May 22, 1960 CE: Valdivia Earthquake Strikes Chile

May 22, 1960 CE: Valdivia Earthquake Strikes Chile

On May 22, 1960, the largest earthquake in recorded history—magnitude 9.5—struck southern Chile.


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Earth Science, Geology

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On May 22, 1960, the most powerful earthquake in recorded history—magnitude 9.5—struck southern Chile. Estimates were the rupture zone stretched anywhere from 500 kilometers (311 miles) to almost 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) along the country’s coast. The event was named after the city most affected by the quake, Valdivia.

The Valdivia earthquake left two million people homeless, injured at least 3,000, and killed approximately 1,655. The economic damage totaled $550 million (more than $4.8 billion, adjusted for 2020 inflation).

The Valdivia earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that raced across the Pacific. Waves wracked coastal communities as far away as New Zealand, Japan, and the Philippines. In Hawai'i, the tsunami devastated the coastal town of Hilo, killing 61 people.

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National Geographic Society
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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