The 1966 Peru Earthquake

Posted by Karl Lundgren on

As the sun dips below the horizon, casting a warm, golden glow over the picturesque town of Huaraz, the streets are alive with the sounds of bustling market vendors and children playing. Yet, there's a sense of tension in the air, a collective memory etched into the town's very foundations. The wind whispers stories of the past, and the mountains, silent witnesses to history, stand as solemn sentinels.

In this moment, we find ourselves transported to the year 1966, standing at the heart of Huaraz, nestled in the Callejón de Huaylas valley in central Peru. The tranquility of this serene evening is a stark contrast to the harrowing events that unfolded in this very place over half a century ago.

Join us on a journey back in time, as we explore the turbulent and transformative chapter of the 1966 Peru earthquake, a cataclysmic event that left an indelible mark on not only Huaraz but the entire nation. Through the lens of history, we will delve into the seismic forces that shook this town and the entire region, the immense human toll it exacted, and the remarkable resilience of the Peruvian people in its wake. This is the story of the Great Peruvian Earthquake, a story of devastation, recovery, and enduring hope.

1966 Peru Earthquake

On May 31, 1970, the earth shook violently in the central region of Peru, unleashing one of the deadliest earthquakes in the country's history. The 1966 Peru earthquake, also known as the Great Peruvian Earthquake, remains etched in the collective memory of the Peruvian people. With a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale, it not only devastated the region but also ignited a series of events that had long-lasting repercussions for the nation.

The Great Peruvian Earthquake

The 1966 Peru earthquake was a megathrust earthquake, which occurs at the boundary of two tectonic plates. In this case, it was the subduction zone where the Nazca Plate converges with the South American Plate. The earthquake struck at a depth of approximately 40 kilometers beneath the Earth's surface, causing massive damage to the affected region. Its epicenter was near the town of Chimbote in Ancash, a region located in the central part of the country.

Severe Damage

The quake's destructive force was felt across a vast area, including parts of Ecuador and northern Chile. In Peru, the towns of Huaraz, Yungay, and Chimbote were the hardest hit. Huaraz, a picturesque town nestled in the Callejón de Huaylas valley, was almost entirely obliterated. Thousands of homes, schools, and buildings were reduced to rubble within seconds.

The town of Yungay, located near Huaraz, was the site of a tragic event. The earthquake triggered a massive landslide from the slopes of Mount Huascarán, burying the entire town and its 25,000 inhabitants under an estimated 80 million cubic meters of ice, rock, and debris. It was a catastrophic event that left no survivors and forever changed the landscape of the region.

In Chimbote, a major coastal city and industrial hub, the earthquake triggered a tsunami that inundated the city's low-lying areas. The combined impact of the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami caused widespread devastation, destroying infrastructure, homes, and livelihoods.

Human Toll

The 1966 Peru earthquake resulted in a significant loss of life. Estimates of the death toll vary, but it is believed that over 50,000 people lost their lives as a direct result of the earthquake and its associated disasters. Yungay, where no survivors were found, became a symbol of the tragedy, often referred to as the "Pompeii of the Andes."

Recovery Efforts

In the wake of this devastating earthquake, the Peruvian government, with assistance from the international community, launched a massive relief and recovery operation. Aid poured in from countries around the world, and organizations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross played vital roles in providing humanitarian support.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the recovery was the resilience and determination of the Peruvian people. They rallied together to rebuild their lives, homes, and communities. The government focused on implementing policies and initiatives to mitigate the risks of future earthquakes and improve infrastructure resilience. Lessons learned from the disaster spurred the development of seismic building codes and disaster preparedness measures.

Lessons Learned

The 1966 Peru earthquake served as a harsh reminder of the seismic risks that many countries face, particularly those situated near tectonic plate boundaries. This catastrophe led to significant advancements in earthquake engineering and disaster management in Peru. The country has since become a global leader in earthquake preparedness and risk reduction.

  1. Seismic Building Codes: Peru introduced stringent seismic building codes to ensure that structures are designed and constructed to withstand the forces of a major earthquake. These codes have been continually updated to reflect the latest research and technology.
  2. Early Warning Systems: The development of early warning systems has become a priority. These systems provide advanced notice of impending earthquakes, allowing people to take cover or evacuate if necessary.
  3. Education and Training: Public education campaigns have been launched to inform residents about earthquake risks and the importance of preparedness. Schools and organizations conduct regular earthquake drills to ensure people know how to react in an emergency.
  4. Infrastructure Improvements: Significant investments have been made in improving infrastructure resilience. Bridges, hospitals, and other critical facilities are designed to withstand earthquakes, reducing the potential for disaster-related casualties.


The 1966 Peru earthquake, though a tragedy of immense proportions, also serves as an enduring testament to human resilience and the ability to recover and rebuild in the face of catastrophe. The lessons learned from this disaster have had a lasting impact on Peru's approach to earthquake preparedness, and the nation stands as a model for others in high-risk areas.

As we remember the 1966 Peru earthquake, let us not only honor the memory of those who lost their lives but also celebrate the strength and unity of the Peruvian people. It is a reminder that even in the face of nature's most formidable challenges, humanity can overcome, adapt, and build a more resilient future.

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.


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