Major Iranian Earthquakes of the 20th Century

Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, as more than 90% of the country falls within an active seismic zone,1 the Alpine-Himalayan belt. This earthquake–prone country has experienced more than 130 quakes with a magnitude of 7.5 or higher in the last seven decades2; in the 20th century alone, more than 126,000 people have died in earthquakes.3

The country's high seismicity, structural vulnerability, and low level preparedness have resulted in devastating earthquakes killing thousands, leaving tens of thousands homeless, and disrupting agricultural and industrial services, critical components of the citizens' livelihoods. Most recently, the Bam earthquake of 2006 killed more than 30,000 people, leveled the ancient citadel of Arg-e Bam, and left thousands homeless — all attributable to poor construction methods and standards and virtual non–adherence to building codes.4

Table of Contents

Iranian Earthquakes Since 1900 With 1,000 or More Deaths
Date: 23 Jan 1909 City: Silakhor Deaths: 5,000-6,000 Magnitude: 7.3
About 60 villages destroyed or severely damaged. Casualties occurred in 130 villages. Over 40 km (25 mi) of surface rupture was seen on the Dorud Fault. Aftershocks continued for nearly 6 months.
Date: 25 May 1923 City: Torbat-e Deaths: 2,200 Magnitude: 5.7
Five villages completely destroyed southwest of Torbat-e Heydariyeh
Date: 1 May 1929 City: Koppeh Dagh Deaths: 3,800 Magnitude: 7.2
This earthquake caused casualties and severe damage on both sides of the Iran-Turkmenistan (Persia-USSR) border. More than 3,250 people were killed and 88 villages destroyed or damaged in the Baghan-Gifan area, Iran. Damage also occurred at Bojnurd. Nearly all buildings were destroyed at Germab, Turkmenistan. Damage occurred to 57 places in Turkmenistan, including Ashgabat (Ashkhabad), where there were some casualties. About 50 km (30 mi) of surface faulting was observed on the Baghan-Germab fault. Aftershocks occurred until 1933.
Date: 6 May 1930 City: Salmas Deaths: 2,500 Magnitude: 7.2
About 60 villages destroyed in the Salmas Plain and surrounding mountains. The town of Dilman (population 18,000) was completely destroyed, but there were only 1,100 deaths because a magnitude 5.4 foreshock had occurred at 07:03 UTC. Although the foreshock killed 25 people, it probably saved thousands of lives since many people chose to sleep outdoors that night. Faulting was observed on the Salmas and Derik Faults, with the maximum offsets 5 m (16 ft) vertically and 4 m (13 ft) horizontally on the Salmas Fault. Dilman was rebuilt west of the ruins and named Shahpur, now Salmas.
Date: 2 Jul 1957 City: Sang Chai Deaths: 1,300 Magnitude: 7.1
Nearly all villages destroyed in the Ab-e Garm-Mangol-Zirab area on the north side of the Elburz Mountains. Many landslides and rockslides blocked the Amol-Tehran Road and caused nearly as much damage in some villages as had been caused by shaking. It was felt strongly at Tehran.
Date: 13 Dec 1957 City: Sahneh Deaths: 1,130 Magnitude: 7.1
About 900 people injured and 211 villages destroyed or severely damaged in the Sahneh-Songor-Asadabad area in Kermanshahan and Hamadan Provinces. Some fissures were observed in alluvium along the Sahneh Fault.
Date: 1 Sep 1962 City: Bu'in Zahra Deaths: 12,225 Magnitude: 7.1
Ninety-one villages destroyed and 233 damaged - over 21,000 houses destroyed, nearly all built of poor-quality materials. Slight damage at Tehran. Felt as far away as Tabriz, Esfahan and Yazd. Based on damage to old structures, this was probably the largest earthquake in this immediate area since at least 1630. Surface faulting with small offsets occurred in a 100-km (63-mi) east-west zone of the Ipak Fault. Some landslides and sandblows occurred. Earthquake lights (a red to orange glow) from the Rudak area were observed prior to the quake by various people.
Date: 31 Aug 1968 City: Dasht-e Bayaz Deaths: 7k - 12k Magnitude: 7.3
Five villages were totally destroyed in the Dasht-e Bayaz area, and another 6 from Kakhk to Salayan had at least half of the buildings destroyed. A strong aftershock on Sep 01 destroyed the town of Ferdows (see next event). In all, more than 175 villages were destroyed or damaged in this rather sparsely populated area of Khorasan Province. Most buildings in the area were built of adobe with very thick (1-2 m, or about 3-6 ft) arched roofs. The walls shattered, bringing tons of material down on the people inside. This was a major reason for the severity of damage and casualties in this earthquake. The death toll would likely have been much higher if this quake would have struck in the middle of the night, when many more people would have been indoors. The few steel-frame or brick-and-mortar structures in the area generally survived with only minor to moderate damage, making it difficult to assign a maximum intensity to the quake. The intensity estimates range from VIII to X. Surface faulting occurred in a zone about 80 km (50 mi) long. The maximum strike-slip (horizontal) offset was about 4.5 m (15 ft) near Dasht-e Bayaz with a vertical offset of about 2 m. Extensive ground ruptures and sandblows occurred in the Nimbluk Valley east of Salayan, south of the main fault trace.
Date: 10 Apr 1972 Region: southern Deaths: 5,054 Magnitude: 7.1
This earthquake struck the Fars Province of southern Iran killing over 5,000 and injuring 1,700. The shock smashed the adobe and rough rock homes of the area. In Ghir, 67 percent of the population of 5,000 were killed, and 80 percent of the buildings were leveled. Many of the victims were women and children, as the men had departed for the fields. A total of 45 villages and hamlets were damaged, and some were leveled. Landslides blocked roads hampering rescue work. Although numerous aftershocks were reported felt, adding to the anxiety, none exceeded magnitude 5.1.
Date: 24 Nov 1976 Region: Turkey border Deaths: 5,000 Magnitude: 7.3
The earthquake was located along the Turkish-Iranian border region. It is estimated that at least 5,000 people were killed and many injured. Caldira, Muradiye, and surrounding villages near the Iranian border were completely destroyed. Snow and bitter cold weather hampered the rescue teams from reaching many of the mountainous villages. Some casualties and damage were reported in northwestern Iran. The shock was also reported felt in the area of Yerevan SSR.
Date: 16 Sep 1978 Region: Tabas Deaths: 15,000 Magnitude: 7.8
The earthquake was centered about 600 kilometers southeast of Tehran in the vicinity of Tabas. The death toll was about 15,000, many were injured, and damage was extensive. Tabas had the highest death toll - 9,000 killed out of a population of 13,000, Dehesk had 2500 killed out of 3500, and Kurit had 2000 killed out of 3500; the remainder of the deaths were in surrounding areas.
Date: 11 Jun 1981 Region: Kerman Deaths: 3,000 Magnitude: 6.9
Three thousand people killed, many injured, and extensive damage in Kerman Province.
Date: 28 Jul 1981 Region: Kerman Deaths: 1,500 Magnitude: 7.3
Fifteen hundred people killed, 1,000 injured, 50,000 homeless and extensive damage in the Kerman region.
Date:20 Jun 1990 Region: Rudbar-Manjil Deaths: 40k - 50k Magnitude: 7.4
Estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people killed, more than 60,000 injured, 400,000 or more homeless and extensive damage and landslides in the Rasht-Qazvin-Zanjan area, Iran. Nearly all buildings were destroyed in the Rudbar-Manjil area. Substantial damage occurred as far away as Khalkhal and Now Shahr and slight damage occurred at Tehran. Felt in most of northwestern Iran, including Arak, Bakhtaran and Tabriz. Slight damage also occurred in southern Azerbaijan, USSR. Felt (VII) at Astra and Lenkoran; (VI) at Dzhibrail, Lerik, Mossony and Yardyshny; (III) at Baku, USSR. Complex event.
Date: 10 May 1997 Region: Birjand-Qayen Deaths: 1,567 Magnitude: 7.3
At least 1,567 people killed, 2,300 injured, 50,000 homeless, 10,533 houses destroyed, 5,474 houses damaged and landslides in the Birjand-Qayen area. Five people killed and some damage in the Herat area, Afghanistan. Felt in the Kerman, Khorasan, Semnan, Sistan va Baluchestan and Yazd regions of Iran. This earthquake occurred on the Abiz fault, as confirmed by field work of Manuel Berberian. This fault is north of the collision zone between the Arabian and Eurasian plates. The region of the Abiz fault is comprised of several microplates and is tectonically very active. The most notable regional earthquake was the Dasht-e-Bayez earthquake (magnitude 7.3) of 1968, which resulted in 12,000-20,000 deaths. Both the Abiz and Dasht-e-Bayez earthquakes showed left-laterial, strike-slip faulting.
Date: 26 Dec 2003 Region: Bam Deaths: 31,000 Magnitude: 6.6
About 31,000 people killed, 30,000 injured, 75,600 homeless and 85 percent of buildings damaged or destroyed in the Bam area. Maximum intensities IX at Bam and VIII at Baravat. Felt (V) at Kerman. Damage estimated at 32.7 million U.S. dollars. Surface ruptures associated with the Bam Fault were observed between Bam and Baravat. Maximum acceleration of 0.98g recorded at Bam. Landslides occurred in the epicentral area. Believed to be the largest earthquake in this area in more than 2000 years.
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