Facts about The 1960 Valdivia Earthquake (The Great Chilean Earthquake)

An earthquake is one of the deadliest natural phenomena on our planet.  It comes silently and takes away the lives of many in a matter of seconds. Nowadays, thanks to the modern science, we can predict tsunamis (which are caused by earthquakes), hurricanes, or any other dangerous natural movements. However, unfortunately, earthquakes still remain very much unpredictable.

One of those unpredictable earthquakes took place in the history of Chile in 1960. The earthquake was so powerful that even it impacted the countries thousands of miles away in the form of tsunami. The main goal of this post is to give you the most interesting information about this tragic day, so I gathered 15 facts about the 1960 Valdivia Earthquake.


1. The Valdivia Earthquake took place on the southern coast of Chile, near the city of Valdivia at 3:11 pm (local time) on May 22, 1960.

2. The magnitude of the Valdivia earthquake was between 9.4 – 9.6 which makes it the most powerful earthquake ever recorded.

3. The Valdivia Earthquakes is also known as “The Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960”.

4. The Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960 was megathrust earthquake.

A megathrust earthquake occurs in the subduction zones where one tectonic plate moves underneath another with a great force. In the case of the Great Chilean Earthquake, the Nazca plate was forced underneath the South American plate. Megathrust earthquakes are the most powerful on our planet. For instance, almost all of the most powerful earthquakes that took place since the beginning of the 1900s are megathrust earthquakes.

5. The most affected city of Chile was Valdivia (that is the reason why it was named “Valdivia earthquake”). The earthquake left over half of the building in that city uninhabitable.

7. The Valdivia earthquake lasted about 10 minutes.

8. The total death toll of the disaster was never announced completely.

In one point, the death toll was estimated to be 1,655, and the number of injured was 3000 people. However, there are other sources that state the numbers of the death toll as high as 6000. Apart from death and injuries, millions of people lost their homes.

9. A couple of days before the Valdivia earthquake hit, three milder tremors (which are known as foreshocks) struck the area. Although they themselves caused some Damages, they warned about the upcoming disaster.

10. The epicenter of the earthquake was 100 miles (160 km) off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean.


11. About 15 minutes after the Valdivia Earthquake, the coastal area was hit by 80 feet (25 m) high tsunami. It caused more destruction than the earthquake itself.

12. The tsunamis caused by the Valdivia Earthquake impacted the areas in thousands of miles away.

For instance, it caused millions of dollar worth of damage and claimed the lives of 61 people on Hawaii’s main island. Then, it hit the Japanese Honshu island with 18 ft (5.5 m) waves and destroyed about 160 homes, killing 138 people. The tsunami did not stop there, its impact resulted in the death of 32 people in the Philippines, and caused some trouble in the coastal areas of California.

The fact about the Valdivia Earthquake
Building destroyed by the tsunami in Japan

13. The Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960 led triggered the eruption of Chile’s Cordon Caulle volcano.

During the time, the volcano was inactive for 40 years. Two days after the earthquake, it erupted, causing more damage to Chile.

Facts about the Great Chilean Earthquake
The eruption of Cordon Caulle Volcano in 1960

14. The earthquake led to the occurrence of several landslides around the Andes area.

The landslides did not cause any casualties nor the brought major economical loses since the area was uninhabited.

15. The tsunami caused by the Valdivia earthquake caused huge economic damages to the countryside by killing large numbers of livestock and destroying the farmlands.

16. After the earthquakes, the village of Collileufu, where people from Mapuche group live, offered a five-year-old boy, Jose Luis Painceur as a sacrifice in order to “calm the sea and earth”.

It ended with the arrest of two local community leader for the boy’s murder. But they were released after serving 2 years of prison time. Because a judge who was sympathetic to ancient traditions labeled the sacrifice as action on a free will.

17. The Valdivia earthquake left 2,000,0000 people homeless.

18. The earthquake left permanent cracks in the Atacama desert.

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By Arslan Batyrovich

Founder of
Writer, Researcher, Fact-finder, and All-in-one
Loves nature, Likes history, and Adores anything interesting
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