The Most Powerful Tsunami In History

Most Powerful Tsunami

If you have a name like Hemsworth or parasitic disease like toxoplasmosis, you probably love riding the waves. No matter how high they are. But are there some waters too choppy for even the most hardened of surfers?

Some recorded waves have been so powerful and so high, that the devastation they have unleashed, might even scare off Aquaman from riding them. Just how high have the waves gotten and what was the most powerful wave ever recorded.

Most Powerful Waves of All Time

Tsunamis are far from just a modern disaster without history having a long track record of them. On December 28, 1908, a roughly 40 second long earthquake hit the Italian cities of Reggio Calabria and Messina, with a magnitude of somewhere between 6.7 and 7.2.

90% of all buildings were severely damaged. The sheer number of broken pipes led to ongoing epic fire storms and a 26 foot high tsunami raged through the streets. Dwarfing the wave seen at Goose Bay, historians claim – it is one of the deadliest ever natural disasters recorded during historic times in Europe.

These cities are in South Italy, which is located between the borders of the two prominent continental plates of Africa and Europe. Along with several microplates of the Mediterranean sea. This geometry, unfortunately forms belts with intense tectonic activity. Something people were already aware of since as early as 1862. But this particular Tsunami was still a shock. With even the hardened locals having never seen anything like it.

Tsunami by Krakatoa Volcano Explosion

But if we are going to get historical, is there any tsunami more infamous than the waves generated by the explosion of the Krakatoa volcano? This paroxysmal explosion and eventual collapse of the entire volcano generated truly foreboding waves up to 120 feet high. That’s 17.9 times taller than the infamously Yanky comedian Stephen Merchant.

A total of 295 villages and towns in the Sunda Strait, in southern sumatra and western java were completely and instantaneously annihilated. These waves triggered by the volcano, unleashing three gigantic eruptions in a row between August 26 and 27, in 1883. Before its eventual paroxysmal explosion. That very explosion blew away the northern 2/3 of the island and mere seconds later, the volcanic chambers totally collapsed in on themselves forming a huge underwater caldera.

The waves were so intense that coral blocks weighing almost 600 tons, were thrown ashore with ease. The towns that fell were, totally destroyed in less than two hours, after the volcano’s collapse. Small sea-level oscillations from the explosions were recorded by tide gauges in places as far away as South America.

The American West Coast and Hawaii. Remarkably, they were even detected as far away as the English Channel by both France and England. 12 hours after the fourth explosion, the tsunami reached Eden on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, which is more than 38 nautical miles away.

Tsunami Caused by Great Lisbon Earthquake

But when it comes to historical disasters none are as infamous as the great Lisbon earthquake which shook the world. At 9:40 a.m. in the morning on November 1st, 1755. It was without a doubt, one of the deadliest earthquakes in Earth’s history. Soon followed by highly destructive fires and a tsunami. Amidst all the chaos, Lisbon was all but totally destroyed and political tensions in Portugal were accentuated. As a result, highly disrupting the country’s colonial ambitions at the time.

Around about 40 minutes after the quake, an enormous Tsunami engulfed the entire downtown region. The shockwaves were felt throughout Europe with 66 foot high tsunamis hitting Barbados and Martinique. A 10 foot high wave hitting the southern English coast. Meanwhile, in Galway on the Irish west coast, intensive waves led to the partial destruction of the Spanish Ark. It’s ripple effect was far further than just physical damage.

The event was extensively discussed by the European enlightenment philosophers of the time. Which led to a major development in the philosophy of the sublime and theodicy. It was also the first ever earthquake to be studied on a scientific level. Triggering the creation of modern seismology.

Though they’ll never know for sure without a time machine. Today’s geologists have estimated that the Lisbon earthquake may have reached a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale.

Sanriku Coast Tsunami

Now, that’s a powerful wave and people’s belief in God would be challenged, yet again 141 years later when on June 15th 1896. Japan was struck by an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.5. This inevitably led to a colossal Tsunami that caused overwhelming damage to the Sanriku coast and beyond. Though at first people thought it was going to be no big deal.

The epicenter was 90 miles offshore near an area of incredibly deep water called the Japan trench. Because of this there was little awareness of the earthquake at all. Especially as it was far weaker than might normally be expected of such a powerful earthquake. Therefore those who did feel it, had no reason to expect a tsunami. Especially not a big one, they were wrong.

35 minutes after the quake, the most devastating Tsunami in Japanese history came crashing into the shore at the same time as an already high tide. Reaching heights of 125 feet, everything in its path was flattened to smithereens.

A total of 9,000 homes were utterly and easily destroyed. Not content with just during japan, the effects of the Tsunami carried out across the pacific Californian shores were hit by a 9.5 foot high wave. In Hawaii several homes were grabbed by the waters and swept away to the bottom of the oceans depths.

Tsunamis at the time of 1800’s

The 1800’s were actually a pretty bad time for Tsunamis in general. It was a typical winter’s day in New Zealand 14th of August, 1868, when unprecedented disaster struck. Coastal residents were blissfully going about their day. Totally unaware that all the way in South America, one of the powerful earthquakes in history had struck. As a by-product a deadly tsunami was careening towards them across the Pacific Ocean.

It was 5:30 p.m., when the quake totally annihilated the port city of Arica, then part of Peru, now part of Chile. The ensuing waves were numerous and all between 49 and 69 feet in height. In the chaos, a Peruvian naval vessel was completely destroyed. While two American naval vessels were grounded with one still abandoned on the sand rusting away to this day.

13 hours later the waves finally reached New Zealand in the early hours of the morning. First hitting the Chatham Islands, an entire village was swept away in an instant. Less than an hour later, the surges started hitting the east coast of both the north and south island. Inflicting substantial damage on the ports and harbours.

Particularly of note is Christchurch’s port of Lyttelton, which was struck by waves of almost 22 feet high. Numerous boats were ripped clean from their mooring and smashed together. Causing an overwhelming amount of damage.

Tsunami Triggered by Submarine Landslide

Not all tsunamis are ancient affairs. On 15th July, 1998, a game-changing 50-foot high tsunami struck a Utopian lagoon of the Papua New Guinea’s north coast.

But what was game-changing about it?


This tsunami was a major benchmark in the science of tsunamis as it was the first time experts recorded a tsunami not generated by an earthquake. Like every other tsunami, we have measures this far but instead triggered by a submarine landslide. It had been generally believed that submarine land sites could not generate tsunamis. This was the moment scientists discovered, they were very wrong.

A wake-up call for tsunami prevention. Utterly baffled by the non-earthquake produced tsunami, there was a surge of scientific interest. Everyone raised to figure out what had happened. Up until then, tsunami science was a field dominated by seismologists as earthquakes were the main cause.

But from this point on, geologists to understand submarine landslides more became much more involved. While the damage caused was colossal at the very least. This incident led to a better understanding of how and why tsunamis occur at all.

Massive Tsunami of the last Decade

Another more recent event occurred on Boxing Day, 2004. When a tsunami struck the coasts of many countries of South and southeastern Asia. Causing sizable destruction across the rim of the Indian Ocean. Tsunami was triggered by an underwater earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1, which hit just off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

For the next seven hours, the resulting 30-foot tall waves roared across the Indian Ocean causing devastation and destruction to coastal areas as far away as East Africa, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, India and Indonesia. All suffered massive damage and severe economic repercussions. All six of these countries have stained a long-term environmental damage with countless villages, farmlands, fishing grounds and tourists resorts. Either overwhelmed with debris or totally demolished.

In less than three years later on April Fool’s Day, 2007. An earthquake seriously rumbled Solomon Islands. Despite striking on the funniest day of the year, this quake was no joke. With an impressive magnitude of 8.1. The most serious damage was inflicted on the poor island of Giza. Just northwest of the quakes epicenter, where the tsunami damaged several schools, a hospital and hundreds of homes.

The initial earthquake occurred along the plate boundary where the Australian would large Solomon see plates slide just beneath the denser Pacific plate. The subsequent friction between the subducting plate and the Pacific plate leads to earthquakes such as this one. While earthquakes may be common in the area, for this reason this was the largest to have struck in the region since the early 20th century.

Most Expensive Tsunami of All Time

As you can probably tell from some of the tsunamis and quakes we have already explored, Japan is frequently hit. While this next example may not be the largest tsunami on record. it is the most expensive.

On March 11th, 2011; a magnitude 9 earthquake struck and in turn unleashed a brutal tsunami that would do unparalleled damage. The initial earthquake’s effect were felt the world over. With everything from the fjords of Norway to Antarctica’s ice sheet, being affected years later and debris from the incident is still washing up on the beaches of North America.

The effects have been long-lasting and as of February 2017, 50,000 people who lost their homes. They are still living in temporary housing. As of September 2017, the cost of the direct financial damage is upward of 199 billion dollars and is believed that the final cost will be a colossal 235 billion. Easily making it the costliest natural disaster in history.

Highest Ever Recorded Tsunami

But in a way, all these waves were nothing to the highest ever recorded. Striking after an earthquake, triggered a landslide at Alaska’s Lituya Bay in 1958. The resulting wave reached heights of just over 100 feet that’s 2 times taller than the Hollywood sign. As the wave ran ashore, it effortlessly snapped trees, 1,700 feet up slope. Making it easily the largest mega tsunami in modern times.

Prompting a total Vietnam evaluation of large wave events. The original earthquake’s sound was heard up to 50 miles way. The resulting rockslide led to 90 million tons of rock crashing into the oceans. The wave caused such substantial damage to the vegetation of the headlands of the area where the rock fall occurred. That the damage is still visible all these years later.

Doesn’t knowing what the oceans are truly capable of leave you quaking in your swimsuit or are you still willing to grab a board and dive in.

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