The 1687 Peru Earthquake

Posted by Karl Lundgren on

As the sun dipped below the horizon on a warm October evening in 1687, the bustling city of Lima, the crown jewel of Spanish America, was steeped in an eerie calm. Its grand plazas, ornate churches, and elegant palaces bore witness to a society at the zenith of its power and opulence. The residents, dressed in their finest attire, strolled along cobblestone streets, blissfully unaware of the impending catastrophe.

Yet, beneath their feet, deep within the Earth's restless core, something ominous was brewing. The tectonic plates that underpinned the entire city were locked in a struggle that had been building for centuries, and they were about to release their pent-up fury. As the clock ticked towards midnight, a low rumble began to stir the tranquility. The ground trembled ever so slightly, and people exchanged curious glances, dismissing it as another minor tremor – an everyday occurrence in Lima.

But then, the rumble intensified. Buildings, which had stood as symbols of wealth and prosperity, quivered ominously. In an instant, what had been a calm evening transformed into a scene of chaos and terror. The 1687 Peru earthquake, one of the most devastating in history, had unleashed its wrath upon the city, leaving a trail of destruction and forever altering the course of its history. In this article, we journey back to that fateful night and explore the seismic cataclysm that shook Lima to its core, leaving behind a legacy of resilience, reconstruction, and lessons learned.

Peru 1687

Natural disasters have a way of reshaping landscapes, both physical and historical. The 1687 Peru earthquake, one of the deadliest seismic events in recorded history, left an indelible mark on the South American nation. This cataclysmic event, which occurred on October 20, 1687, changed the course of Peruvian history and serves as a poignant reminder of the Earth's uncontrollable power. In this article, we will delve into the details of this devastating earthquake, its impacts, and the lessons learned.

The Prelude to Disaster

Peru, located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, is no stranger to seismic activity. Its proximity to the converging Nazca and South American tectonic plates makes it a hotspot for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In the 17th century, the region was already grappling with a series of smaller quakes and volcanic eruptions, indicating the restless nature of the Earth beneath.

The 1687 Earthquake

The 1687 Peru earthquake struck with unrelenting force. With an estimated magnitude of 8.4 to 9.0, it ranks as one of the most powerful quakes in history. Its epicenter was situated off the coast of Lima, causing widespread destruction in the city and the surrounding region.

The Earth Trembles

On that fateful day, the earth shook violently, and the impact was felt as far away as Ecuador and Colombia. Residents of Lima, one of the wealthiest cities in the Americas at the time, were caught off guard as the ground heaved beneath them. The shockwaves were accompanied by terrifying noises, as if the Earth itself was groaning in agony.

Loss of Life and Property

The death toll from the 1687 Peru earthquake was staggering. It is estimated that up to 5,000 people lost their lives in Lima alone, and countless more were injured. Many historic and opulent buildings, including churches, palaces, and homes, crumbled to the ground. The city's infrastructure, which was already weakened from previous seismic events, was further compromised.

Tsunami Horror

The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami, compounding the devastation. As the quake subsided, a towering wall of water rushed toward the coast, swallowing entire neighborhoods and exacerbating the chaos. It is believed that the tsunami claimed many lives and caused significant damage to coastal settlements.

The Aftermath

In the aftermath of the 1687 Peru earthquake, Lima was in ruins. The once-prosperous city was left in a state of disarray, its streets littered with debris, and its residents grappling with the loss of their loved ones and their homes. In the midst of such widespread devastation, the survivors faced an arduous journey to rebuild their lives.

Reconstruction and Rebuilding

Reconstruction efforts were led by survivors, religious authorities, and local officials. The city was slowly pieced back together. However, the destruction was so extensive that Lima's urban planning was significantly altered. New building codes and urban design principles emerged from the rubble, aimed at making the city more resilient to future seismic events.

Lessons Learned

The 1687 Peru earthquake left a profound impact on the collective consciousness of the region. It was a stark reminder of the need for better earthquake preparedness, building resilience, and early warning systems. The tragedy served as a catalyst for advancements in earthquake engineering, with architects and engineers developing innovative techniques to create structures that could withstand seismic forces.

Cultural and Religious Shifts

The earthquake also had cultural and religious consequences. Many saw the disaster as a divine message, prompting increased religious fervor. Churches and religious orders played a significant role in the reconstruction efforts, and this period saw the emergence of new religious traditions and devotions.

Historical Significance

The 1687 Peru earthquake had far-reaching historical significance. It left an indelible mark on the trajectory of Lima and Peru. The city's transformation and the lessons learned from the disaster laid the groundwork for the resilient and earthquake-prepared city that exists today.


The 1687 Peru earthquake was a monumental event in South American history, leaving behind not only a trail of destruction but also a legacy of resilience and reconstruction. Its impact continues to shape the way we understand and prepare for seismic events. As we remember this tragic event, we are reminded of the Earth's unpredictable and uncontrollable power, and the importance of being prepared for the next seismic challenge that may lie ahead.

So what can we do to get better prepared?


A kit is not a safety blanket you just purchase to make yourself feel better, it is an important investment in your household’s safety and preparedness. Not all emergency kits are created equal, and we highly recommend using the Province of BC and Government of Canada resources when building or buying a kit. We are also pleased to offer Earthquake Kits that developed to meet the government requirements for emergency preparedness. Visit our Gov BC Earthquake Kit product page to view the contents of our kits and feel free to use this as a guideline for assembling your own. What’s important to us is not that you buy a kit from us, but that every household have a kit at the ready in case something unexpected should occur.


The Province of BC and the Federal Government have made huge strides in this area in recent years implementing an Emergency Notifications network through mobile carriers and testing it to great success levels. This can provide seconds to even minutes of advanced notice prior to an earthquake being felt in any given location. However, a network of this complexity relies on strategically positioned censors along the coastline. We need to continue expanding this network of sensors and make sure that existing censors are being properly monitored and maintained.

We also need to expand from mobile phone notifications to physical alarms in homes, buildings, and especially schools/daycares.

For more details on how this Early Detection Grid works, please check out the following video by the CBC several years ago.


Know the Hazards

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