Ben-Gurion University researchers urge earthquake preparedness

"The ground is shaking" is not just a political metaphor anymore; it may also be a reality soon in Israel. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are predicting a major earthquake following the 80-year anniversary of the last destructive earthquake that hit Israel. Dr. Ron Avni, who specializes in the study of earthquakes, warned on Sunday that approximately 17 percent of older Jerusalem buildings constructed around the time of the state's founding are likely to be harmed by the quake. In Tel Aviv, 9% of the buildings dating back to Israel's independence are expected to be damaged. Israel's last earthquake struck the northern Dead Sea on July 11, 1927, and hit a 6.25 on the Richter scale. The blast killed almost 300 people both inside the country and across the Jordan River. While the statistical data predicts another quake in 2011, 84 years from the previous upheaval, Dr. Avni urged caution. "The 80-year birthday of the last earthquake brings us into a new period called 'the range of statistical error,'" he said. "[From] what we know regarding the previous destructive earthquake, the time that another destructive earthquake will return, like what occurred in 1927, is about 100 years." Since Israel does not have much experience with earthquakes, Dr. Avni has based his assessments on statistical data from quakes in central Europe, where earthquakes occur about every 10 years. The region is an appropriate model for determining potential building damage in Israel because the style construction there is similar. Of the 17% of older buildings likely to be damaged, Avni expects 45% to suffer only light damage, such as cracks in the cement and plastic walls, but no structural damage; however, 5% would suffer heavy damage requiring immediate evacuation, as well as significant repairs and investments amounting to almost half the building's value. Another 5% of the buildings would be completely destroyed, Avni predicts. Of the newer buildings that are in good condition and are only 30 years old, only 11% are likely to be damaged. Of these, half would experience light damage and half would suffer heavy damage. In Beersheba, researchers predict that only 2% of the older buildings would be damaged. Since the 18th century, Israel's three most destructive earthquakes occurred in 1759, 1837, and 1927. The 1837 earthquake that obliterated Safed caused more than 5,000 deaths. The government has appointed a committee to explain to the public how best to prepare for a major earthquake, whether at home, outside or in a car. The information is posted on the government Web site at