While the U.S. Geological Survey recorded 22 magnitude-7 or larger earthquakes in 2010, almost all the fatalities were produced by one — the major quake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12.
In 2010, about 227,000 people were killed due to earthquakes, with over 222,570 from the magnitude-7.0 Haiti event, as reported by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
According to official estimates, the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti injured 300,000 people, displaced 1.3 million, and left 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in Port-au-Prince and much of southern Haiti. This includes at least four people killed by a local tsunami in the Petit Paradis area near Léogâne. According to the USGS, this large, shallow earthquake produced violent shaking in Léogâne, west of Port-au-Prince. This shaking level can cause damage even to well-built buildings anywhere in the world. In Haiti, this high-intensity shaking together with both buildings vulnerable to earthquakes and high population exposure resulted in catastrophe.
A magnitude-8.8 earthquake that hit offshore Bio-Bio, Chile, on Feb. 27 was the largest recorded in 2010. It killed at least 577 people, with about half of those deaths caused by an earthquake-generated tsunami. While the energy released by this earthquake was more than 500 times that of the one that struck Haiti, the fatalities were far fewer due to strict building codes in Chile and lower maximum shaking intensities.
The second-deadliest event in 2010 was a magnitude-6.9 earthquake that hit southern Qinghai, China, on April 14 (April 13, UTC time), leaving 2,968 dead. Overall, during 2010 earthquakes took the lives of people in 11 countries on four continents, including the countries of Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Serbia and Turkey. The numbers for all events listed include those missing and presumed dead.
Earthquakes injured people in nine additional countries, including Australia, New Zealand, India, Ethiopia, Peru, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Venezuela and the United States, in California and Oklahoma.
As usual, the biggest earthquake in the United States in 2010 was in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This year it was a magnitude-6.6 event on July 18 in the Fox Islands, and it caused no damage or casualties. The biggest 2010 earthquake in the contiguous United States was a magnitude 6.5 that shook Northern California on Jan. 10. About 30 people were injured and moderate damage occurred to hundreds of homes and buildings in the Eureka-Ferndale area. The event was felt as far away as Portland, Ore. A series of minor earthquakes peppered Oklahoma throughout the year, including a magnitude 4.4 on Oct. 13 that injured two people in Norman.
An unusual earthquake occurred near the edge of the Continental Shelf about 125 km south-southeast of Westhampton, Long Island, New York, on Nov. 30. Because it was offshore, the magnitude-3.9 tremor caused no damage, but it was felt throughout Long Island, in large parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, and as far away as Maine and West Virginia.
A magnitude-2.1 earthquake in New Jersey on Christmas Day and a magnitude-3.4 in Washington, DC, on July 16 round out the more unique seismic events recorded. The latter shook the windows in the White House, and the USGS received over 21,724 reports on the Did You Feel It? website.
The USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur throughout the world each year, although most go undetected because they hit remote areas or have very small magnitudes. The USGS National Earthquake Information Center publishes the locations for about 40 earthquakes per day, or about 14,500 annually, publishing worldwide earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.5 or greater or U.S. earthquakes of 2.5 or greater. On average, only 18 of these earthquakes have a magnitude of 7.0 or higher each year.
In 2010, 22 earthquakes reached a magnitude of 7.0 or higher, including the Chile quake that exceeded magnitude 8.0. These numbers are higher than those of 2009, which experienced 17 earthquakes over magnitude 7.0, including one over 8.0. While 22 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater is more than the average per year, and is the largest number of big events since 1968, it is still substantially fewer than 1943, which experienced 32 earthquakes of that size. Factors such as the size of an earthquake, the location and depth of the earthquake relative to population centers, and the fragility of buildings, utilities and roads all influence how earthquakes will affect nearby communities.
A complete list of 2010 earthquake statistics can be found on the Earthquake Information for 2010 website.
To monitor earthquakes worldwide, the USGS National Earthquake Information Center receives data in real-time from nearly 990 stations in 85 countries, including the 150-station Global Seismographic Network, which is jointly supported by the USGS and the National Science Foundation and operated by the USGS in partnership with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) consortium of universities.
In the United States, earthquakes pose significant risk to 75 million people in 39 states. The USGS and its partners in the multi-agency National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program are working to improve earthquake monitoring and reporting capabilities via the USGS Advanced National Seismic System. More information about ANSS can be found on the ANSS website.