves Generated by the Explosion of the Krakatau (Krakatoa) Volcano. The volcanic eruption of Krakatoa was one of the most catastrophic ever witnessed in recorded history.

The Krakotoa Tsunami in 1883 was generated by the eruption of the volcano of Krakatoa. The eruption of the Krakatoa is one of the deadliest volcanic eruption of modern history. The pressure from three gigantic eruption gave rise to tsunami like waves. The first 3 eruptions caused violent explosions, and then the fourth one caused the destructive tsunami.

The tsunami destroyed a large number of villages and coastal towns. A total of 36,417 people drowned as a result.

5. 1498 Meio Nankaido Tsunami

Most Destructive Tsunamis
In 1498 a powerful earthquake struck around 35 miles (60km) off the coast of Nankaidō.

The Meio Nankaido Tsunami happened off the coast of Nankaido in Japan. The Tsunami was generated by a powerful earthquake of a 8.6 magnitude. It’s reported that the tsunami waves were of 56 foot height, and the death toll is said to be between 5,000 and 41,000 deaths.

See also; 10 Strongest Earthquakes in History.

4. 1908 Messina Tsunami

1908 Messina Tsunami
The port of Messina as it would have appeared at the time of the earthquake and tsunami This photograph was taken c.1900 (source).

On December 28 of 1908, an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude occurred in Messina, Italy. It destroyed 91% of Messina’s structures and buildings and killed 75,000 people. It’s considered to be Europe’s most destructive earthquake.

The earthquake was followed by an enormous tsunami and the double catastrophe almost destroyed Messina and nearby cities. The waves of the tsunami were estimated to be 13 meters high that crashed on the coasts of northern Sicily and southern Calabria. After the tsunami happened, the harbor was filled with ship wreckage and corpses of drowned people and animals.

3. 365 Crete Tsunami

365 Crete Tsunami
One of the most destructive earthquakes on July 21, 365 AD along the western coast of the Island of Crete generated a mega-tsunami, which devastated the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean and particularly impacted Peloponnesus, the Greek Islands, Sicily, Libya, Cyprus, Palestine and Egypt.

On July 21st 365 AD, an undersea earthquake of 8 magnitude caused a tsunami that was responsible for extensive destruction in Li Egypt, Palestine, Cyprus, Sicily and the Greek Islands. It’s said that the effect of the earthquake and the tsunami were a factor in the declination of the Roman Empire.

The Roman historian explained in details that the tsunami hit Alexandria in Egypt and other places and there were 3 main phases of the tsunami and the death toll is to be estimated between 300,000 and 500,000 people.

2. The Minoan Eruption and Tsunami

The Minoan Eruption and Tsunami
Minoan Eruption and Tsunami.

The Minoan Eruption, also known as Santorini eruption, was a major volcanic eruption that was followed by a devastating tsunami. The tsunami wiped out the Minoan civilization that lived on the island of Crete. The casualties of the catastrophe are estimated to be ranging from 30,000 to 100,000.

See also: Top 10 Major Disasters of The World.

1. The 1868 Arica Tsunami

Artistic Rendering of the 1868 Tsunami in Arica (then city of Peru)
Artistic Rendering of the 1868 Tsunami in Arica (then city of Peru)

In 1868, the 1868 Arica earthquake occurred near Arica, Peru with a magnitude of 8.5-9.0. It generated a Pacific wide tsunami that killed hundreds of people from the nearby villages and towns.

The tsunami wrecked most ships sitting at the harbor . The reported height of the tsunami waves is 14 meters. 25,674 people lost their lives during this tragedy.

Written By: Mariam Fahmy