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Geological experts said on Tuesday that a significant earthquake in the region could cause "catastrophic damage," leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and as many as 16,000 Israelis dead, Army Radio reported.
The doomsday scenario was raised at a meeting of experts in Ashdod devoted to developing responses to a geological event in the county.
Minor quakes - relief or warning?
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avi Bakar, former Home Front Command chief, said Israel was ill-prepared to deal with a large quake. "It is a potential catastrophe that needs much advanced preparation in order to minimize the damage, because there is no way to prevent an earthquake."
The greatest risk is from collapsing structures, Bakar said.
Official bodies in Israel have long been aware of the potential danger, and a national steering committee, including Hofstetter and the Geophysical Institute, was formed in 2002 to help prepare the country in a number of ways for an earthquake.
Many different organizations, various ministries, police and fire departments, the army's Home Front Command, and research institutes took part in the committee. Numerous recommendations were made, including educating the public about taking necessary security measures, teaching about earthquakes in schools, working with other countries to share information and conducting research.
But the most prevalent point spoken about is the necessity of reinforcing buildings.
Dr. Efraim Laor, who heads the National Steering Committee for Earthquake Readiness in Israel and is chairman of the Fast Israeli Rescue & Search Team told The Jerusalem Post in September that more than 400,000 buildings, schools, premises and kindergartens have had buildings on site reinforced, as well as several industrial buildings, many of which handle hazardous materials. However, countless structures remain unfortified.
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the necessary measures are low on the budgetary agenda, and thus cost prohibitive at the present time.
"Estimations show that thousands could be affected in the event of an earthquake, but until a disaster does occur, it is unlikely measures will be considered in budget decisions," Ben-Eliezer said.
Three earthquakes in the 4 to 4.5 range of the Richter scale in August and September caused no injury and only slight damages.
Israel is positioned along a major fault line running through the Dead Sea Basin, and while the country has not faced a high-magnitude earthquake since the early 20th century, authorities have warned that the "big one" is due.