Mapped: The Deadliest Earthquakes of the 21st Century
On September 8, 2023, a powerful earthquake rocked Morocco. With its epicenter located in the Atlas Mountains and structural damage being done to the historical city center of Marrakesh, the 6.8-magnitude quake will likely have a death toll in the thousands.
With these recent events in mind, we use data from the National Centers for Environment Information (NCES) to map out the epicenters of the nine deadliest earthquakes in the 21st century so far, by their total death toll. This includes casualties from secondary events—like tsunamis—after each earthquake.
Earthquakes By Death Toll (2000–2023)
We delve into some of the deadliest earthquakes in recent history.
On January 12th, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the capital Port-au-Prince. The earthquake’s shallow epicenter—only six miles beneath the surface—caused most of the force to be directed close to where people lived. By the end of the month, after 52 aftershocks rocked the island, the disaster had claimed more than 300,000 lives—the deadliest earthquake in the 21st century thus far.
The extensive destruction led to global support, but slow recovery sparked criticism of government inaction. In 2017, the UN reported 2.5 million Haitians still required aid.
December 26th, 2004: A 9.1 earthquake occurred off the coast of Indonesia, deep under the ocean. It was the strongest earthquake in this century and the third-most powerful since 1900.
It triggered the worst tsunami recorded in history, causing 230,000 deaths mainly in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India.
Here’s a list of the deadliest earthquakes, by death toll, in the 21st century.
|1||Jan, 2010||🇭🇹 Haiti||316,000||7.0|
|2||Dec, 2004||🇮🇩 Indonesia||227,899||9.1|
|3||May, 2008||🇨🇳 China||87,652||7.9|
|4||Oct, 2005||🇵🇰 Pakistan||76,213||7.6|
|5||Feb, 2023||🇹🇷 Türkiye||56,697||7.8|
|6||Dec, 2003||🇮🇷 Iran||31,000||6.6|
|7||Jan, 2001||🇮🇳 India||20,005||7.6|
|8||March, 2011||🇯🇵 Japan||18,428||9.1|
|9||April, 2015||🇳🇵 Nepal||8,957||7.8|
|10||May, 2006||🇮🇩 Indonesia||5,749||6.3|
|11||Sep, 2018||🇮🇩 Indonesia||4,340||7.5|
|12||May, 2003||🇩🇿 Algeria||2,287||6.8|
|13||Aug, 2021||🇭🇹 Haiti||2,248||7.2|
|14||April, 2010||🇨🇳 China||2,220||6.9|
|15||March, 2005||🇮🇩 Indonesia||1,313||8.6|
|16||Sep, 2009||🇮🇩 Indonesia||1,117||7.5|
|17||June, 2022||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||1,039||5.9|
|18||March, 2002||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||1,000||6.1|
|19||Jan, 2001||🇸🇻 El Salvador||844||7.7|
|20||Sep, 2013||🇵🇰 Pakistan||825||7.7|
|21||July, 2006||🇮🇩 Indonesia||802||7.7|
|22||April, 2016||🇪🇨 Ecuador||663||7.8|
|23||Nov, 2022||🇮🇩 Indonesia||635||5.6|
|24||Nov, 2017||🇮🇷 Iran||630||7.3|
|25||Feb, 2004||🇲🇦 Morocco||628||6.4|
|26||Aug, 2014||🇨🇳 China||615||6.2|
|27||Feb, 2005||🇮🇷 Iran||612||6.4|
|28||Oct, 2011||🇹🇷 Turkey||604||7.1|
|29||Aug, 2018||🇮🇩 Indonesia||560||6.9|
|30||Feb, 2010||🇨🇱 Chile||558||8.8|
|31||Aug, 2007||🇵🇪 Peru||514||8.0|
|32||Oct, 2010||🇮🇩 Indonesia||431||7.8|
|33||Oct, 2015||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||399||7.5|
|34||Sep, 2017||🇲🇽 Mexico||369||7.1|
|35||Feb, 2001||🇸🇻 El Salvador||315||6.6|
|36||April, 2009||🇮🇹 Italy||309||6.3|
|37||Aug, 2012||🇮🇷 Iran||306||6.5|
|38||Aug, 2016||🇮🇹 Italy||299||6.2|
|39||June, 2002||🇮🇷 Iran||261||6.5|
|40||Feb, 2003||🇨🇳 China||261||6.3|
|41||Oct, 2013||🇵🇭 Philippines||222||7.1|
|42||Oct, 2008||🇵🇰 Pakistan||215||6.4|
|43||April, 2013||🇨🇳 China||196||6.6|
|44||Sep, 2009||🇼🇸 Samoa Islands||192||8.1|
|45||Feb, 2011||🇳🇿 New Zealand||185||6.1|
|46||May, 2003||🇹🇷 Turkey||177||6.4|
|47||March, 2002||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||166||7.4|
|48||Feb, 2018||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||145||7.5|
|49||Oct, 2020||🇬🇷 Greece||118||7.0|
|50||Sep, 2022||🇨🇳 China||118||6.6|
|51||May, 2015||🇳🇵 Nepal||117||7.3|
|52||Feb, 2016||🇹🇼 Taiwan||117||6.4|
|53||Sep, 2011||🇮🇳 India||111||6.9|
|54||Jan, 2021||🇮🇩 Indonesia||105||6.2|
|55||March, 2011||🇲🇲 Myanmar||104||6.8|
|56||Dec, 2016||🇮🇩 Indonesia||104||6.5|
|57||June, 2000||🇮🇩 Indonesia||103||7.9|
|58||June, 2001||🇵🇪 Peru||103||8.4|
Türkiye and Syria, 2023
February 6, 2023: Two earthquakes, also with shallow epicenters (5 miles deep), hit the border region between Türkiye and Syria, causing widespread damage in both countries and claiming more than 50,000 lives. Bad weather conditions—including snow, ice, and winter storms—inhibited search and rescue efforts.
In Syria, international sanctions prevented foreign charities and families from sending money to the country, which led to the U.S. suspending the sanctions for 180 days.
March 11, 2011: Another undersea earthquake—also 9.1 magnitude—occurred off the coast of Japan, triggering a deadly tsunami which flattened parts of the country 30 minutes later.
The high waves also damaged Fukushima’s Nuclear Plant’s emergency diesel generators leading to reactor meltdowns, and a release of radioactive waste. In total, 18,000 people lost their lives from the earthquake and tsunami.
How Does Earthquake Data Help With Disaster Preparedness?
Thanks to the study of plate tectonics, scientists know where earthquakes usually occur, even if they don’t know when precisely. For example countries along the “Ring of Fire”—a hotbed of earthquake and volcanic activity—witness hundreds of earthquakes a year, though most are not strong enough to cause any damage.
However, with deadly earthquakes, other factors, including epicenter depth, location near populous areas, and proximity to secondary events—tsunamis—can play a far bigger role in death tolls.
Disaster preparedness and swift government action can mitigate many secondary casualties as seen comparing the vastly different death tolls of the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis.
Charting the Depths: The World of Subsea Cables
Hidden beneath the waves and sprawling along the ocean floor, subsea cables account for approximately 95% of international data transmitted.
Charting the Depths: The World of Subsea Cables
Data may be stored in the “cloud,” but when it comes to sending and receiving data, a lot of that action is actually happening along the depths of the ocean floor.
Hidden beneath the waves, these subsea cables account for approximately 95% of international data transmission.
These maps, by Adam Symington, use information from TeleGeography to show the distribution of subsea cables around the planet.
Wired for Connectivity
It’s estimated that there are nearly 1.4 million kilometers (0.9 miles) of submarine cables in service globally. They ensure emails, content, and calls find their way, linking colossal data centers and facilitating worldwide communication.
Currently, there are 552 active and planned submarine cables:
Submarine cables harness fiber-optic technology, transmitting information via rapid light pulses through glass fibers. These fibers, thinner than human hair, are protected by plastic or even steel wire layers.
Cables usually have the diameter of a garden hose, but often with added armor near the shore. Coastal cables are buried under the seabed, hidden from view on the beach, while deep-sea ones rest on the ocean floor.
Length varies widely, from the 131-kilometer CeltixConnect cable, connecting Dublin, Ireland, and Holyhead, UK, to the sprawling 20,000-kilometer Asia America Gateway cable, connecting San Luis Obispo, California, to Hawaii and Southeast Asia:
With the current technology, cables are designed to last 25 years at least but are often replaced because of damage. Nearly two-thirds of cable damage is caused by fishing vessels and ships dragging anchors.
The Bottom Line
Traditionally dominated by telecom carriers, the makeup of the subsea cable market has shifted over more recent decades. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon now heavily invest in new cables.
With data demand surging, at least $10 billion is expected to be invested in subsea cables worldwide between 2022 and 2024, driven by cloud service providers and content streaming platforms.
Even with the growth of satellites in telecom, cables still can carry far more data at a much lower cost than satellites. In fact, according to TeleGeography, satellites account for less than 1% of all U.S. international capacity.
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