List of historical tsunamis

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A depiction of wave shoaling

This article lists notable historical tsunamis, which are sorted by the date and location that the tsunami occurred, the earthquake that generated it, or both.

Because of seismic and volcanic activity tectonic plate boundaries along the Pacific Ring of Fire, tsunamis occur most frequently in the Pacific Ocean, but are worldwide natural phenomena. They are possible wherever large bodies of water are found, including inland lakes, where they can be caused by landslides and glacier calving. Very small tsunamis, non-destructive and undetectable without specialized equipment, occur frequently as a result of minor earthquakes and other events.

As early as 426 BC, the Greek historian Thucydides inquired in his book History of the Peloponnesian War (3.89.1–6) about the causes of tsunamis. He argued rightly that it could only be explained as a consequence of ocean earthquakes, and could see no other possible causes for the phenomenon.[1]

Crete and the Argolid and other locations were destroyed by a tsunami caused by the eruption of Thira, which destroyed Minoan civilization on Crete and related cultures in the Cyclades and in areas facing the eruption on the Greek mainland such as the Argolid.

During the Persian siege of the sea town Potidaea, Greece, in 479 BC,[2] the Greek historian Herodotus reports how the Persian attackers who tried to exploit an unusual retreat of the water were suddenly surprised by "a great flood-tide, higher, as the people of the place say, than any one of the many that had been before". Herodotus attributes the cause of the sudden flood to the wrath of Poseidon.[3]

Contents

Prehistoric[edit]

≈~6225-6170 BC: Norwegian Sea[edit]

Main article: Storegga Slide

The Storegga Slides occurred 100 km north-west of the Møre coast in the Norwegian Sea, causing a very large tsunami in the North Atlantic Ocean. This collapse involved an estimated 290 km length of coastal shelf, with a total volume of 3,500 km3 of debris.[4] Based on carbon dating of plant material recovered from sediment deposited by the tsunami, the latest incident occurred around ~6225-6170 BC.[5][6] In Scotland, traces of the subsequent tsunami have been recorded, with deposited sediment being discovered in Montrose Basin, the Firth of Forth, up to 80 km inland and 4 metres above current normal tide levels.

≈1600 BC: Santorini, Greece[edit]

Main article: Minoan eruption

The volcanic eruption on Santorini, Greece is assumed to have caused severe damage to cities around it, most notably the Minoan civilization on Crete. A tsunami is assumed to be the factor that caused the most damage.

Before 1001 AD[edit]

426 BC: Malian Gulf, Greece[edit]

This is the first historic recorded tsunami, as earlier events do not have written records (prehistoric). In the summer of 426 BC, a tsunami hit the Malian Gulf between the northwest tip of Euboea and Lamia.[7] The Greek historian Thucydides (3.89.1–6) described how the tsunami and a series of earthquakes intervened with the events of the raging Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) and correlated for the first time in the history of natural science quakes and waves in terms of cause and effect.[8]

373 BC: Helike, Greece[edit]

An earthquake and a tsunami destroyed the prosperous Greek city of Helike, lying 2 km away from the sea. The fate of the city, which remained permanently submerged, was often commented upon by ancient writers[9] and may have inspired the contemporary Plato to the myth of Atlantis.

79 AD: Gulf of Naples, Italy[edit]

A smaller tsunami was witnessed in the Bay of Naples by Pliny the Younger during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.[10]

115 AD: Caesarea, Israel[edit]

Underwater geoarchaeological excavations on the shallow shelf (∼10 m depth) at Caesarea, Israel, have documented a tsunami that struck and damaged the ancient harbor at Caesarea. Talmudic sources record a tsunami that struck on 13 December A.D. 115, impacting Caesarea and Yavne. The tsunami was probably triggered by an earthquake that destroyed Antioch, and was generated somewhere on the Cyprian Arc fault system.[11]

365 AD: Alexandria, Eastern Mediterranean[edit]

Main article: 365 Crete earthquake

In the morning of July 21, 365 AD, an earthquake of great magnitude caused a huge tsunami more than 100 feet (30 m) high. It devastated Alexandria and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, killing thousands and hurling ships nearly two miles inland.[12][13] The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (Res Gestae 26.10.15–19) describes in his vivid account the typical sequence of the tsunami including an incipient earthquake, the sudden retreat of the sea and a following gigantic wave:

Slightly after daybreak, and heralded by a thick succession of fiercely shaken thunderbolts, the solidity of the whole earth was made to shake and shudder, and the sea was driven away, its waves were rolled back, and it disappeared, so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered and many-shaped varieties of sea-creatures were seen stuck in the slime; the great wastes of those valleys and mountains, which the very creation had dismissed beneath the vast whirlpools, at that moment, as it was given to be believed, looked up at the sun's rays. Many ships, then, were stranded as if on dry land, and people wandered at will about the paltry remains of the waters to collect fish and the like in their hands; then the roaring sea as if insulted by its repulse rises back in turn, and through the teeming shoals dashed itself violently on islands and extensive tracts of the mainland, and flattened innumerable buildings in towns or wherever they were found. Thus in the raging conflict of the elements, the face of the earth was changed to reveal wondrous sights. For the mass of waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning, and with the tides whipped up to a height as they rushed back, some ships, after the anger of the watery element had grown old, were seen to have sunk, and the bodies of people killed in shipwrecks lay there, faces up or down. Other huge ships, thrust out by the mad blasts, perched on the roofs of houses, as happened at Alexandria, and others were hurled nearly two miles from the shore, like the Laconian vessel near the town of Methone which I saw when I passed by, yawning apart from long decay.[12]

The tsunami in 365 AD was so devastating that the anniversary of the disaster was still commemorated annually at the end of the 6th century in Alexandria as a "day of horror."[14]

Researchers at the University of Cambridge recently carbon dated corals on the coast of Crete which were lifted 10 metres and clear of the water in one massive push. This indicates that the tsunami of 365 AD was generated by an earthquake in a steep fault in the Hellenic trench near Crete. The scientists estimate that such a large uplift is only likely to occur once in 5,000 years; however, the other segments of the fault could slip on a similar scale – and could happen every 800 years or so. It is unsure whether "one of the contiguous patches might slip in the future."[15]

684 AD: Hakuho, Japan[edit]

Japan is the nation with the most recorded tsunamis in the world.[citation needed] The number of tsunamis in Japan totals 195 over a 1,313 year period (until 1997), averaging one event every 6.73 years, the highest rate of occurrence in the world.[citation needed]

The Great Hakuho Earthquake was the first recorded tsunami in Japan. It hit in Japan on November 29, 684. It occurred off the shore of the Kii Peninsula, Nankaido, Shikoku, Kii, and Awaji region. It has been estimated to be a magnitude 8.4 [16] It was followed by a huge tsunami, but no estimates on how many deaths.[17]

869 AD: Sendai, Japan[edit]

The Sendai region was struck by a major tsunami that caused flooding extending 4 km inland from the coast. The town of Tagajō was destroyed, with an estimated 1,000 casualties.

887 AD: Ninna Nankai, Japan[edit]

On August 26 of the Ninna era, there was a strong shock in the Kyoto region, causing great destruction and some victims. At the same time, there was a strong earthquake in Osaka, Shiga, Gifu, and Nagano prefectures. A tsunami flooded the coastal locality, and some people died. The coast of Osaka and primarily Osaka Bay suffered especially heavily from the tsunami. The tsunami was also observed on the coast of Hyuga-Nada.[16]

1000–1700[edit]

1293: Kamakura, Japan[edit]

Magnitude 7.1 Quake and tsunami hit Kamakura, Japan's de facto capital, killing 23,000 after resulting fires.

1303: Eastern Mediterranean[edit]

Main article: 1303 Crete earthquake

A team from Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, has found geological evidence of five tsunamis that have hit Greece over the past 2000 years. "Most were small and local, but in 1303 a larger one hit Crete, Rhodes, Alexandria and Acre in Israel."[18]

1361: Shōhei Nankai, Japan[edit]

On Aug 3 of the Shōhei era, an 8.4 Nankaido quake and tsunami hit, with 660 deaths, 1,700 houses destroyed. There was a strong earthquake in Tokushima, Osaka, Wakayama, and Nara Prefectures and on Awaji Island. A tsunami was observed on the coast of Tokushima and Kochi Prefectures, in Kii Strait and in Osaka Bay. Yunomine Hot Spring (Wakayama Prefecture) stopped. Yukiminato, Awa was completely destroyed by the tsunami, and more than 1,700 houses were washed away. 60 people drowned at Awa.

1498: Meiō Nankai, Japan[edit]

Sep 20 7.5 Quake and tsunami hit in the Meiō era. Port in Wakayama damaged by tsunami of several meters in height. 30–40 thousand deaths estimated.[16][19] The building around great Buddha of Kamakura (altitude 7m) was swept away by the tsunami.[20]

1541: Nueva Cadiz, Venezuela[edit]

In 1528, Cristóbal Guerra founded Nueva Cádiz on the island of Cubagua, the first Spanish settlement in Venezuela, and one of the first ones in the Americas. Nueva Cádiz, which reached a population between 1000 and 1500, was possibly destroyed in an earthquake followed by tsunami in 1541—it also could have been a major hurricane.[21] The ruins were declared a National Monument of Venezuela in 1979.

1605: Keichō Nankaido, Japan[edit]

On February 3, 1605, in the Keichō era, a magnitude 8.1 quake and tsunami hit Japan. 700 houses (41%) in Hiro, Wakayama Prefecture were washed away, and 3,600 people drowned in the Shishikui area. Awa, wave height 6-7m. 350 at Kannoura 60 at Sakihama drowned, wave height 5–6 m and 8–10 m, respectively. A total of more than 5,000 drowned. An enormous tsunami with a maximum known rise of water of 30 m was observed on the coast from the Boso Peninsula to the eastern part of Kyushu Island. The eastern part of the Boso Peninsula, the coast of Tokyo Bay, the coast of the prefectures of Kanagawa and Shizuoka, and the southeastern coast of Kochi Prefecture suffered especially heavily.[16]

1607: Bristol Channel, Great Britain[edit]

On 30 January 1607, at least 2,000 drowned, with houses and villages swept away and an area estimated at 200 square miles (520 km2) was inundated. Until the 1990s, it was undisputed that the flooding was caused by a storm surge aggravated by other factors, but recent research indicates a tsunami.[22] The probable cause is postulated as a submarine earthquake off the Irish coast.

1698: Seikaido-Nankaido, Japan[edit]

On December 22, 1698, a large tsunami struck Seikaido-Nankaido, Japan.[16]

1700s[edit]

1700: Vancouver Island, Canada[edit]

On January 26, 1700, the Cascadia earthquake, one of the largest earthquakes on record (estimated MW 9 magnitude), ruptured the Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ) offshore from Vancouver Island to northern California, and caused a massive tsunami across the Pacific Northwest logged in Japan and oral traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.[23]

1707: Hōei, Japan[edit]

Main article: 1707 Hōei earthquake

On October 28, 1707, during the Hōei era, a magnitude 8.4 earthquake and a tsunami up to 10 m in height[24] struck Kochi Prefecture. More than 29,000 houses in total were wrecked and washed away, causing approximately 30,000 deaths. In Tosa Province, 11,170 houses were washed away, and 18,441 people drowned. About 700 drowned and 603 houses were washed away in Osaka. 20 m high[citation needed] at Tanezaki, Tosa, 6.58 at Muroto. Hot springs at Yunomine, Sanji, Ryujin, Seto-Kanayana (Kii) and Dogo stopped flowing.[16]

1741: West Hokkaido, Japan[edit]

On 29 August 1741, the western side of Hokkaido was hit by a tsunami associated with the eruption of the volcano on Oshima island. The cause of the tsunami is thought to have been a large landslide, partly submarine, triggered by the eruption.[25] 1,467 people were killed on Hokkaido and another 8 in Aomori Prefecture.[26]

1755: Lisbon, Portugal[edit]

Tens of thousands of Portuguese people who survived the Great Lisbon Earthquake on November 1, 1755 were killed by a tsunami which followed 40 minutes later. Many townspeople fled to the waterfront, believing the area safe from fires and from falling debris from aftershocks. When at the waterfront, they saw that the sea was rapidly receding, revealing a sea floor littered with lost cargo and forgotten shipwrecks. The tsunami struck with a maximum height of 15 metres (49 ft), and went far inland.

The earthquake, tsunami, and many fires killed from 40,000 to 50,000 people[27] (30,000 to 40,000 is Lisbon alone, which had a population of about 200,000), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Historical records of explorations by Vasco da Gama and other early navigators were lost, and countless buildings were destroyed (including most examples of Portugal's Manueline architecture). Europeans of the 18th century struggled to understand the disaster within religious and rational belief systems. Philosophers of the Enlightenment, notably Voltaire, wrote about the event. The philosophical concept of the sublime, as described by philosopher Immanuel Kant in the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, took inspiration in part from attempts to comprehend the enormity of the Lisbon quake and tsunami.

The tsunami took just over 4 hours to travel over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to Cornwall in the United Kingdom. An account by Arnold Boscowitz claimed "great loss of life." It also hit Galway in Ireland, and caused some serious damage to the Spanish Arch section of the city wall.

1771: Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa, Japan[edit]

An undersea earthquake of estimated magnitude 7.4 earthquake occurred near Yaeyama Islands in the former Ryūkyū Kingdom (present day Okinawa, Japan) on 4 April 1771 at about 8 A.M. The earthquake is not believed to have directly resulted in any deaths, but a resulting tsunami is thought to have killed about 12,000 people (9,313 on the Yaeyama Islands and 2,548 on Miyako Islands according to one source[28]). Estimates of the highest seawater runup on Ishigaki Island, range between 30 meters and 85.4 meters. The tsunami put an abrupt stop to population growth on the islands, and was followed by malaria epidemics and crop failures which decreased the population further. It was to be another 148 years before population returned to its pre-tsunami level.

1781: Pingtung, Taiwan[edit]

April/May 1781 according to Records of Taiwan County, in Jiadong, Pingtung County, a ten-foot high wave engulfed the town, fish and shrimp were thrashing wildly on the shore, nearby fishing villages wiped out. However, there was no hint of an earthquake.[29] A different source claims 30 meter high wave, with similar damage in Tainan also.[30] A possibility is a misrecording of date, corresponding with the above Great Yaeyama event.

1792: Mount Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyūshū, Japan[edit]

Tsunamis were the main cause of death for Japan's worst-ever volcanic disaster, due to an eruption of Mount Unzen in Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. It began towards the end of 1791 as a series of earthquakes on the western flank of Mount Unzen which gradually moved towards Fugen-dake, one of Mount Unzen's peaks. In February 1792, Fugen-dake started to erupt, triggering a lava flow which continued for two months. Meanwhile, the earthquakes continued, shifting nearer to the city of Shimabara. On the night of 21 May, two large earthquakes were followed by a collapse of the eastern flank of Mount Unzen's Mayuyama dome, causing an avalanche which swept through Shimabara and into Ariake Bay, triggering a tsunami. It is not known to this day whether the collapse occurred as a result of an eruption of the dome or as a result of the earthquakes. The tsunami struck Higo Province on the other side of Ariake Bay before bouncing back and hitting Shimabara again. Out of an estimated total of 15,000 fatalities, around 5,000 are thought to have been killed by the landslide, around 5,000 by the tsunami across the bay in Higo Province, and a further 5,000 by the tsunami returning to strike Shimabara. The waves reached a height of 330 ft (100 m), classing this tsunami as a small megatsunami.

1800s[edit]

1833: Sumatra, Indonesia[edit]

On 25 November 1833, a massive earthquake estimated to have been between 8.8–9.2 on the moment magnitude scale, struck Sumatra in Indonesia. The coast of Sumatra near the quake's epicentre was hardest hit by the resulting tsunami.

1854: Nankai, Tokai, and Kyushu Japan[edit]

The Ansei Quake which hit the south coast of Japan, was actually a set of three earthquakes, two magnitude 8.4 quakes and a 7.4 quake all in three days.

  • The first on November 4, 1854, near what is today Aichi Prefecture and Shizuoka Prefecture with tsunami heights of 4–6 m (though with localized run-ups up to 16.5 m, thought to be due to harbor shape).[31]
  • It was followed by another 8.4 magnitude earthquake the next day in Wakayama Prefecture. The resulting tsunami generated waves as high as 8.4 m.[32] The tsunami washed 15,000 homes away.[citation needed] The number of homes destroyed directly by the earthquake was 2,598; 1,443 people died.[16]
  • The third was a magnitude 7.4 earthquake on Nov 7, 1854 in Ehime Prefecture and Oita Prefecture.

The total result was 80,000–100,000 deaths.[33]

1855: Edo, Japan[edit]

The following year, the 1855 Great Ansei Edo Quake hit the Tokyo region of Japan, killing 4,500 to 10,000 people. Popular stories of the time blamed the quakes and tsunamis on giant catfish called Namazu thrashing about. The Japanese era name was changed to bring good luck after four disastrous quakes/tsunamis in two years.

1867: Keelung, Taiwan[edit]

Dec 18, 1867, a large quake hit Keelung, Taiwan, causing crustal deformation of the mountains and opening of fissures. The water drained out of Keelung harbor so that the sea bed was revealed, then suddenly returned in a huge wave. Boats were washed into the city center and there was much damage. In many locations, the ground and the mountains split open and water poured from the fissures. Hundreds of deaths resulted.[29][30]

1868: Hawaiian Islands[edit]

On April 2, 1868, a local earthquake with a magnitude estimated between 7.5 and 8.0 rocked the southeast coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. It triggered a landslide on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, five miles (8 km) north of Pahala, killing 31 people. A tsunami then claimed 46 additional lives. The villages of Punaluu, Ninole, Kawaa, Honuapo, and Keauhou Landing were severely damaged and the village of Apua was destroyed. According to one account, the tsunami "rolled in over the tops of the coconut trees, probably 60 feet high .... inland a distance of a quarter of a mile in some places, taking out to sea when it returned, houses, men, women, and almost everything movable." This was reported in the 1988 edition of Walter C. Dudley's book "Tsunami!" (ISBN 0-8248-1125-9).

1868: Arica, Chile[edit]

On August 16, 1868, an earthquake with a magnitude estimated at 8.5 struck the oceanic trench currently known as the Peru-Chile Trench. A resulting tsunami struck the port of Arica, then part of Peru, killing an estimated 25,000 in Arica and 70,000 in all. Three military vessels anchored at Arica, the US warship USS Wateree and the storeship Fredonia, and the Peruvian warship America, were swept up by the tsunami.[34]

1877: Iquique, Chile[edit]

On May 9, 1877, an earthquake with a magnitude estimated at 8.5 occurred off the coast of what is now Chile that caused a destructive tsunami that killed about 2541 people. This event followed the destructive earthquake and tsunami at Arica by just nine years.[35]

1883: Krakatoa, Sunda Strait, Indonesia[edit]

The island volcano of Krakatoa in Indonesia exploded with devastating fury on August 26–27, 1883, blowing its underground magma chamber partly empty so that much overlying land and seabed collapsed into it. A series of large tsunami waves were generated from the collapse, some reaching a height of over 40 meters above sea level. Tsunami waves were observed throughout the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and even as far away as the American West Coast, and South America. On the facing coasts of Java and Sumatra the sea flood went many miles inland and caused such vast loss of life[36] that one area was never resettled but reverted to the jungle and is now the Ujung Kulon nature reserve.

1896: Meiji Sanriku, Japan[edit]

On 15 June 1896, at around 19:36 local time, a large undersea earthquake off the Sanriku coast of northeastern Honshu, Japan, triggered tsunami waves which struck the coast about half an hour later. Although the earthquake itself is not thought to have resulted in any fatalities, the waves, which reached a height of 100 feet (30 m), killed approximately 27,000 people. In 2005, the same general area was hit by the 2005 Sanriku Japan Earthquake, but with no major tsunami.

1900–1950[edit]

1906: Tumaco-Esmeraldas, Colombia-Ecuador[edit]

The 1906 Ecuador-Colombia earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed 500 people in Tumaco and Esmeraldas and struck Colombia, Ecuador, California, Hawaii, and Japan. Waves were 5 meters high.

1908: Messina, Italy[edit]

The aftermath of the tsunami that struck Messina in 1908

The 1908 Messina earthquake in Italy, triggered a large tsunami that took about 123,000 lives.[37]

1923: Kanto, Japan[edit]

The Great Kanto Earthquake, which occurred in eastern Japan on 1 September 1923, and devastated Tokyo, Yokohama, and the surrounding areas, caused tsunamis which struck the Shonan coast, Boso Peninsula, Izu Islands and the east coast of Izu Peninsula, within minutes in some cases. In Atami, waves reaching 12 meters were recorded. Examples of tsunami damage include about 100 people killed along Yuigahama beach in Kamakura and an estimated 50 people on the Enoshima causeway. However, tsunamis only accounted for a small proportion of the final death toll of over 100,000, most of whom were killed in fire.

1929: Newfoundland[edit]

On November 18, 1929, an earthquake of magnitude 7.2 occurred beneath the Laurentian Slope on the Grand Banks. The quake was felt throughout the Atlantic Provinces of Canada and as far west as Ottawa and as far south as Claymont, Delaware. The resulting tsunami measured over 7 meters in height and took about 2½ hours to reach the Burin Peninsula on the south coast of Newfoundland, where 28 people lost their lives in various communities. It also snapped telegraph cables laid under the Atlantic.[38]

1933: Showa Sanriku, Japan[edit]

On March 3, 1933, the Sanriku coast of northeastern Honshu, Japan, which had already suffered a devastating tsunami in 1896 (see above) was again stuck by tsunami waves as a result of an offshore magnitude 8.1 earthquake. The quake destroyed about 5,000 homes and killed 3,068 people, the vast majority as a result of tsunami waves. Especially hard hit was the coastal village of Taro (now part of Miyako city) in Iwate Prefecture, which lost 42% of its total population and 98% of its buildings. Taro is now protected by an enormous tsunami wall, currently 10 meters in height and over 2 kilometers long. The original wall, constructed in 1958, saved Taro from destruction of the 1960 Chilean tsunami (see below). However it failed to protect Taro from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which inundated the village with 12–15 meters of water.[39]

1944: Tonankai, Japan[edit]

A magnitude 8.0 earthquake on 7 December 1944, about 20 km off the Shima Peninsula in Japan, which struck the Pacific coast of central Japan, mainly Mie, Aichi, and Shizuoka Prefectures. News of the event was downplayed by the authorities in order to protect wartime morale, and as a result the full extent of the damage is not known, but the quake is estimated to have killed 1223 people, the tsunami being the leading cause of the fatalities.

1946: Nankaidō, Japan[edit]

The Nankai earthquake on 21 December 1946 had a magnitude of 8.4 and hit at 04:19 (local time). There was a catastrophic earthquake on the southwest of Japan in the Nankai Trough. It was felt almost everywhere in the central and western parts of the country. The tsunami that washed away 1451 houses and caused 1500 deaths in Japan. It was observed on tide gauges in California, Hawaii, and Peru.[16]

The Nankai megathrust earthquakes are periodic earthquakes occurring off the southern coast of Kii Peninsula and Shikoku, Japan every 100 to 150 years. Particularly hard hit were the coastal towns of Kushimoto and Kainan on the Kii Peninsula. The quake led to more than 1400 deaths, tsunami being the leading cause.

1946: Aleutian Islands[edit]

Residents running from an approaching tsunami in Hilo, Hawaii

On April 1, 1946, the Aleutian Islands tsunami killed 159 people on Hawaii and five in Alaska (the lighthouse keepers at the Scotch Cap Light in the Aleutians). It resulted in the creation of a tsunami warning system known as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC), established in 1949 for Oceania countries. The tsunami is known as the April Fools Day Tsunami in Hawaii due to people thinking the warnings were an April Fools prank.

1950–2000[edit]

1952: Severo-Kurilsk, Kuril Islands, USSR[edit]

The November 5, 1952 tsunami killed 2,336 on the Kuril Islands with the magnitude of 9.0, USSR.

1958: Lituya Bay, Alaska, USA[edit]

On the night of July 9, 1958 an earthquake along the Fairweather Fault in the Alaska Panhandle loosened about 40 million cubic yards (30.6 million cubic meters) of rock high above the northeastern shore of Lituya Bay. This mass of rock plunged from an altitude of approximately 3000 feet (914 meters) down into the waters of Gilbert Inlet. The impact generated a local tsunami that crashed against the southwest shoreline of Gilbert Inlet. The wave hit with such power that it swept completely over the spur of land that separates Gilbert Inlet from the main body of Lituya Bay. The wave then continued down the entire length of Lituya Bay, over La Chaussee Spit and into the Gulf of Alaska. The force of the wave removed all trees and vegetation from elevations as high as 1720 feet (524 meters) above sea level. Millions of trees were uprooted and swept away by the wave. This is the highest wave that has ever been known.

1960: Valdivia, Chile[edit]

The magnitude-9.5 Great Chilean Earthquake of May 22, 1960 is the strongest earthquake ever recorded. Its epicenter, off the coast of South Central Chile, generated one of the most destructive tsunamis of the 20th Century. It also caused a volcanic eruption.

The tsunami spread across the entire Pacific Ocean, with waves measuring up to 25 meters high. The first tsunami arrived at Hilo approximately 14.8 hrs after it originated off the coast of South Central Chile. The highest wave at Hilo Bay was measured at around 10.7 m (35 ft). 61 lives were lost allegedly due to people's failure to heed warning sirens.

Almost 22 hours after the quake, the waves hit the ill-fated Sanriku coast of Japan, reaching up to 3 m above high tide, and killed 142 people. Up to 6,000 people died in total worldwide due to the earthquake and tsunami.[40]

1963: Vajont Dam, Monte Toc, Italy[edit]

Main article: Vajont Dam
The Vajont Dam as seen from Longarone today, showing approximately the top 60–70 metres of concrete. The 200–250 metre wall of water (megatsunami) that over-topped the dam would have obscured virtually all of the sky in this picture.

The Vajont Dam was completed in 1961 under Monte Toc, 100 km north of Venice, Italy. At 262 metres, it was one of the highest dams in the world. On October 9, 1963 an enormous landslide of about 260 million cubic metres of forest, earth, and rock, fell into the reservoir at up to 110 km per hour (68 mph). The resulting displacement of water caused 50 million cubic metres of water to overtop the dam in a 250-metre high megatsunami wave. The flooding destroyed the villages of Longarone, Pirago, Rivalta, Villanova and Faè, killing 1,450 people. Almost 2,000 people (some sources report 1,909) perished in total.

1964: Niigata, Japan[edit]

The 1964 Niigata earthquake in Japan killed 28 people, and liquefacted whole apartment buildings. A subsequent tsunami destroyed the port of Niigata.

1964: Alaska, USA[edit]

After the magnitude 9.2 Good Friday Earthquake, tsunamis struck Alaska, British Columbia, California, and coastal Pacific Northwest towns, killing 121 people. The waves were up to 100 feet (30 m) tall, and killed 11 people as far away as Crescent City, California. This happened on March 27, 1964. The incident was covered in Dennis Powers' The Raging Sea: The Powerful Account of the Worst Tsunami in U.S. History (ISBN 0806526823).

1976: Moro Gulf, Mindanao, Philippines[edit]

On August 16, 1976 at 12:11 A.M., a devastating earthquake of 7.9 hit the island of Mindanao, Philippines. It created a tsunami that devastated more than 700 km of coastline bordering Moro Gulf in the North Celebes Sea. An estimated number of victims for this tragedy left 5,000 dead, 2,200 missing or presumed dead, more than 9,500 injured and a total of 93,500 people were left homeless. It devastated the cities of Cotabato, Pagadian, and Zamboanga, and the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, and Zamboanga del Sur.

1979: Tumaco, Colombia[edit]

A magnitude 8.1 earthquake occurred on December 12, 1979 at 7:59:4.3 UTC along the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador. The earthquake and the resulting tsunami caused the destruction of at least six fishing villages and the death of hundreds of people in the Colombian Department of Nariño. The earthquake was felt in Bogotá, Cali, Popayán, Buenaventura, and several other cities and towns in Colombia and in Guayaquil, Esmeraldas, Quito, and other parts of Ecuador. When the tsunami hit the coast, it caused huge destruction in the city of Tumaco, as well as in the small towns of El Charco, San Juan, Mosquera, and Salahonda on the Pacific coast of Colombia. The total number of victims of this tragedy was 259 dead, 798 wounded and 95 missing or presumed dead.

1980: Spirit Lake, Washington, USA[edit]

On May 18, 1980, the upper 460 m (1400 ft) of Mount St. Helens had failed, in the course of a major eruption of that volcano, causing a major landslide. One lobe of the landslide surged onto the nearby Spirit Lake, creating a megatsunami of 260 meters high.[41]

1983: Sea of Japan[edit]

On May 26, 1983 at 11:59:57 local time, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake occurred in the Sea of Japan, about 100 km west of the coast of Noshiro in Akita Prefecture, Japan. Out of the 107 fatalities, all but four were killed by the resulting tsunami, which struck communities along the coast, especially Aomori and Akita Prefectures and the east coast of Noto Peninsula. Footage of the tsunami hitting the fishing harbor of Wajima on Noto Peninsula was broadcast on TV. The waves exceeded 10 meters in some areas. Three of the fatalities were along the east coast of South Korea (whether North Korea was affected is not known). The tsunami also hit Okushiri Island, the site of a more deadly tsunami 10 years later. This tsunami killed 104 people and injured 235.

1992: Nicaragua[edit]

The 7.2+ quake hit offshore in Nicaragua, sending a devastating tsunami into the Rivas department coast, killing some 116 people. The unusually large for magnitude wave, 9.9 meters high, was generated by a relatively smaller quake.

1993: Okushiri, Hokkaido, Japan[edit]

A devastating tsunami wave occurred along the coasts of Hokkaido in Japan as a result of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, 80 miles (130 km) offshore, on July 12, 1993.

Within minutes, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning that was broadcast on NHK in English and Japanese (archived at NHK library). However, it was too late for Okushiri, a small island near the epicenter, which was struck with extremely big waves, some reaching 30 meters, within two to five minutes of the quake. Aonae, a village on a low-lying peninsula at the southern tip of the island, was devastated over the course of the following hour by 13 waves of over two meters’ height arriving from multiple directions, including waves that had bounced back off Hokkaido—despite being surrounded by tsunami barriers. Of 250 people killed as a result of the quake, 197 were victims of the series of tsunamis that hit Okushiri; the waves also caused deaths on the coast of Hokkaido. While many residents, remembering the 1983 tsunami (see above), survived by quickly evacuating on foot to higher ground, it is thought that many others underestimated how soon the waves would arrive (the 1983 tsunami took 17 minutes to hit Okushiri) and were killed as they attempted to evacuate by car along the village’s narrow lanes. The highest wave of the tsunami was 31 meters (102 ft) high.

1994: Java earthquake[edit]

Main article: 1994 Java earthquake

Two hundred and fifty killed as a M7.8 earthquake and tsunami affected east Java and Bali on June 3, 1994.

1998: Papua New Guinea[edit]

On 17 July 1998, a Papua New Guinea tsunami killed approximately 2,200 people.[42] A 7.1-magnitude earthquake 24 km offshore was followed within 11 minutes by a tsunami about 15 metres tall. The tsunami was generated by an undersea landslide, which was triggered by the earthquake. The villages of Arop and Warapu were destroyed.

2000s[edit]

2004: Indian Ocean[edit]

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake; Tsunami striking Ao Nang, Thailand

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which had a moment magnitude of 9.1–9.3,[16] triggered a series of lethal tsunamis on 26 December 2004, that killed approximately 230,210 people (including 168,000 in Indonesia alone), making it the deadliest tsunami as well as one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. It was also caused by the third largest earthquake in recorded history. The initial surge was measured at a height of approximately 33 meters (108 ft), making it the largest earthquake-generated tsunami in recorded history. The tsunami killed people over an area ranging from the immediate vicinity of the quake in Indonesia, Thailand, and the north-western coast of Malaysia, to thousands of kilometres away in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and even as far away as Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania in East Africa. This trans-Indian Ocean tsunami is an example of a teletsunami, which can travel vast distances across the open ocean. In this case, it is an ocean-wide tsunami.

Animation of the tsunami caused by the earthquake showing how the tsunami radiated from the entire length of the 1,600 km (990 mi) rupture

Unlike in the Pacific Ocean, there was no organised alert service covering the Indian Ocean. This was in part due to the absence of major tsunami events since 1883 (the Krakatoa eruption, which killed 36,000 people). In light of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, UNESCO and other world bodies have called for an international tsunami monitoring system.

2006: South of Java Island[edit]

A 7.7 magnitude earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean seabed on July 17, 2006, 200 km south of Pangandaran, a beach famous to surfers for its perfect waves. This earthquake triggered tsunamis which height varied from 2 meters at Cilacap to 6 meters at Cimerak beach, where it swept away and flattened buildings as far as 400 metres away from the coastline. More than 800 people were reported missing or dead.

2006: Kuril Islands[edit]

On 15 November 2006, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake occurred off the coast near the Kuril Islands. In spite of the quake's large 8.3 magnitude, a relatively small tsunami was generated. The small tsunami was recorded or observed in Japan and at distant locations throughout the Pacific.

2007: Solomon Islands[edit]

On April 2, 2007, a powerful magnitude 8.1 (initially 7.6) earthquake hit the East Pacific region about 40 km (25 mi), south of Ghizo Island in the western Solomon Islands at 7:39 a.m., resulting in a tsunami that was up to 12 m (36 feet) tall. The wave, which struck the coast of Solomon Islands (mainly Choiseul, Ghizo Island, Ranongga, and Simbo), triggered region-wide tsunami warnings and watches extending from Japan to New Zealand to Hawaii and the eastern seaboard of Australia. The tsunami that followed the earthquake killed 52 people. Dozens more have been injured with entire towns inundated by the sweeping water which traveled 300 meters inland in some places. A state of national emergency was declared for the Solomon Islands. On the island of Choiseul, a wall of water reported to be 9.1 m (30 feet) high swept almost 400 meters inland destroying everything in its path. The largest waves hit the northern tip of Simbo Island. There two villages, Tapurai and Riquru, were completely destroyed by a 12 m wave, killing 10 people. Officials estimate that the tsunami displaced more than 5000 residents all over the archipelago.

2007: British Columbia[edit]

On 4 December 2007, a landslide entered Chehalis Lake in British Columbia, generating a large lake tsunami that destroyed campgrounds and vegetation many meters above the shoreline.[43]

2009: Samoa[edit]

Main article: 2009 Samoa earthquake

The 2009 Samoa earthquake was an 8.1 MW submarine earthquake that took place in the Samoan Islands region at 06:48:11 local time on September 29, 2009 (17:48:11 UTC, September 29). At a magnitude of 8.1, it was the largest earthquake of 2009. A tsunami was generated which caused substantial damage and loss of life in Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center recorded a 76 mm (3.0 in) rise in sea levels near the epicenter, and New Zealand scientists determined that the waves measured 14 m (46 ft) at their highest on the Samoan coast. The quake occurred on the outer rise of the Kermadec-Tonga Subduction Zone. This is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates in the Earth's lithosphere meet and earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. Countries affected by the tsunami in the areas that were hit are American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga (Niuatoputapu) where more than 189 people were killed, especially children, most of them in Samoa. Large waves with no major damage were reported on the coasts of Fiji, the northern coast of New Zealand and Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. People took precautions in the low-lying atolls of Tokelau and moved to higher ground. Niue was reported as reasonably safe because it is high. There were no reports of high waves from Vanuatu, Kiribati, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.

2010: Chile[edit]

Destruction provoked by the 2010 Chile earthquake and tsunami, in Pichilemu, O'Higgins Region, Chile
Main article: 2010 Chile earthquake

An 8.8 earthquake offshore of Chile caused a tsunami which caused serious damage and loss of life, it also caused minor effects in other Pacific nations.

2010: Sumatra[edit]

A 7.7 earthquake struck near South Pagai Island in Indonesia triggering a localized tsunami that killed at least 408 people.

2011: New Zealand[edit]

On February 22, 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Canterbury Region of the South Island, New Zealand. Some 200 kilometres (120 mi) away from the earthquake's epicenter, around 30 million tonnes of ice tumbled off the Tasman Glacier into Tasman Lake, producing a series of 3.5 m (11 ft) high tsunami waves, which hit tourist boats in the lake.[44][45]

2011: Pacific coast of Japan[edit]

On March 11, 2011, off the Pacific coast of Japan, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake produced a tsunami 33 feet (10 m) high along Japan's northeastern coast. The wave caused widespread devastation, with an official count of 18,550 people confirmed to be killed/missing.[46] The highest tsunami which was recorded at Miyako, Iwate reached a total height of 40.5 metres (133 ft).[47] In addition the tsunami precipitated multiple hydrogen explosions and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Tsunami warnings were issued to the entire Pacific Rim.[48][49]

NOAA animation of the tsunami's propagation

2013 Solomon Islands earthquake[edit]

On February 6, 2013 an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale struck the island nation of Solomon Islands. This earthquake created tsunami waves up to around 1 meter high. The tsunami also affected some other islands like New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

Highest or tallest[edit]

Main article: Megatsunami

Deadliest[edit]

The deadliest tsunami in recorded history was the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed almost 230,000 people in eleven countries across the Indian Ocean.

Other historical tsunamis[edit]

Other tsunamis that have occurred include the following:

  • ca. 500 BC: Poompuhar, Tamil Nadu, India, Maldives
  • 1541: a tsunami struck the earliest European settlement in Brazil, São Vicente. There is no record of deaths or injuries, but the town was almost completely destroyed.

South Asia[edit]

Tsunamis in South Asia
Source: Amateur Seismic Centre, India[50]
Date Location
September 1524 Near Dabhol, Maharashtra
2 April 1762 Arakan Coast, Myanmar
16 June 1819 Rann of Kachchh, Gujarat, India
31 October 1847 Great Nicobar Island, India
31 December 1881 Car Nicobar Island, India
26 August 1883 Krakatoa, Sunda Strait, Indonesia
28 November 1945 Mekran coast, Balochistan

North America and the Caribbean[edit]

Possible[edit]

Source: NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office,[51]

Europe[edit]

  • 7000–6000 BC – identified near the Guincho Beach, Lisbon. It corresponds to a series of giant boulders and cobbles, located 14 m above mean sea level.[52]
  • 6100 BC – Storegga Slide, Norway – The Storegga slide generated a huge tsunami that washed through the North Atlantic Ocean, hitting Norway, Iceland and the east coast of Scotland, where it reached a height of 21 metres, and even washed over some of the Shetland Islands.
  • 5500–5300 BC – radiocarbon dating of a debris flow on a core made offshore, close to Marques de Pombal fault related to the breakthrough of the Donana spit.[52]
  • 4200 BC – based on the paleogeographic evolution of the Donana National Park.[52]
  • 3600 BC – based on a debris flow found in the Marques de Pombal fault.[52]
  • 2700–2400 BC – large erosional episode in Punta Umbria that changed the drainage system.[52]
  • 2300–2200 BC – identified on the Valedelagrana Spit Bar (Bay of Cadiz, Spain), with the input of coarse sands into tidal marsh deposits.[52]
  • 60 BC – Portugal and Galicia tsunami, associated with a M=8.5 earthquake.
  • 382 AD – Cape St. Vincent tsunami, associated with a M=7.5 earthquake.
  • 26 January 1531 – Between 4 and 5 a.m., a strong shock was felt in Lisbon and along the Tagus Valley, causing approximately 1000 casualties (see 1531 Lisbon earthquake).
  • 11 January 1683 – An earthquake in Italy triggered a tsunami that killed more than 1000 people.
  • 6 February 1783 – An offshore earthquake in Southern Italy caused a tsunami that killed around 1500 people.
  • 20 September 1867 – An earthquake in Greece caused a tsunami that killed 12 people.
  • 11 September 1930 – Two people were killed by a tsunami in Italy, caused by an undersea earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter Scale.
  • 9 July 1956 – An earthquake in Greece generated a tsunami that drowned 4 people.
  • 28 February 1969 – A submarine earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale, with its epicentre of the coast of Portugal, caused a tsunami that hit Northern Portugal, parts of Spain, and Morocco. No lives were lost.
  • 16 October 1979 – 8–23 people died when the coast of Nice, France, was hit by two tsunamis, caused by a landslide and an undersea landslide. The sea suddenly receded from the shore and returned in two huge waves, hitting a 60-mile (97 km)-long coastal stretch. Hundreds of boats were overturned, and seven people constructing the new airport were drowned.
  • 13 December 1990 – Six people died when an undersea earthquake in Italy caused a tsunami.

Possible[edit]

  • The 1607 Bristol Channel floods, which were traditionally believed to be a massive storm surge, could possibly have been a tsunami, caused by an earthquake or landslide off the coast of Southern Ireland. There is some evidence suggesting it was a tsunami, but not enough to confirm. It was the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United Kingdom, and killed around 2000 people from Somerset to Cardiff.

Asia[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]