SANTAGO – The 1960 Valdivia earthquake struck Chile on the afternoon of 22nd May 1960, causing widespread damage with Valdivia being the most affected city.
Also known as the Great Chilean earthquake, it was a 9.5 MW earthquake making it the most powerful ever recorded till date. The tremor triggered a giant tsunami which caused destruction and deaths as far away as Japan, around a day later.
The earthquake hit at about 7:11 p.m. approximately 100 miles off the coast, parallel to the city of Valdivia.
A series of foreshocks the day before warned of the approaching disaster. One, a magnitude 7.9, brought major destruction to the city of Concepcion. Early reports listed 74 deaths in the city.
Fire and cold rain added to the misery.
The historic earthquake the next day caused landslides of debris down the mountains.
Tremors were felt across the South American continent in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the recording needles “jumped off the recording paper at the start of the quake so that scientists could not register the violence,” the Associated Press reported.
Extremely heavy tremors were also recorded in Boston, San Francisco, Washington, Alaska and Tokyo.
After the shaking stopped, a series of tsunamis devastated Chile’s coastal regions.
A 26-foot wave hit the shore, taking most of the buildings and homes when it receded. Minutes later, a 35-foot wave rolled in, taking 1,000 lives.
After leaving Chile, the tsunami traveled hundreds of miles west towards Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan, where hundreds more died. Boats and docks were damaged in Los Angeles. (On Hawaii’s main island, 61 people dies and caused millions of dollars in damages.)
Waves from the earthquake bounced back and forth across the Pacific for more than a week and aftershocks were recorded for a month following the quake.
The quakes and its aftereffects resulted in 5,000 people killed and another 2 million people homeless.
Experts believe the earthquake could have been worse. A foreshock had occurred just before the main tremor, causing people to be outside when the historic earthquake happened.
Among recorded earthquakes, the Great Chilean earthquake is followed by 9.2MW 1964 Alaska earthquake and (9.1–9.3) MW Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004.
Chile was struck again by a powerful earthquake of 8.8MW in 2010. It was the fifth largest earthquake ever to be recorded by a seismograph and ranks thirteen in the overall list including estimates. The 2010 quake was also megathrust and caused by the subducting Nazca plate under the South American plate. It damaged 370,000 homes in Chile and at least 525 people were killed. The cost of the earthquake was estimated between 4 and 7 billion dollars.