A bigger earthquake than those felt by Israelis over the past couple of days is sure to come – and Israelis should be ready for power outages and if necessary to leave their homes. So warned Amotz Agnon, professor at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Thursday.
In an interview conducted by the Israel Project, Agnon said that the “when, how bad and where” are not clear, but additional and more severe earthquakes are sure to come.
Israelis have felt three earthquakes over the past two days; additional ones were recorded by instruments of the Geophysical Institute of Israel.
On Thursday an earthquake measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale was reported in the cities of Tiberias and Safed in northern Israel. On Wednesday night Haifa and Western Galilee region residents felt a quake measuring 4.5, and earlier Wednesday, residents of the same region felt a tremor placed at 4.1 on the Richter scale. No damage or injuries were reported.
“We had such a small crisis in about the same place [as the recent quakes] five years ago in the north-western part of the Sea of Galilee, which is a hot spot that generates more friction. But we cannot tell you if it will deteriorate or give rise to a devastating event – or if it’s just another one of these episodes that happens about once every ten years,” he said.
“We are sitting on a place that has generated earthquakes in the past... they are centered on this belt which we call a plate boundary or rift – the Dead Sea rift – and it has generated in the geological past and even in the historical past, earthquakes that were very devastating,” he noted, referring to the 1837 magnitude-6.5 earthquake which struck the Galilee, killing an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people.
Asked how civilians can prepare for a more serious earthquake, Agnon recommended that they stock up on items such as torches, batteries and portable stoves in preparation for a few days without electricity, gas and water. People should also find out if the buildings they live in would be safe in the event of an earthquake. In addition, he recommends that parents educate their children about what to do in case of an emergency.
Geologist Dr. Ariel Hyman told Walla News on Thursday that there is a big chance of a strong earthquake hitting Israel and that hundreds of people are likely to die in such a situation.
WHILE EARTHQUAKES in the region tend to be small, it is not – as mentioned by Agnon – immune to larger and deadlier quakes.
In 1927, for example, an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale shook the Holy Land. The epicenter was in the northern part of the Dead Sea, inflicting most of the damage on Jericho, Jerusalem, Tiberias and Nablus. More than 500 people were killed and 700 were injured. The Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sustained significant damage; the tower of the Augusta Victoria Hospital on Mount Scopus collapsed.
A 2016 report by Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Home-Front Readiness Subcommittee found that if Israel were to be struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, an estimated 7,000 people would be killed, another 8,600 injured and 377,000 would be left homeless. In addition, the country could face damages of up to NIS 200 billion.
In addition to buildings being destroyed, the damage to critical infrastructures such as electricity, water and communication is expected to be great. According to Israel’s National Emergency Authority, there are 80,000 buildings, including schools and hospitals, over three stories high that were built before 1980, and therefore not constructed to current standards.
Since the complication of the report, several steps have been taken to improve the country’s readiness.
Last May, the government announced that Canadian company Nanometrics had been selected to install an early- warning earthquake system in the Dead Sea Valley, the Jordan Valley and the Haifa area – all earthquake-prone regions. At the same time, Israel’s Geophysical Institute said it was upgrading all of its seismic systems.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman noted Thursday that last year his ministry carried out the biggest drill in preparation for an earthquake and “learned many lessons, one of which was the need for a multi-year defense plan for the home front and especially for the north.” This month, he said, he would present it to the cabinet and is confident that the plan, which addresses threats posed by both war and earthquakes, will receive the green light.
The big question is whether it will be implemented in time.Anna Ahronheim and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.
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