The forces that have and continue to shape our planet are constantly in play beneath our feet as tectonic plates slide and dive beneath each other. Never is this underground, moving jigsaw puzzle more noticeable than when an earthquake strikes, sending seismic waves through the earth, often demolishing buildings and other structures in a wide radius. This millennium has seen its fair share of temblors, from the colossal magnitude-9.1 quake that shook Indonesia, killing 233,000 people in 2004, to the immense 2008 earthquake that struck China's Sichuan province, taking thousands of lives, to the powerful earthquake and tsunami duo that devastated northern Japan in 2011.
(The image shows destruction from a less powerful earthquake, a magnitude-5.9 temblor that struck Virginia on Aug. 23, 2011; shaking from the quake could be felt as far away as New York City, Toronto and other eastern cities.)
Moment of Impact: Kalutara, Sri Lanka
This natural color, 60-centimeter (2-foot) high-resolution QuickBird satellite image, shows receding waters from the Tsunami, which struck on Dec. 26, 2004, on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka. Imagery was collected at 10:20 a.m. local time, slightly less than four hours after the 6:28 a.m. (local Sri Lanka time) earthquake and shortly after the moment of tsunami impact.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2005 that the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami reached 275,950 people.
Killer Waves Approaching
Caroline and J.T. Malatesta of Mountain Brook, Ala. survived the killer Asian tsunami while on vacation in Thailand. This mountaintop photo was taken Dec. 26, 2004 from about 400 feet above the sea.
Water Flows through the streets of Sri Lanka
Tidal waves wash through houses at Maddampegama, about 60 kilometers (38 miles) south of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2004. Massive waves triggered by earthquakes crashed into villages along a wide stretch of Sri Lankan coast on Sunday, killing more than 2,100 people and displacing a million others.
A car in Sri Lanka wrecked and relocated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
In May 2008, a devastating magnitude-8.0 earthquake struck Sichuan province in China, killing thousands. The quake tore apart this road.
Rubble in Sichuan
A crumbled building in the city of Zhuyuan after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Refuge from destruction
A Sichuan woman in an emergency tent after the 2008 earthquake. With buildings damaged and destroyed, residents moved into tents and temporary shelters.
Haiti is hit
In January 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti. The epicenter was right at Port-au-Prince, where many buildings were not up to code.
The Haiti quake caused massive landslides along the coast. This photo was taken near Nan Diamant.
Collapse in Haiti
Two residents walk by a building that was once two or three stories. According to the USGS, most buildings collapsed within 10 seconds, giving people inside little time to escape.