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Most Devastating Earthquake in the History of Colombia


Earthquake History Colombia
On January 31, 1906, the strongest earthquake recorded in Colombia occurred. The terrible earthquake left nearly 600 people dead in its wake, in addition to creating a tsunami that affected the Pacific coasts. Public domain/National Archive

In Colombia’s seismic history, the year 1906 holds a somber record. A catastrophic earthquake, considered the most devastating in the nation’s history, shook Colombia, claiming the lives of around 600 people. Commemorating the 118th anniversary of this tragic event in 2024, it stands as a poignant reminder of the seismic activity that characterizes Colombia’s geographical landscape.

Colombia, situated on various tectonic plates along its coasts and mountain ranges, experiences heightened seismic activity. The Colombian Geological Service reports an average of approximately 2,500 earthquakes per month, translating to nearly three tremors per hour.

The 1906 earthquake

The Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the Earth’s most active volcanic and seismic zones, traverses Colombia, exposing the nation to various magnitudes of seismic events. While Colombia has witnessed several tremors of varying intensity due to this geological reality, the earthquake of 1906 remains unparalleled in its destructive force.

The magnitude 8.4 earthquake occurred just 20 kilometers below the earth’s surface on January 31, 1906.

According to the Colombian Geological Service (SGC), the epicenter was on the Pacific Coast. The impact was felt on the beaches of various municipalities, including Tumaco, Francisco Pizarro, Mosquera, Olaya Herrera, La Tola, El Charco, Santa Barbara, Guapi, and Timbiqui.

The earthquake caused a tsunami

This earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Colombia, triggered a tsunami with waves reaching up to five meters in height. Witnesses reported the devastating impact on coastal areas between Colombia and Ecuador. The tsunami not only affected coastal communities but also caused rivers to reverse their course, impacting settlements along their banks. The earthquake itself resulted in ground ruptures, uplifts, subsidence, liquefaction, and landslides.

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, approximately 600 people lost their lives, and numerous homes were damaged in the departments of Nariño and Cauca. The tragedy served as a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of seismic events, and despite advancements in technology, earthquakes remain inherently unpredictable.

Other noteworthy earthquakes in Colombian history

Throughout its history, Colombia has witnessed other significant earthquakes, each leaving a mark on the collective memory:

Popayan Earthquake (March 31, 1983): Magnitude 5.8; caused extensive damage in Popayan and Cauca, resulting in over 250 deaths and widespread destruction.

Armenia Earthquake (January 25, 1999): Magnitude 6.2; devastated the region, claiming over 1,900 lives and causing numerous buildings to collapse.

Tumaco Earthquake (December 12, 1979): Magnitude 8.0; struck the Colombian Pacific, causing infrastructure and housing damage in nearby areas.

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