List of earthquakes in Guatemala

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Plate tectonics in the Americas Colombiatectonic.png
Plate tectonics in the Americas
Motagua Fault (green line) and the Middle America Trench (pink line) Guatemala1976EarthquakeMap.jpg
Motagua Fault (green line) and the Middle America Trench (pink line)

Earthquakes are relatively frequent occurrences in Guatemala. [1] The country lies in a major fault zone known as the Motagua and Chixoy-Polochic fault complex, which cuts across Guatemala and forms the tectonic boundary between the Caribbean plate and the North American plate. In addition, along Guatemala's western coast line, the Cocos plate pushes against the Caribbean plate, forming a subduction zone known as the Middle America Trench located approximately 50 km off Guatemala's Pacific coast. This subduction zone led to the formation of the Central America Volcanic Arc, and is an important source of offshore earthquakes. [2] Both these major tectonic processes have generated deformations within the Caribbean plate and produced secondary fault zones, like the Mixco, Jalpatagua, and Santa Catarina Pinula faults. [3]


The most destructive earthquake in recent Guatemalan history was the 1976 quake with a magnitude of 7.5 Mw and a hypocenter depth of just 5 km. This shallow-focus earthquake, originating from the Motagua Fault, caused 23,000 fatalities, leaving 76,000 injured and causing widespread material damage. Surprisingly, the 7.9 Mw earthquake of 1942, though higher in magnitude, was much less destructive, in part because of its substantially deeper hypocenter depth of 60 km. [4]

A number of earthquakes with low magnitudes caused major damage in very localized areas, which may in part be explained by their relatively shallow depth. This was the case with the 1985 Uspantán earthquake of 5.0 Mw with a depth of 5 km, which destroyed most buildings in the town of Uspantán, but caused little or no damage in the rest of the country. [5]


Guatemala is in constant earthquake activity. However, there are some earthquakes that are more notable due to the damage they've caused. Notable earthquakes in recent Guatemalan history include the following: [4]

DateEventLocation Mag. MMI DeathsNotes
1717-09-29 1717 Guatemala earthquake Antigua Guatemala 7.4 MiIX
17511751 Guatemala earthquake Antigua Guatemala IX
1765-10-241765 Guatemala earthquake Ostuncalco, Quetzaltenango 7.6–8.2 MiVIIDuration of shaking reported at 7–8 minutes.
1773-07-29 1773 Guatemala earthquake Antigua Guatemala 7.5 MwVII–VIII500–600Severe damage in Antigua Guatemala and left most of the city in rubble. [6] [7]
1816-07-22 1816 Guatemala earthquake Alta Verapaz 7.5 MwIX23see also Chixoy-Polochic Fault
1902-04-18 1902 Guatemala earthquake Quetzaltenango, Guatemala City 7.5 MwIX800–2,000see also Santa María volcano eruption
1914-03-081913 Guatemala earthquake Cuilapa 5.0 Ms60Destroyed the town of Cuilapa
1917-12-26 1917 Guatemala earthquake Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala City 5.6 MwVII–IX250
1918-01-04 1918 Guatemala earthquake Guatemala City 6.0 MwVI
1942-07-06 1942 Guatemala earthquake Escuintla 7.7 MwIX38Landslides.
1959-02-201959 Guatemala earthquake Ixcán
1976-02-04 1976 Guatemala earthquake Guatemala City 7.5 MwIX23,000Extreme damage,
see also Motagua Fault
1985-10-111985 Guatemala earthquake Uspantán 5.0 MwVIIMajor damage in Uspantán
1988-11-031988 Guatemala earthquake San Vicente Pacaya 6.0 MwVI5
1991-09-111991 Guatemala earthquake Pochuta 5.3 MwVII25Major damage in San Miguel Pochuta
1993-09-101993 Chiapas earthquake San Marcos 7.2 Mw1Landslide/Rockslide.
1995-12-191995 Guatemala earthquake Tucurú 5.3 MwIV1
1998-01-101998 Guatemala earthquake Santo Domingo Suchitepéquez 6.6 MwVI–VIIIBuildings damaged in Quezaltenango and San Marcos
2001-01-13 January 2001 El Salvador earthquake San Miguel 7.7 MwVIII8Epicenter in San Miguel, El Salvador
2012-11-07 2012 Guatemala earthquake Retalhuleu 7.4 MwVII39Heavy damage in San Marcos
2014-07-07 2014 Mexico–Guatemala earthquake Antigua Guatemala 6.9 MwVIII5Epicenter in Chiapas, Mexico
2017-06-142017 Guatemala earthquake San Marcos 6.9 MwVI5Landslide

MM = Intensity on the Modified Mercalli scale

See also

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap  
Download coordinates as: KML  ·  GPX

Related Research Articles

Earthquake Shaking of the surface of the earth caused by a sudden release of energy in the crust

An earthquake is the shaking of the surface of the Earth resulting from a sudden release of energy in the Earth's lithosphere that creates seismic waves. Earthquakes can range in size from those that are so weak that they cannot be felt to those violent enough to propel objects into the air, and wreak destruction across entire cities. The seismicity, or seismic activity, of an area is the frequency, type, and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time. The word tremor is also used for non-earthquake seismic rumbling.

Megathrust earthquakes occur at subduction zones at destructive convergent plate boundaries, where one tectonic plate is forced underneath another, caused by slip along the thrust fault that forms the contact between them. These interplate earthquakes are the planet's most powerful, with moment magnitudes (Mw) that can exceed 9.0. Since 1900, all earthquakes of magnitude 9.0 or greater have been megathrust earthquakes. No other type of tectonic activity of terrestrial origin has produced earthquakes of this scale.

Middle America Trench A subduction zone in the eastern Pacific off the southwestern coast of Middle America

The Middle America Trench is a major subduction zone, an oceanic trench in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the southwestern coast of Middle America, stretching from central Mexico to Costa Rica. The trench is 1,700 miles (2,750 km) long and is 21,880 feet at its deepest point. The trench is the boundary between the Rivera, Cocos, and Nazca plates on one side and the North American and Caribbean plates on the other. It is the 18th-deepest trench in the world. Many large earthquakes have occurred in the area of the Middle America Trench.

1976 Guatemala earthquake February 1976 earthquake in Guatemala

The 1976 Guatemala earthquake struck on February 4 at 03:01:43 local time with a moment magnitude of 7.5. The shock was centered on the Motagua Fault, about 160 km northeast of Guatemala City at a depth of 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) near the town of Los Amates in the department of Izabal.

Motagua Fault

The Motagua Fault is a major, active left lateral-moving transform fault which cuts across Guatemala, continuing offshore along the southern Pacific coast of Mexico, returning onshore along the southernmost tip of Oaxaca, then continuing offshore until it merges with the Middle America Trench near Acapulco. It forms part of the tectonic boundary between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. It is considered the onshore continuation of the Swan Islands Transform Fault which runs under the Caribbean Sea.

The Sierra de Chuacús is situated in the central highlands of Guatemala, and runs southeast from El Quiché to Baja Verapaz. Its northwestern border is marked by the Chixoy River basin in Uspantán, which separates it from the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. Its eastern border is marked by the Salamá River which separates it from the Sierra de las Minas. Its southeastern border is defined by the Motagua River valley.

2009 Swan Islands earthquake

The 2009 Swan Islands earthquake occurred on May 28 at 02:24:45 AM local time with a moment magnitude of 7.3 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VII. The epicenter was located in the Caribbean Sea, 64 kilometres (40 mi) northeast of the island of Roatán, 19 miles northeast of Port Royal, Isla de Bahias, 15 miles northwest of Isla Barbaretta, and 130 kilometres (81 mi) north-northeast of La Ceiba. Three aftershocks followed the earthquake within magnitude 4 range.

The Chixoy-Polochic Fault, also known as Cuilco-Chixoy-Polochic Fault, is a major fault zone in Guatemala and southwestern Mexico. It runs in a light arc from the east coast of Guatemala to Chiapas, following the deep valleys of the Polochic River, Chixoy River and Cuilco River.

1982 El Salvador earthquake

The 1982 El Salvador earthquake occurred southeast of San Salvador on 19 June at 00:21 local time. This undersea earthquake struck offshore in the Pacific Ocean and had a surface wave magnitude of 7.2 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VII. Occurring adjacent to a subduction zone at the Middle America Trench, this normal-slip shock left at least 16 and as many as 43 people dead, and many injured, and also inflicted $5 million in damage.

2011 Lorca earthquake A big earthquake in Lorca (Murcia)

The 2011 Lorca earthquake was a moderate 5.1 Mw earthquake that occurred 6:47 p.m. CEST on 11 May 2011, near the town of Lorca, causing significant localized damage in the Region of Murcia, Spain, and panic among locals, and displacing many from their homes. The quake was preceded by a magnitude 4.4 foreshock at 17:05, that inflicted substantial damage to many older structures in the area, including the historical Espolón Tower of Lorca Castle, the Hermitage of San Clemente and the Convent of Virgen de Las Huertas. Three people were killed by a falling cornice. A total of nine deaths have been confirmed, while dozens are reported injured. The earthquake was the worst to hit the region since a 5.0 Mw tremor struck west of Albolote, Granada in 1956.

2012 Guerrero–Oaxaca earthquake earthquake

The 2012 Guerrero–Oaxaca earthquake struck southern Mexico with a moment magnitude of 7.4 at 12:02 local time on Tuesday, 20 March. Its epicenter was near Ometepec, in the border between the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. With a shallow focus of 15 to 20 km, the earthquake caused strong shaking over a large area along the Oaxaca–Guerrero border and the adjacent Pacific coastline. Significant tremors were felt in areas up to several hundred kilometers away, including Mexico City and also in Guatemala. Two people were killed and over 30,000 houses were damaged or destroyed.

This is a list of different types of earthquake.

1981 Playa Azul earthquake October 1981 earthquake in Mexico

The 1981 Playa Azul earthquake occurred on October 24, 1981, at 21:22 local time. It was located near Playa Azul, Michoacán, Mexico. The magnitude of the earthquake was Mw 7.2, or Ms 7.3. Three deaths were reported, two from Michoacán and one from Mexico City. Some buildings were damaged in both Michoacán and Mexico City. A small tsunami was registered in Acapulco with a maximum height of 9 cm.

A deep-focus earthquake in seismology is an earthquake with a hypocenter depth exceeding 300 km. They occur almost exclusively at convergent boundaries in association with subducted oceanic lithosphere. They occur along a dipping tabular zone beneath the subduction zone known as the Wadati–Benioff zone.

1816 Guatemala earthquake

The 1816 Guatemala earthquake occurred at 15:30 UTC on 22 July. It had an estimated magnitude of 7.5 to 7.75 on the Mw and a maximum perceived intensity of IX (Violent) on the Mercalli intensity scale. It was caused by movement on the Chixoy-Polochic Fault. The area affected by shaking up to intensity VII (Very strong) was at least 13,000 km2. At least 23 deaths were reported. The discovery of this earthquake 175 years after it occurred was based on study of historical documents, and is notable for showing that this portion of Guatemala, previously believed by many planners to be of low seismic risk, has experienced, and is at further risk of, very large earthquakes.


  1. "Studies related to seismicity and seismic hazard in Guatemala: seismic sources, past events and monitoring". Michigan Technological University. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  2. Cáceres, 2003
  3. INSIVUMEH. "Marco tectónico para Guatemala".
  4. 1 2 INSIVUMEH. "Principales eventos sísmicos del siglo XX en Guatemala".
  5. INSIVUMEH. "Marco tectónico para Guatemala".
  6. Moncada 2003
  7. "Terremoto de 1773 Guatemala". Provincia San Vicente Ferrer. Dominicos en Centroamérica. Retrieved 2010-02-27.