Prior to the most recent earthquake in Haiti, the most recent deadly and destructive earthquake was in Pakistan on October 8, 2005. This earthquake had a magnitude of 7.6, killed 80,000 and left millions homeless.
As terrible as the 2010 Haiti quake was–and it looks likely it will forever be grimly enshrined in the list of the deadliest earthquakes ever–it pales in comparison to the quake that struck Shaanxi, China on the morning of January 23, 1556, which killed over 800,000 people, nearly four times the number who died in Haiti. The death toll was so terrible because most people in densely-populated Shaanxi lived in caves carved out of fragile loess soil, which of course collapsed in the temblor. The last quake that had a death toll comparable to Haiti’s (about 230,000 and counting) was also in China, this time in Tangshan in July 1976, where about 255,000 people died by official count, but unofficial counts suggest the death toll was closer to 650,000–more people than died in the entire U.S. Civil War.
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