Historical Tsunamis

Records indicate that since the late sixteenth century, large earthquakes centered off the Peruvian coast have generated several destructive tsunamis (1586, 1604, 1647, 1687, 1746, 1865, 1868, 1914, 1942, 1960, 1966, 1996). Of those listed, five were particularly destructive. These include the 1586, 1604, 1687 and 1746 tsunamis, as well as the 1868 Arica tsunami, discussed in a separate section. Unfortunately, for the sake of tsunami research, very little is known about these four tsunamis. The few existing written records concerning the source earthquakes mention unusual activities of the sea following the shocks, but give few specifics. The following text gives a brief description of what little information exists about these events.

The 1586 Tsunami

This event apparently took place on July 9, 1586, after a magnitude 8.6 earthquake leveled the portion of central Peru in the vicinity of Callao and Lima. The tsunami generated by this earthquake reportedly produced 24 meters of runup, and hundreds of meters of inundation at Callao. Records indicate that the waves reached an estimated 84 feet in height, and up to 6 miles of inland inundation in some locations, though none of this can be confirmed. This tsunami also produced two meters of runup in Japan, where they apparently took better notice of such things in the sixteenth century.

The 1604 Tsunami

On November 24, 1604, what is considered to be the largest earthquake to strike Peru in recent times leveled most of southern Peru, including the cities of Arica, and Camana. The earthquake, of an estimated magnitude between 8.5 to 9.0, generated a large tsunami that affected a 900 to 1200 miles of the South American coast. The waves caused great destruction to all ports in the South of Peru, especially at Camana, and Arica, that later of which was washed away completely by the waves. Records indicate that the tsunami runup reached 16 meters, with up to 10 kilometers of inundation (another questionable value). This tsunami caused destruction at ports in Chile as well, but ports in the north of Peru reported little if any damage form the waves.

The 1687 Tsunami

On October 20-21, 1687, two large earthquakes, with magnitudes estimated at 8.0 and 8.4, struck the area surrounding Lima within two hours of each other. The second of these apparently generated a tsunami that produced 5 to 10 meters of runup at Callao. The tsunami' effects were more severe at the ports of Canete, Chicha, Pisco and Puerto Caballas, located slightly further south along the Peruvian coast. Pisco reported disappeared, a victim of the waves. At least 500 people died as a result of this tsunami, and its effects were felt as far away as Japan.

The 1746 Tsunami

The October 28, 1746 earthquake was reportedly the largest to strike central Peru in recorded history. This magnitude 8.0 to 8.6 quake completely destroyed the cities of Lima, Callao, Chanacay, and everything else along the central Peruvian coast. Reportedly half an hour following the shock, a large tsunami struck the shore causing great damage at all Peruvian ports. Callao received the worst blow, with a 24 meter runup, and 5 kilometer inundation that sank all 23 boats in the harbor, and completely destroyed the town. Eye witness accounts from the event indicate that the first of the two waves to strike Callao was up to 80 feet high. Another account mentions that the tsunami transported a boat one mile inland. In total, the combined death toll from the earthquake and tsunami exceeded 4,000. The tsunami was also noticed at Acapulco, Mexico.

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