'Israel no better prepared for major earthquake than Haiti'

University of Haifa expert suggests "looking at the numbers rather than fooling ourselves."

February 24, 2010 00:48
1 minute read.

Hait rubble . (photo credit: AP)

 Israel does not have much more ability to cope with a major earthquake than Haiti had, maintains Dr. Ephraim Laor of the University of Haifa.

“I know the health system disagrees, but I suggest looking at the numbers rather than fooling ourselves,” said Laor, formerly head of the government steering committee for earthquake preparedness, on Tuesday.

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An expert in coping with disasters, he said many Israelis assume that if the country is able to send rescue workers and medical teams to the other side of the world and excel in saving lives, it must be highly capable of coping with a major earthquake, which according to scientists is overdue. But Laor, who has just returned from Haiti, said much more is needed.

“It is true that we know the job and are always praised for this work, but when we help abroad, we handle only a tiny part of the disaster. If a quake on the scale of Haiti’s occurs here, our rescue and medical forces will be overwhelmed,” he said.

The geological formations below the surface in Haiti are similar to those in Israel, he said. In 1995, an earthquake of a similar magnitude struck Nueiba in the Sinai Peninsula, but even Eilat, 70 kilometers to the north, was unaffected, he said.

Israel has some 400,000 buildings that are not earthquake resistant, and “we know that many public buildings are less resilient than dwellings,” he said, pointing a finger at government inaction. “Programs for reinforcing structures were approved back in 2006, but the work has still not begun. We must understand that a major earthquake could happen here at any moment.”

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