Some earthquakes may have a lower seismic rating than others (the amount of tectonic plate friction and its depth); some earthquakes also may occur in very sparsely populated areas.
The amount of shaking, and therefore damage, caused by quakes is also strongly dependent on the material being shaken. Cities built on unconsolidated alluvium will suffer much more damage than those that are on bedrock, even if the quakes’ magnitudes were identical. Also, the nature of building construction and infrastructure in general are both important to how “bad” a quake will be – consider Haiti vs Chile in 2010. A much stronger quake in Chile produced less damage and far fewer deaths largely because Chile has better building construction and organizations ready and able to respond to disasters.
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