On this day in 1897, a powerful earthquake in Assam, India, triggers deadly landslides and waves, killing more than 1,500 people.
The quake, with a devastating 8.8 magnitude, struck at 5 p.m. near the town of Shillong in northern India. This area is close to the Himalayan mountain range, which was formed by the Indian tectonic plate driving into the Asian plate. This interaction of the earth’s plates creates a huge fault line in the area that was prone to strong tremors.
The June 12 quake was so strong that it was felt by people thousands of miles away. The area of devastation was approximately 160,000 square miles, larger than the entire state of California. The ground undulated as high as 3 feet, according to some reports. Poles in the ground moved as much as 15 feet horizontally. The flow of one river was completely stopped by the tremendous movement of earth, while other bodies of water in the area produced killer waves.
The final death toll is thought to be 1,542 people, including nearly 600 who lost their lives to a landslide in Cherrapunji. For hundreds of miles near the epicenter, nearly every building collapsed. Hundreds of aftershocks in the following months delayed the rebuilding efforts.