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Most Destructive Known Earthquake (Life loss)

The earthquake occurred near Huaxian, Shaanxi (formerly Shensi), China, about 50 miles (80 km) east-northeast of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi. More than 830,000 people were killed. Damage extended as far away as Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi (formerly Shansi) and about 270 miles (430 km) northeast of the epicenter. There are felt reports as far away as Liuyang in Hunan, more than 500 miles (800 km) away. Geological effects reported with this earthquake included ground fissures, uplift, subsidence, sandblows, liquefaction and landslides. Most towns in the damage area reported city walls collapsed, most to all houses collapsed and many of the towns reported ground fissures with water gushing out (ie. liquefaction and sandblows). Gu, et.al. says that "the identified death toll of soldiers and civilians was 830,000, and the unidentified was uncountable." The earthquake was felt in all or parts of 9 provinces: Anhui, Gansu, Hebei, Hubei, Henan, Hunan, Shaanxi, Shandong and Shanxi. The maximum intensity is XI in the Huaxian-Weinan area and the estimated magnitude is 8. Additional details from Gu, et.al.:

In Huaxian, "city walls, temples, offices and civilian houses were demolished, without a single wall left standing.... The ground fissured and sunk. Water gushed out and formed canals. Sixty percent of the people (several tens of thousands were killed or injured."

In Weinan [15 miles (24 km) west of Huaxian], "city walls, temples, storehouses, offices and civilian houses collapsed totally.... In the city, the ground sunk for more than 3 meters. Fifty percent of the people were killed."

In Xi'an [one of China's major cities then as it is now], "city walls, storeyed buildings and terraces collapsed. Most temples were destroyed. More than half of the houses toppled down. Only 10-20 percent of the walls were left standing. The ground fissured crisscross. Thirty percent of the people were killed."

Even as far away as Taiyuan, "houses were destroyed in great numbers."
In many references, this earthquake is referred to as the "Shensi Province earthquake of 1556" using the old spelling for the province.

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