The earthquake that struck Tangshen, Hebei, China, in July 1976 was one of the deadliest ever recorded. More than 200,000 people died.

Photograph courtesy NOAA
  • On July 28, 1976, a massive earthquake shook Tangshan, Hebei, China. The earthquake’s magnitude was 7.5, but some scientists say it was as high as 8.2. This was one of the deadliest earthquakes in history: approximately 242,000 people died, and some reports put that number as high as 655,000. Another earthquake—a magnitude 7.1 aftershock—struck just 16 hours later.

    The Tangshan quake was particularly deadly for a number of reasons. First, the quake occurred in the early morning (about 3:45 a.m. local time), when most residents were asleep and unprepared. Second, the quake struck very quickly, with few of the foreshocks that often accompany quakes of this magnitude. Third, many buildings in Tangshan were built on unstable soil, and not constructed to withstand earthquakes. In fact, many people who survived the quake itself were crushed beneath the rubble of unstable buildings.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    construct Verb

    to build or erect.

    earthquake Noun

    the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.

    magnitude Noun

    intensity of an earthquake, represented by numbers on a scale.

    massive Adjective

    very large or heavy.

    rubble Noun

    rough pieces of stone.

    soil Noun

    top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.