The earthquake hit in the early afternoon off the coast of Honshu, Japan’s most populous island, triggering unprecedented destruction. Ninety percent of the houses in a score of seaside towns collapsed in seconds. Passenger trains fell off railway bridges and plunged into the sea. A few minutes later, a 35-foot-high tsunami rolled in, sweeping away cars, houses and thousands of people, and burying entire towns in mud. Then came fires, fanned by winds and fueled by flimsy wooden houses, reducing much of what remained to ashes.
The date was Sept. 1, 1923.
The rest—including 145,000 deaths, the burning of more than half of Tokyo, and a "dragon twist (that is, "a freak tornado of fire")—right here.