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6 Biggest Earthquakes In California (2024 Update)

cracked road due to earthquake

Earthquakes can be a scary experience for all those affected. However, many people in California are aware of the prevalence of these powerful forces of nature. Here are the six biggest quakes that have shaken up the Golden State since record-keeping began in the early 1800s.

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The 6 Biggest Earthquakes In California

1. Fort Tejon Earthquake

Year 1857
Magnitude 8.0
Causalities 2

The strongest quake to strike California, this 8.0 magnitude monster still reigns supreme in the record books as the biggest earthquake to ever hit the state. It caused extensive damage throughout California and was felt all the way up in Oregon and Nevada.

In the wake of this quake, a massive scar was left that spanned over 200 miles. The Fort Tejon earthquake was reported to have lasted an astonishing 3 minutes.

2. San Francisco Earthquake

Year 1906
Magnitude 7.9
Causalities 3,000

This 7.9 magnitude quake struck on April 18, 1906, and devastated the city of San Francisco. It killed thousands and left thousands homeless. In its aftermath, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 caused more than $500 million in damages (over $16 billion in today’s money).

It stands as one of the deadliest and most destructive earthquakes in the history of the United States.

3. Owens Valley

Year 1872
Magnitude 7.8
Causalities 27

This earthquake had one of the longest durations, having lasted for up to 8 minutes! Residents reported hearing a loud roaring sound before the ground started shaking. The quake destroyed many towns, and numerous aftershocks followed.

At its peak, the earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. Even its aftershocks were significant and caused further destruction, the biggest of which was a 6.25-magnitude quake five days later. Twenty-seven people died in the disaster, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in California’s history.

4. Kern County

Year 1952
Magnitude 7.5
Causalities 12

It may not have been the biggest, but this quake was one of the most destructive. The epicenter was in Kern County and was felt as far away as Los Angeles.

The shaking caused multiple power outages and massive disruption to the railroads. Twelve people were killed, with more succumbing to injuries from 6+ magnitude aftershocks.

5. Loma Prieta Earthquake

Year 1989
Magnitude 6.9
Causalities 63

This was the biggest earthquake to hit California in recent years. It had a magnitude of 6.9 and caused widespread damage across the state. It was centered near Santa Cruz and felt in the San Francisco Bay Area, which caused extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure.

The quake resulted in 63 deaths, thousands injured, and an estimated $6 billion ($13 billion today) in damage.

This quake is famous for having occurred during an airing of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. This resulted in a 10-day delay in the series, becoming one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.

6. Offshore Earthquake of 1700

Year 1700
Magnitude 9.0
Causalities N/A

Although data is limited, this earthquake is believed to have been felt in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington and in Japan. The estimated magnitude was a staggering 9.0, and records show that there was damage in both the western regions of the United States and Japan.

This quake is believed to have originated somewhere offshore between Canada and Cape Mendocino with its effects felt for miles in every direction.

Even though it easily surpasses the previous entries in terms of magnitude, data on this quake isn’t official. Because information is so limited and can’t be readily verified, we’re placing it in the number 6 spot.

solar power divider What to Do in an Earthquake

These statistics are a reminder of just how powerful earthquakes can be in California. And while it’s interesting to explore the various earthquakes that have rocked the Golden State over the years, it’s critical to know what to do if an earthquake should hit your area.

Take Cover

The first thing you should do when an earthquake hits is to take cover under a sturdy desk or table. Staying away from glass and other objects that can fall on you is also essential.

Scared woman hiding under table in living room during earthquake
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Drop and Hold On

Once you have taken cover, drop to the ground and hold onto something sturdy if possible. Stay in this position until the shaking has stopped and it is safe to move again.

Stay Away from Exits

Exiting a building during an earthquake can be dangerous, as debris and broken glass can make it difficult to safely leave a building. Make sure you stay away from exits until the shaking has stopped.

Check for Injuries

After the shaking has stopped, check yourself and those around you for any injuries or signs of distress. If anyone needs medical attention, call 911 immediately.

woman hiding under table during earthquake at home
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

Be Prepared

These tips can help you stay safe during an earthquake, but it is also important to be prepared in advance. Make sure you have an emergency kit that includes food, water, and other supplies in case of an earthquake or other emergency.

Make sure your family knows where the kit is and how to use it. Knowing what to do in an earthquake can save lives. Be prepared, and stay safe!

solar power divider Conclusion

These six quakes remain some of the biggest and most frightening seismic events in California history. But even though they may have been deadly, they’re just a reminder that Mother Nature is in charge and we should always be prepared for anything she throws our way.

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Featured Image Credit: marcellomigliosi1956, Pixabay


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