Today in Geological History – January 23rd; Shaanix Earthquake 1556


The most deadly earthquake ever recorded occured in the provance of Shaanix, northern China, on the morning of January 23rd 1556. It is estimated over 830,000 people across the region lost their lives. Recording events like this was extremely difficult in these times, accurate populations for the many settlements were not recorded and were some were completely wiped out leaving no survivors to confirm numbers.

An area roughly 840 km wide was deverstated, fissures in excess of 6ft deep ripped open the Earth in several locations. In towns such as Huaxian (believed to be the epicentre) in the Wei River Valley, every single building and home was demolished killing over half of it’s residents. At the time many people lived in yaodongs which are artificial caves built in to loess cliffs, sadly the quake caused multiple landslides many were buried alive in their homes.

China lays on a complex fault system which is prone to large earthquakes. May 12th 2008 saw a Mg 7.9 which killed over 70,000. This Sichuan earthquake is believed to be of similar tectonic setting as 1556, luckily people and science has come along way in the past 500 year so that fatalities were not repeated.

The Indian plate is crashing in to the European plate as India is effectively trying to force past the Tibetan Plateau in to Asia. It is the same motion that created the plateau in the first place showing us this process was occurring well before the 1556 quake and remain a issue well in to the future.



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