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Top 10 Worst Earthquakes in India

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Aarva lives in India and knows all too well about the history and threat of earthquakes.

In 1977, India even created an earthquake stamp.

In 1977, India even created an earthquake stamp.

The Worst Indian Earthquakes

Republic Day on January 26th, 2001, started like any other day. Students were on their way to school for celebrations in their classrooms. Leaders all over the country were hoisting the tricolor flag.

As an ongoing tradition, people distributed sweets among children. Some were holding flags and chatting with friends to plan and enjoy the rest of the day.

Suddenly, the news struck that an earthquake had taken place in Gujarat.

As time passed by, the news came in: a massive earthquake with tremendous loss of life and property. Reportedly 30,000 people died, and many others got injured. Even years later, the situation has improved, but scars remain.

Besides the tragedy in Gujarat, India has seen several terrible earthquakes throughout history. Here is the list of ten worst earthquakes in India's history.

NumberPlace# of DeathsDate, Time, and YearMagnitudeEpicenter

1

Indian Ocean

> 283,106

08:50, December 26th, 2004

9.1–9.3

West coast of Sumatra, Indonesia

2

Kashmir

130,000

08:50:38, October 8th, 2005

7.6

Muzaffarabad, Pakistan-administered Kashmir

3

Bihar and Nepal

> 30,000

14:13, January 15th, 1934

8.7

South of Mount Everest

4

Gujarat

20,000

08:50, January 26th, 2001

7.7

Kutch, Gujarat

5

Kangra

> 20,000

06:10, April 4th, 1905

7.8

Himalayas

6

Latur

> 9,748

22:25, September 30th, 1993

6.4

Killari, Latur

7

Assam

1,526

19:39, August 15th, 1950

8.6

Rima, Tibet

8

Assam

1,500

17:11, June 12th, 1897

8.1

Exact location not known

9

Uttarkashi

>1,000

Unknown time, October 20th, 1991

6.8

Garhwal, Uttarakhand

10

Koynanagar

180

04:21, December 11th, 1967

6.5

Koyna

Chennai's Marina Beach, the world's second longest beach after the Tsunami

Chennai's Marina Beach, the world's second longest beach after the Tsunami

1. Indian Ocean Earthquake, 2004

  • Date: December 26th, 2004
  • Time: 08:50
  • # of Deaths: >283,106 (Includes deaths in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Maldives, and Somalia)
  • Magnitude: 9.1–9.3
  • Epicenter: West coast of Sumatra, Indonesia (3.316°N 95.854°E)

This earthquake caused extreme widespread destruction the following day after Christmas. The calamity was so huge that even islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean disappeared or were 3–5 meters deep in water.

The newspapers on the following day were full of gory pictures. Mind-numbing loss of human lives was followed by reports of destroyed property worth thousands of crores.

I also remember that newspapers only reported about the tsunami and earthquake. It was only about the tsunami from the first to the last page. No sports and no business news were reported for several days.

10 Years After the Indian Ocean Tsunami

U.S. Army Sergeant Kornelia Rachwal gives a young Pakistani girl a drink of water

U.S. Army Sergeant Kornelia Rachwal gives a young Pakistani girl a drink of water

2. Kashmir Earthquake, 2005

  • Date: October 8th, 2005
  • Time: 08:50:38
  • # of Deaths: 130,000
  • Magnitude: 7.6
  • Epicenter: Muzaffarabad, Pakistan-administered Kashmir (34.45°N 73.65°E)

While the death toll in India was less, the Pakistani side suffered a massive loss of life and property. The epicenter of the quake was in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. Its severity could be understood by the fact that even neighboring countries like China, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan felt tremors.

The international community came forward in every possible way to help the victims. Relief material flowed in from every part of the world. The Indian Army helped by clearing the debris, distributing relief material, and maintaining medical camps in Pakistan and India.

3. Bihar Earthquake, 1934

  • Date: January 15th, 1934
  • Time: 14:13
  • # of Deaths: > 30,000
  • Magnitude: 8.7
  • Epicenter: South of Mount Everest (27.55°N 87.09°E)

Similar to the Pokhara earthquake, the Bihar earthquake affected both Nepal and India, though on a larger scale (8.7 magnitude). This quake caused widespread destruction.

A collapsed building after the earthquake in Gujarat

A collapsed building after the earthquake in Gujarat

4. Gujarat Earthquake, 2001

  • Date: January 26th, 2001
  • Time: 08:50:00
  • # of Deaths: 20,000
  • Magnitude: 7.7
  • Epicenter: Kutch, Gujarat (23.419°N 70.232°E)

As you read in the opening paragraph, this earthquake caused widespread destruction. Normalcy could only be restored after six months of rigorous relief efforts from all sections of society.

Help poured in from all over the world, but the damage had already been done. Some lost their life savings, and some lost their lives.

A destroyed Barjeshwari Devi temple after  4th April 1905 earthquake in Kangra

A destroyed Barjeshwari Devi temple after 4th April 1905 earthquake in Kangra

5. Kangra Earthquake, 1905

  • Date: April 4th, 1905
  • Time: 06:10
  • # of Deaths: >20,000
  • Magnitude: 7.8
  • Epicenter: Himalayas (33.0°N 76.0°E)

Another one of the deadliest quakes that India faced took place in the Kangra region of Himachal Pradesh. More than 100,000 homes were destroyed, and scores of animals, trees, and the region's natural vegetation were utterly gutted.

This is the 2nd worst earthquake from the pre-independence era after the Nepal-Bihar quake of 1934.

A destroyed village after the Latur earthquake

A destroyed village after the Latur earthquake

6. Latur Earthquake, 1993

  • Date: September 30th, 1993
  • Time: 22:25
  • # of Deaths: >9,748
  • Magnitude: 6.4
  • Epicenter: Killari, Latur (18.1°N 76.5°E)

The Latur quake was one of the most fatal natural disasters that Maharashtra ever faced. Though the magnitude recorded was 6.4, the destruction that it caused was massive.

The most affected areas were Latur and Osmanabad. Invariably, this natural calamity brought attention towards this area and now Latur and adjoining areas as well-developed.

Watch the below news snippet from BBC where the anchor describes the plight causing entire villages to be flattened as people were sleeping.

biggest-earthquakes-in-india

7. Assam Earthquake, 1950

  • Date: August 15th, 1950
  • Time: 19:39
  • # of Deaths: 1,526
  • Magnitude: 8.6
  • Epicenter: Rima, Tibet (28.5°N 96.5°E)

The Assam quake also, unfortunately, happened on the Independence Day of India. Many parts of Assam and Tibet were severely damaged to unknown proportions. However, Assam experienced the brunt of this quake more than Tibet.

However, after the quake stopped, there was substantial flooding, which added to the already scary situation.

An aerial view of a destructed locality

An aerial view of a destructed locality

8. Assam Earthquake, 1897

  • Date: June 12th, 1897
  • Time: 17:11
  • # of Deaths: 1,500
  • Magnitude: 8.1
  • Epicenter: Exact location not known (26°N 91°E)

The north-eastern states of India fall under the zone 4 hazard seismic area. Zone 5 is the highest risk area, and Zone 2 is the lowest. States like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh from the northeast, Kashmir, and Gujarat all fall in Zone 5 and are the most prone to earthquakes.

This earthquake affected India, Tibet, and Burma.

A family sitting atop the debris where once their house used to be

A family sitting atop the debris where once their house used to be

9. Uttarkashi Earthquake, 1991

  • Date: October 20th, 1991
  • Time: Unknown
  • # of Deaths: >1,000
  • Magnitude: 6.8
  • Epicenter: Garhwal, Uttarakhand (30.780°N 78.774°E)

Lots of people became homeless, and nearly 42,000 homes and buildings were damaged in this quake. As many as 1300+ villages were destroyed. Many civilians were injured, and the official death toll stood at 768, but there were many more deaths than that.

The whole Uttarkashi region was harshly affected and is now known as Uttarakhand.

Just one of the many roads after the earthquake in Koynanagar

Just one of the many roads after the earthquake in Koynanagar

10. Koynanagar Earthquake, 1967

  • Date: December 11th, 1967
  • Time: 04:21
  • # of Deaths: 180
  • Magnitude: 6.5
  • Epicenter: Koyna (17.4°N 73.76°E)

Koynanagar is the most seismically active area in the country. Koynanagar has had a long history of earthquakes. As many as 20 known earthquakes have taken place in Koynanagar. The latest one was on April 14th, 2014. It lies in Zone 4 of the hazard zoning.

Of all them, the most severe one took place in 1967. The official record states casualties of 180 and over 1500 people were injured.

Map showing different earthquake zones in India

Map showing different earthquake zones in India

Earthquake Zones of India

According to a recent study conducted by the National Institute of Disaster Management, about 59% of India is prone to earthquakes. India is divided into four seismic zones.

Zone 5: Very High-Risk Area (11% of India)

The list of states that fall in this zone includes:

  • Arunachal Pradesh
  • Assam
  • Nagaland
  • Mizoram
  • Meghalaya
  • Tripura
  • Central Kashmir
  • Central Himalayas
  • Northern Bihar
  • Rann of Kutch
  • Andaman
  • Nicobar Islands

Zone 4: High-Risk Zone (18% of India)

The list of states that fall in this zone includes:

  • Parts of Jammu
  • Parts of Kashmir
  • Uttarakhand
  • Delhi
  • Gujarat
  • Bihar
  • West Bengal
  • Koynanagar in Maharashtra
  • Sikkim

Zone 3: Moderate Risk Zone (30% of India)

The list of states that fall in this zone includes:

  • Parts of Haryana
  • Punjab
  • Rajasthan
  • Gujarat
  • Maharashtra
  • Telangana
  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • Jharkhand
  • West Bengal
  • Odisha
  • Madhya Pradesh
  • Bihar
  • Karnataka
  • Tamil Nadu
  • Dadra
  • Nagar Haveli
  • Goa
  • Kerala

Zone 2: Low-risk Zone (41% of India)

See the map above to know the areas covered in this zone.

Sources

Questions & Answers

Question: What was the depth of these earthquakes?

Answer: Depths are divided into three categories:

1) 300 - 700 KM - Deep

2) 70 - 300 KM - Intermediate

3) 0 - 70 KM - Shallow

Shallow earthquakes are the most dangerous, with the next being intermediate earthquakes, and then deep ones.

1) Indian Ocean Earthquake, 2004 - 30 km (19 mi)

2) Kashmir Earthquake, 2005 - 15 km (9.3 mi)

3) Bihar Earthquake, 1934 - 15 km (9.3 mi)

4) Gujarat Earthquake, 2001 - 16 km (10 mi)

5) Kangra Earthquake, 1905 - Unknown

6) Latur Earthquake, 1993 - 10 km (6.2 mi)

7) Assam Earthquake, 1950 - 15 km (9.3 mi)

8) Assam Earthquake, 1897 - Unknown

9) Uttarkashi Earthquake, 1991 - 11.6 km (7 mi)

10) Koynanagar Earthquake, 1967 - 15 km (9 mi)

Question: What are the most earthquake prone places in India?

Answer: Before diving further, below are the terms that will help in understanding this in a better way.

• Zones: India is divided into four seismic zones when it comes to the severity of earthquakes. These are Zone 5 to Zone 2. The Zone 5 lists places with the highest risk, whereas Zone 2 has areas with the lowest risk.

Zone 5: Very High Damage Risk

Zone 4: High Damage Risk

Zone 3: Moderate Damage Risk

Zone 2: Low Damage Risk

• Seismicity: This is defined as the number of times an area is vulnerable to earthquakes. The higher the seismicity level higher are the chances.

• Richter Magnitude Scale: These range from 1.0 to 9.0 and higher. Earthquakes with magnitude 4.9 and lower do not generally cause damage. The ones with Richter magnitude 5.0 to 5.9 are considered moderate in nature. Lastly, magnitudes of 6.0 to 9.0+ cause extreme destruction.

So, the places that are classified in zone 5 are the most prone to earthquakes.

1) Srinagar

2) Kashmir valley

3) Uttarakhand

4) Western and Central Himalayas

5) North and Central Bihar

6) Raxaul, Bihar

7) Rann of Kutch in Gujarat

8) Andaman and Nicobar Islands

9) Chandigarh

10) Patan and Koynanagar in Maharashtra

11) All northeastern states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura)

12) Sundarbans forest

13) Delhi

14) Majha, North Punjab

15) Western Uttar Pradesh

16) Jalpaiguri and Malda division in Bengal

Reference: National Disaster Management Plan, “Annexure-II: Hazard Vulnerability Maps for India” retrieved from the web on 3rd April 2018.

Question: What are the least earthquake prone areas in India?

Answer: The places which fall in Zone 2 seismicity are least vulnerable or safest from hazards of earthquakes.

List of places in Zone 2.

• Ajmer, Kota, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur in Rajasthan

• Allahabad, Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh

• Aurangabad, Nagpur in Maharashtra

• Bangalore, Mysore, Chitradurga, Gulbarga in Karnataka

• Bhilai, Raipur in Chhattisgarh

• Bhopal, Sironj in Madhya Pradesh

• Kurnool, Nagarjunasagar, Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh

• Madurai, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu

• Jamshedpur, Jharkhand

• Pondicherry

• Rourkela, Orissa

Reference: National Disaster Management Plan, “Annexure-II: Hazard Vulnerability Maps for India” retrieved from the web on 4th April 2018

Best Current Affairs, "Seismic Zones in India" retrieved from the web on 4th April 2018

Question: Is Mumbai in an earthquake zone?

Answer: Mumbai falls in the zone 3 level which is a moderate damage risk zone. There have been instances where places marked under zone 3 have witnessed earthquakes of more than 6.0 in magnitude.

Historically, Mumbai has never seen an earthquake of more than 4.5 in magnitude. In simpler terms, one would only experience slight tremors, some disturbances but no major damages.

Mumbai is the most populous city in India, and massive construction has taken place to accommodate so many people. If there happens to be an earthquake in the range of 6.0 to 6.5, the consequences would be highly fatal.

A detailed study published by IIT Bombay in 1999 puts forth many astonishing facts:

A Postulated Earthquake Damage Scenario For Mumbai by Ravi Sinha and N. Adarsh, Department of Civil Engineering.

You can read this study via this link: http://home.iitk.ac.in/~vinaykg/Iset397.pdf

Question: Is Tamil Nadu at risk of an earthquake?

Answer: As per NIDM (National Institute of Disaster Management) Tamil Nadu falls in the moderate risk zone i.e zone 3. Some other states like Maharashtra and Bihar also fall in zone 3 which have seen some huge earthquakes in the past. These are natural calamities and one can take precautions but can't predict mother nature's response.

© 2011 Kannan

Comments

Y on May 26, 2020:

Hi aarav

It

Is

Very

Helpful

Akanksh kthagattu on October 13, 2019:

very good , my project was almost completed, almost not completed also

ARMAAN PREET SINGH on May 25, 2019:

Truly goos .Iget many information from it

yashasvi on May 20, 2019:

it was very helful and it is enough for my project...

KAREENA SAWANT on April 30, 2019:

VERY USEFUL KNOWLEDGE

T.B.Suryanarayana on April 04, 2019:

Information is most useful to knowing people.

mehreen on January 22, 2019:

can u please say can any earthquake occur in Hyderabad

Kannan (author) from Mumbai on September 29, 2018:

@Alli I have already answered this question in the q and a section above.

Alli on September 29, 2018:

What were the depths of earthquakes and loss/damages caused due to it plz tell sir

anil on July 27, 2018:

nice information its enough for my project

Bipasha halder on June 29, 2018:

Nice information but i think not satisfied for me i wanted more but it 's ok welldone

Manjot Aujla on June 18, 2018:

Truly good

SACHIN tendulkar on April 05, 2018:

Good enough

Anisha on January 04, 2018:

It's really helpful information for projects...thnx

KM on November 23, 2017:

Nice...

ashish kumar on November 15, 2017:

I can see what problem they suffered

Shaily on October 04, 2017:

It is good but not in deep detail

ARNAB on August 26, 2017:

I CAN FEEL WHAT PAIN THEY SUFFERED .

Mia on September 05, 2016:

Very good informative text but can be given a little more information

hj on May 01, 2016:

Good

and informative

Kannan (author) from Mumbai on February 19, 2016:

@Khalid Thanks for the comment, sorry to hear about the situation that you were in.

Be brave, healthy, and cheerful.

Khalid on February 18, 2016:

Kannan, your research is indeed thorough. After reading the full article, tears rolled down my eyes. Though the pain and suffering of the victims can not be shared or eradicated but as I have experienced the similar shocks after shocks during the Nepal Earthquake which affected many parts of Northern India. It's indeed terrible. Thank you for your blogs on interesting topics.

akanksha mangotra on June 21, 2015:

they should migrate up to the time of recoverment and we should give them food and shelter

nishi on May 20, 2015:

Good and giving nice information

Lilly on May 31, 2013:

Good

and informative but still better could be done

Deep on July 08, 2012:

Informative

indrajeetnarainsingh on April 15, 2012:

It was good but there should be high level theme basedon research orientation work.