There have been a number of high-profile earthquakes in the last month, including a 6.9 magnitude quake in Sikkim, India on Sunday, which has left at least 53 people dead in India, Nepal and Tibet.
Last Thursday, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake rattled Japan, while Cuba was hit by a 6.0 earthquake. On Sept. 6, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and in August, there were three significant earthquakes in the United States, the largest in Virginia, which shook the whole East Coast of the country.
The rate of earthquakes seems unprecedented, especially the way it's been portrayed in the media, but it is actually rather normal.
There are about 1.5 million earthquakes a year above magnitude 2.0, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) claims that an average of 134 earthquakes between the magnitudes 6 and 6.9 occur annually.
Since the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March 2011, the world has been justifiably sensitive about earthquakes. The 9.0 magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami killed more than 20,000 people, as well as triggering the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The tsunami that hit the Japanese coast was the eighth biggest of all time, but the overall disaster was not one of the ten worst earthquakes of the past 100 years. Below is a list of the ten worst earthquakes of the past 100 years, as measured by the number of estimated fatalities.
10) Chimbote, Peru, 1970: Around 50,000 people were confirmed dead after the 7.9 magnitude quake, a figure that would put it in the top 10 even if an additional 20,000 hadn't gone missing. The entire town of Yungay, population 20,000, was buried by an avalanche.
9) Messina, Italy, 1908: A 7.2 magnitude earthquake, a tsunami and a fire killed 72,000 people in Sicily and Calabria. The tsunami was as high as 40 feet in some areas, and nearly half of the population of Messina was wiped out. Aftershocks continued for three years.
8) Pakistan, 2005: This massive earthquake, in which 86,000 people perished, is still very much in the world's collective memory. The October quake, of magnitude 7.6, destroyed whole villages in Kashmir, and killed 1,300 people in India.
7) Szechuan, China, 2008: Around five million buildings were destroyed and 21 million damaged in the Szechuan province and in parts of Chongqing, Gansu, Hubei, Shaanxi and Yunnan, according to USGS. The economic cost of the 7.9 magnitude quake has been estimated at $86 billion. The human cost is also staggeringly high, at nearly 90,000.
6) Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 1948: On the border of Iran, the city of Ashgabat in the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (later Turkmenistan) was hit by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake around 2 a.m. on Oct. 6 1948. It was the 16th deadliest earthquake in recorded history. About 110,000 were killed.
5) Kanto, Japan, 1923: The Great Kant? earthquake lasted for four minutes. Centered in the Sagami Bay, the quake caused massive damage to Tokyo and Yokohama. The quake also caused the Great Tokyo Fire and resulted in 142,000 deaths.
4) Ningxia, China, 1920: About 200,000 people died during this 7.8 magnitude quake, which reached the highest total destruction rating (XII) on the Mercalli Scale. A landslide completely destroyed the village of Sujiahe in Xiji County, and there was damage in the cities of Longde, Huining, Lanzhou, Taiyuan, Xi'an, Xining and Yinchuan.
3) Indonesia, 2004: A tsunami ripped through South and East Asia after this magnitude 9.1 earthquake 2004. Damage was most severe on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The death toll reached 230,210 and the earthquake displaced a further 1.7 million. Around $14 billion in humanitarian aid was donated from around the world.
The earthquake was the third largest ever recorded on a seismograph, and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. It lasted between eight and ten minutes.
2) Tangshan, China, 1976: Yet another devastating Chinese earthquake, the 7.5 magnitude event caused the deaths of almost 250,000 people. An additional 800,000 were injured.
1) Haiti, 2010: Not just the worst earthquake this century, but the second worst in modern history. Over 300,000 people died and additional 300,000 were injured when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit in January 2010.
Homes in many of Haiti's communities were built with heavy materials, often with no reinforcement, causing “numerous building collapses, resulting in extensive property damage and loss of life” after the earthquake, according to insurance research from Risk Management Solutions. This was especially true in the country's slums, where they was massive devastation. More than one million people were rendered homeless.
Incidentally, the deadliest earthquake of all time occurred in 1556, in Shaanxi, China. Nearly one million people died during the 8.0 magnitude quake, which was felt in nine separate provinces, including Anhui, Gansu, Hebei, Hubei, Henan, Hunan, Shaanxi, Shandong and Shanxi.
City walls, temples, offices and civilian houses were demolished, without a single wall left standing.... The ground fissured and sunk. Water gushed out and formed canals. Sixty percent of the people were killed or injured, Chinese researchers wrote, according to USGS.
The identified death toll of soldiers and civilians was 830,000, and the unidentified was uncountable.
The deadliest earthquake in the United States was the 1906 San Fransisco quake. Around 3,000 people died, most due to a massive fire that engulfed the city shortly after the quake.