SAN FRANCISCO (CBS News) ― It can be difficult to grasp the power of Friday’s earthquake. The dramatic video and photos coming out of Japan paint a devastating picture, but in order really understand the magnitude of this event — you have to look at the numbers.

To gain some perspective, the U.S. Geological Survey compared Japan’s earthquake with two well known quakes: last year’s earthquake in Haiti and the historic 1906 San Francisco quake.

The USGS calculated Friday’s magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan to be 700 times stronger than Haiti’s recent magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which devastated Port-au-Prince and killed more than 300,000 people.

When comparing to the 1906 earthquake, USGS Seismologist Lucy Jones figured that Japan’s earthquake was equivalent to 30 of the devestating San Francisco earthquakes. That earthquake, a magnitude 7.7, struck just after 5 a.m. on April 18. It killed more than 3,000 people and left 225,000 homeless. A total of 28,000 buildings were destroyed.

>> Photo Gallery: 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

>>Photo Gallery: Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

Friday’s 8.9 magnitude quake sparked what scientists are now calling the Honshu tsunami, which traveled across the Pacific Ocean at a rate of more than 400 miles per hour. Tsunami warnings went up around the Pacific Rim as coastal residents in countries from Japan to the United States fled for higher ground.

Japan’s quake now ranks as the fifth most powerful earthquake since 1900. Although the worst of the damage and still-uncertain death toll appears to be limited to Japan, this earthquake has made its mark on world history.

(© 2011 CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (2)
  1. tn says:

    Prayers to Japan and the people this tsunami affected. Sidebar question: just wondering if there were any reports of animals “acting” weird before either of the catastrophes hit?

  2. JoMama says:

    There wasn’t a Richter Sacle in 1906, so a magnitude of 7.7 is only a guess. Some Seismologists believe it was 7.9, which would have made the one in Japan 70 times stronger than the 1906 earthquake.
    My prayers are for the Japanese people.

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