On December 7, 1988, at 11:41 a.m. local time a magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook northwestern Armenia and was followed four minutes later by a magnitude 5.8 aftershock. Swarms of aftershocks, some as large as magnitude 5.0, continued for months in the area around Spitak. The earthquakes hit an area 80 km in diameter comprising the towns of Leninakan, Spitak, Stepanavan, and Kirovakan in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The deaths and damage that the December 1988 earthquake caused made it the largest earthquake disaster since the 1976 magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Tangshan, China that killed more than 240,000 people. The Town of Spitak (population 25,000) was nearly leveled and more than half of the structures in the City of Leninakan (population 250,000) were damaged or destroyed. Damage also occurred in Stepanavan and Kirovakan and More than 20 towns and 342 villages were affected and 58 of them were completely destroyed. . Direct economic losses were put at $14.2 billion (U.S.) at the United Nations official exchange rate. Twenty-five thousand were killed and 15,000 were injured by the earthquake. In addition 517,000 people were made homeless.