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Haiyuan Earthquake Day 200,000 Lost Their Lives

Updated on June 7, 2011

On December 16, 1920, a huge part of China was rocked by a catastrophic earthquake, the third deadliest earthquake of all time, reportedly measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale and claiming over 200,000 lives. The 1920 Haiyuan Earthquake or the 1920 Gansu Earthquake, as it is now known occurred in Haiyuan County, Ningxia Province in China at approximately 8pm local time. Measuring as XII or Catastrophic on the Mercalli earthquake intensity scale (the highest possible degree), the Haiyuan Earthquake had the intensity causing total damage; lines of sight and level completely distorted with objects thrown into the air and with the ground moving in ripples.

Earthquake in China

Most of the damage that came from the earthquake was due to landslides. Large-scale landslides occurred on slopes and since the Ningxia Province had numerous slopes and some of them being steep, caused monumental damage. The effect of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake is still on record for being one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded. With reported 240,000 lives lost due to the earthquake, the 1920 Haiyuan Earthquake is recorded as the 8th worst natural disaster in the history of the world. The Haiyuan Earthquake is also said to be the third deadliest recorded earthquake, the second being in Tangshan, China in 1976 and the deadliest, claiming over 800,000 lives was recorded in Shaanxi China in 1556.

Many of the locals in Haiyuan were caught off-guard prior to the earthquake. With Haiyuan being mostly a farming area, most of the locals were asleep or heading to bed in preparation for an early morning tomorrow when the earthquake happened. In Haiyuan County alone, over 70,000 deaths were recorded, due to it being the epicenter of the earthquake, where the full effects of the earthquake were felt. An entire village was buried in nearby Xiji County due to massive landslides that stretched over kilometers with high velocity, causing massive catastrophe. In Guyuan County, over 30,000 deaths were reported and entire houses collapsed in the nearby cities of Longde and Huining, both counties in the Ningxia province. While the damage was catastrophicnear the epicenter, the earthquake was felt, in various levels of degrees, from Tsinghai Province to the edge of the Yellow Sea and from Mongolia, in the north, all the way to the Sichuan Province.

After a catastrophic earthquake

The rescuers after the earthquake in China
The rescuers after the earthquake in China

The earthquake caused substantial damage to at least seven provinces in and around the earthquake epicenter and the after-effects of the earthquake was complete devastation. Landslides, numerous accounts were reported, continued for days after the earthquake, ground cracks were seen throughout the area and over 200 kilometers of faults were seen forming across provinces. Rivers were also dammed as a result of the earthquake, cutting off precious supply of water to cities and tiny provinces and seiches, tall stationary waves were reported as far away as Norway as a result of the earthquake.

Since the Haiyuan Earthquake happened at an era when technological advancements were not yet discovered and people had no prior knowledge of natural disasters coming their way, the number of casualties were high since the earthquake happened at a densely populated province and as of now, December 16’s Haiyuan Earthquake is still considered one of the worst earthquakes to have ever happened in the history of mankind.


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    • profile image

      Not telling 

      7 years ago

      Very good, helped a lot, but no info on the plates that collided to activate the earthquake.

    • profile image

      No Name 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the help!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      it doesn't have any info on the plates that collided to activate the earthquake

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      awesome i got enogh info 4 my project

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      great info for my assignment thank you heaps!

    • ocbill profile image


      9 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      Great info on earthquakes in China. I am not sure why but I make it an effort to not stay a long time in mountainous locations.


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