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DEVASTATED Christchurch is coming to terms this week with the horrific earthquake that shattered the New Zealand city and killed at least 159 residents.

The bodies of some victims may never be recovered because they were pulverised by buildings that collapsed around them and the final death toll is likely to be around 240.

The 6.3 magnitude quake struck within a few miles of central Christchurch when the city was bustling with workers, shoppers and tourists going about their weekday afternoon activities.

It brought down or severely damaged office towers, churches and thousands of homes and will forever be remembered as one of the country's darkest days.

But for centuries natural disasters have etched their names into history, and earthquakes in particular are one of the most feared kinds.

We look at some of the most destructive.

SOUTHERN CHILE (1960) On May 22, 1960, the strongest earthquake ever recorded hit Chile with a magnitude 9.5 on the Richter scale. The most severe damage occurred in the Valdivia and Puerto Montt areas. Approximately 1,655 people were killed, 3,000 injured, 2,000,000 left homeless, with EUR400million damage caused.

A massive tsunami spread across the Pacific Ocean, causing 61 deaths and EUR55million damage in Hawaii, 138 deaths and EUR35million damage in Japan, 32 dead or missing in the Philippines, and EUR361,000 damage to the west coast of the United States.

TANSHAN (HEBEI), CHINA (1976) Chinese villagers have long remembered 1976 as "the year of the curse". On July 27, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck China's Tanshan region. It lasted 10 seconds and featured aftershocks as strong as 8.2 on the Richter scale.

This was devastating for a population of around 15 million, leaving between 500,000 to 800,000 dead.

But despite scientists having a poor record in terms of predicting earthquakes the Tanshan was one that benefited greatly from an early prediction.

Scientists are certain that many more would've died if the area hadn't received early warning from the State Seismological Bureau Analysis and Prediction Department.

The organisation predicted an earthquake would occur between mid-July and early August. It took 60 people, including the esteemed official, Wang Chunging, to warn the population and prepare for the disaster.

In all, there was 10 billion yen in total damage, and an estimated 85% of the buildings in Tanshan were destroyed. The Communist Party at the time of the incident turned down any international aid as the government wanted to be self-reliant and not depend on Western funds.

HAIYUAN COUNTY, CHINA (1920) Haiyuan (Ningxia) suffered a quake of 8.5 magnitude on December 16 and is often referred to as the Gensu earthquake (at the time, Ningxia was part of the Gensu province). …