Worst Tsunamis in History

Alexis Hornsby

With the recent magnitude >6 earthquakes occurring in Turkey, Ecuador, and New Zealand, tsunami warnings were issued to coastal regions. However, a tsunami never formed. Tsunamis are a phenomenon that produce massive waves, normally up to 100 feet in height, that hit the coast every five to 60 minutes causing extreme damage and flooding. Often triggered by underwater volcanic eruptions or earthquakes, the waves gain speed and height as they travel towards the coastline. Oftentimes, the first wave is not as large as the following waves, and as the number of waves increase, the more dangerous the situation becomes due to debris being dragged into the ocean and then being launched back onto land with the next waves. 

According to Campbell Philips with the Australian Geographic, “Larger tsunamis don’t alway cause the most destruction.” Smaller tsunamis can cause more damage to people and a nation’s economy, in some cases causing it to have more damage than a large tsunami would. It depends on the location of impact and the flooding and amount of debris caused by it. With that being said, the top three worst tsunamis in history based on their damage are the tsunami that hit Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004, the Tohoku tsunami that hit on March 11th, 2011, and the Lisbon, Portugal tsunami that hit on November 1st, 1755. 

The first wave of the Sumatra, Indonesia tsunami hit the coast at 7:59 am on December 26, 2004 and a series of waves hit over the next 7 hours. The tsunami was caused by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra that sent waves up to 30 feet to the surrounding countries across the Indian Ocean. It was known as the deadliest tsunami in history killing over 225,000 people over 14 different countries. The relief workers on the scene struggled to get people clean water, food, and medical treatment. It also caused over ten billion dollars in damages and even further economic damage due to the slow rebound after the storm. According to Amy Tikkean with Briticanna, “Long-term environmental damage was severe as well, with villages, tourist resorts, farmland, and fishing grounds demolished or inundated with debris, bodies, and plant-killing salt water.” which caused increased damage.

The next worst tsunami in history is the Tohoku tsunami. Caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake, there were up to 40 meter high waves moving at about 800 kilometers an hour. Over 18,000 people died and over 450,000 were made homeless by the damage to the island. The shaking from the earthquake caused radioactive steam to be released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Following the release, there were thousands evacuated from their homes and businesses. Overall the tsunami caused about 235 billion dollars in damage in Japan.

Number three on the worst tsunami list is the one that hit Lisbon, Portugal. This tsunami was an earthquake triggered tsunami that hit Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, in 1755. The magnitude 8.5 earthquake caused waves up to 30 meters high to hit the coast of Portugal and parts of Spain and Morocco. The combination of the earthquake and tsunami caused a total of about 60,000 casualties. As the waves flowed into the city, they destroyed the infrastructure and caused fires in some areas increasing the damage. 

Despite the damage done in these areas, the countries have been able to rebuild their economy and infrastructure back to a point of balance. However, some Japanese residents are still facing hardship and displacement from the damage.