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2004 deadliest earthquake year in five centuries

The U.S. Geological Survey said Thursday that the death toll of  275,950 from the earthquake-generated tsunami  made 2004 the deadliest year for earthquakes in five centuries.
An aerial view shows the tsunami-devastated city of Banda Aceh
An aerial view of the tsunami-devastated city of Banda Aceh, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.Kimimasa Mayama / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The death toll from the earthquake-generated tsunami in Asia and east Africa made 2004 the deadliest year for earthquakes in five centuries, the U.S. Geological Survey said Thursday.

The agency estimated the toll from the Dec. 26 tsunami at 275,950 people. Waverly Person, director of the agency’s earthquake information center in Golden, Colo., said he expects the final count to be even higher.

Other sources have estimated the number of dead at more than 160,000, with thousands more listed as missing.

“It’s a complicated thing, to figure out just how many people have been killed,” Person said.

Based on the agency’s estimate, 2004 would have counted an earthquake death toll of 276,856, the second highest in recorded history.

The deadliest quake on record occurred Jan. 23, 1556, when an estimated magnitude 8 earthquake killed about 830,000 people in Shansi, China.

The magnitude 9.0 temblor that hit Banda Aceh, Indonesia, causing the tsunami, was not the only “great” earthquake that occurred during 2004. Great quakes are those with a magnitude of 8 or higher and an 8.1 earthquake hit north of Macquarie Island, southwest of New Zealand, three days before the Indian Ocean quake and tsunami. No deaths were reported in that event.

Before the Macquarie event, the last great quake was the 8.3 quake in Hokkaido, Japan, in September of 2003.

The largest earthquake in the United States last year was a magnitude 6.8 in southeastern Alaska. There was also a magnitude 6.0 quake in Parkfield, Calif., on Sept. 28, a long-anticipated event along the San Andreas Fault.