Natural Disasters Caused by Earthquakes

by Michele Cooper

Earthquakes are one of the most devastating and frightening natural disasters a person can experience. They happen without warning in areas all around the world. Earthquakes can cause major damage and fatalities in populated areas, but the earthquake itself is not always to blame. Other natural disasters can be caused by earthquakes and these can be equally, and sometimes more, destructive.

Volcanic Eruptions

Data shows that there is more volcanic activity in some regions following earthquakes.

Earthquakes may trigger volcanic eruptions. In 2009, Oxford University scientists discovered that very large earthquakes trigger activity in nearby volcanoes. They believe that seismic waves coming from earthquakes cause disturbances in the molten rock beneath volcanoes, making them active.

Landslides and Avalanches

Landslides are particularly dangerous on populated hillsides.

When the Earth moves during an earthquake, a landslide or avalanche can occur. Any area that has the right conditions, including moisture and the angle of the slope, can potentially experience these natural disasters. When the Earth shakes, debris, soil or snow on a hilltop or mountainside has the potential of sliding. An example is the 1994 Northridge quake, which caused thousands of landslides in the mountains above Northridge.


Often, in the immediate area, tsunamis happen within minutes of an earthquake.

Both strong and weak earthquakes have the ability to cause tsunamis. When earthquakes rattle the sea floor, water is displaced and waves form. These waves can be large enough to be considered tsunamis. Tsunamis not only devastate the coastal area in the region where the actual earthquake occurred, but can also cause damage on coasts thousands of miles away. This was seen in the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011, which caused devastation in Japan, as well as millions of dollars in damage to coastal California.


If an earthquake occurs during or after a heavy period of rain, dams are more likely to break.

Earthquakes can cause flooding in several ways. Clearly, a tsunami can cause flooding in areas where the wave hits inland. Broken dams and levees on rivers can also cause flooding. These structures hold water in, but when an earthquake occurs, the integrity of the structure may be damaged, and the water could potentially flood nearby lowland areas.


Liquefaction can happen following an earthquake. According to Michigan Tech, "Liquefaction is the mixing of sand or soil and groundwater (water underground) during the shaking of a moderate or strong earthquake." The ground turns into a quicksand consistency when water is mixed with it. If a building stands atop this type of ground, it can tip, fall over and even sink.

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