On September 8, 2023, a powerful earthquake rocked Morocco.
With its epicenter located in the Atlas Mountains and structural damage being done to the historical city center of Marrakesh, the 6.8-magnitude quake will likely have a death toll in the thousands.
Update: the disaster in Morocco is currently the 12th most deadly quake in the 21st century.
With these recent events in mind, Visual Capitalist’s Pallavi Rao and Bhabna Banerjee use data from the National Centers for Environment Information (NCES) to map out the epicenters of the nine deadliest earthquakes in the 21st century so far, by their total death toll. This includes casualties from secondary events—like tsunamis—after each earthquake.
Earthquakes By Death Toll (2000–2023)
We delve into some of the deadliest earthquakes in recent history.
On January 12th, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the capital Port-au-Prince. The earthquake’s shallow epicenter—only six miles beneath the surface—caused most of the force to be directed close to where people lived. By the end of the month, after 52 aftershocks rocked the island, the disaster had claimed more than 300,000 lives—the deadliest earthquake in the 21st century thus far.
The extensive destruction led to global support, but slow recovery sparked criticism of government inaction. In 2017, the UN reported 2.5 million Haitians still required aid.
December 26th, 2004: A 9.1 earthquake occurred off the coast of Indonesia, deep under the ocean. It was the strongest earthquake in this century and the third-most powerful since 1900.
It triggered the worst tsunami recorded in history, causing 230,000 deaths mainly in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India.
Here’s a list of the deadliest earthquakes, by death toll, in the 21st century.
|1||Jan, 2010||🇭🇹 Haiti||316,000||7.0|
|2||Dec, 2004||🇮🇩 Indonesia||227,899||9.1|
|3||May, 2008||🇨🇳 China||87,652||7.9|
|4||Oct, 2005||🇵🇰 Pakistan||76,213||7.6|
|5||Feb, 2023||🇹🇷 Türkiye||56,697||7.8|
|6||Dec, 2003||🇮🇷 Iran||31,000||6.6|
|7||Jan, 2001||🇮🇳 India||20,005||7.6|
|8||March, 2011||🇯🇵 Japan||18,428||9.1|
|9||April, 2015||🇳🇵 Nepal||8,957||7.8|
|10||May, 2006||🇮🇩 Indonesia||5,749||6.3|
|11||Sep, 2018||🇮🇩 Indonesia||4,340||7.5|
|12||May, 2003||🇩🇿 Algeria||2,287||6.8|
|13||Aug, 2021||🇭🇹 Haiti||2,248||7.2|
|14||April, 2010||🇨🇳 China||2,220||6.9|
|15||March, 2005||🇮🇩 Indonesia||1,313||8.6|
|16||Sep, 2009||🇮🇩 Indonesia||1,117||7.5|
|17||June, 2022||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||1,039||5.9|
|18||March, 2002||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||1,000||6.1|
|19||Jan, 2001||🇸🇻 El Salvador||844||7.7|
|20||Sep, 2013||🇵🇰 Pakistan||825||7.7|
|21||July, 2006||🇮🇩 Indonesia||802||7.7|
|22||April, 2016||🇪🇨 Ecuador||663||7.8|
|23||Nov, 2022||🇮🇩 Indonesia||635||5.6|
|24||Nov, 2017||🇮🇷 Iran||630||7.3|
|25||Feb, 2004||🇲🇦 Morocco||628||6.4|
|26||Aug, 2014||🇨🇳 China||615||6.2|
|27||Feb, 2005||🇮🇷 Iran||612||6.4|
|28||Oct, 2011||🇹🇷 Turkey||604||7.1|
|29||Aug, 2018||🇮🇩 Indonesia||560||6.9|
|30||Feb, 2010||🇨🇱 Chile||558||8.8|
|31||Aug, 2007||🇵🇪 Peru||514||8.0|
|32||Oct, 2010||🇮🇩 Indonesia||431||7.8|
|33||Oct, 2015||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||399||7.5|
|34||Sep, 2017||🇲🇽 Mexico||369||7.1|
|35||Feb, 2001||🇸🇻 El Salvador||315||6.6|
|36||April, 2009||🇮🇹 Italy||309||6.3|
|37||Aug, 2012||🇮🇷 Iran||306||6.5|
|38||Aug, 2016||🇮🇹 Italy||299||6.2|
|39||June, 2002||🇮🇷 Iran||261||6.5|
|40||Feb, 2003||🇨🇳 China||261||6.3|
|41||Oct, 2013||🇵🇭 Philippines||222||7.1|
|42||Oct, 2008||🇵🇰 Pakistan||215||6.4|
|43||April, 2013||🇨🇳 China||196||6.6|
|44||Sep, 2009||🇼🇸 Samoa Islands||192||8.1|
|45||Feb, 2011||🇳🇿 New Zealand||185||6.1|
|46||May, 2003||🇹🇷 Turkey||177||6.4|
|47||March, 2002||🇦🇫 Afghanistan||166||7.4|
|48||Feb, 2018||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||145||7.5|
|49||Oct, 2020||🇬🇷 Greece||118||7.0|
|50||Sep, 2022||🇨🇳 China||118||6.6|
|51||May, 2015||🇳🇵 Nepal||117||7.3|
|52||Feb, 2016||🇹🇼 Taiwan||117||6.4|
|53||Sep, 2011||🇮🇳 India||111||6.9|
|54||Jan, 2021||🇮🇩 Indonesia||105||6.2|
|55||March, 2011||🇲🇲 Myanmar||104||6.8|
|56||Dec, 2016||🇮🇩 Indonesia||104||6.5|
|57||June, 2000||🇮🇩 Indonesia||103||7.9|
|58||June, 2001||🇵🇪 Peru||103||8.4|
Türkiye and Syria, 2023
February 6, 2023: Two earthquakes, also with shallow epicenters (5 miles deep), hit the border region between Türkiye and Syria, causing widespread damage in both countries and claiming more than 50,000 lives. Bad weather conditions—including snow, ice, and winter storms—inhibited search and rescue efforts.
In Syria, international sanctions prevented foreign charities and families from sending money to the country, which led to the U.S. suspending the sanctions for 180 days.
March 11, 2011: Another undersea earthquake—also 9.1 magnitude—occurred off the coast of Japan, triggering a deadly tsunami which flattened parts of the country 30 minutes later.
The high waves also damaged Fukushima’s Nuclear Plant’s emergency diesel generators leading to reactor meltdowns, and a release of radioactive waste. In total, 18,000 people lost their lives from the earthquake and tsunami.
How Does Earthquake Data Help With Disaster Preparedness?
Thanks to the study of plate tectonics, scientists know where earthquakes usually occur, even if they don’t know when precisely. For example countries along the “Ring of Fire”—a hotbed of earthquake and volcanic activity—witness hundreds of earthquakes a year, though most are not strong enough to cause any damage.
However, with deadly earthquakes, other factors, including epicenter depth, location near populous areas, and proximity to secondary events—tsunamis—can play a far bigger role in death tolls.
Disaster preparedness and swift government action can mitigate many secondary casualties as seen comparing the vastly different death tolls of the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis.