Light tremors felt on Tuesday may be 'wake-up call'

Harmless 4.2 quake centered in northern Dead Sea; but massive tremor long overdue, experts say.

dead sea 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dead sea 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Two tremors rocked the country, particularly the area from Jerusalem eastward, at approximately 11:20 a.m. on Tuesday, but while in this case Israel escaped without casualties damage, some say that Tuesday's tremor should serve as a reminder of the potential for major seismic activity in Israel - and of the degree to which we are unprepared for it. One quake was measured at 3.0 and the second, which followed around ten minutes later, was measured at 4.2 on the Richter scale; its epicenter was in the northern part of the Dead Sea. Residents as far north as Haifa and as far south as Beersheba reported feeling the two tremors. There were no reports of injuries or significant damage, although Jerusalem-area residents said that buildings shook, windows rattled, and in a few cases - items fell off shelves. The earthquake was also felt throughout western Jordan, including in Amman. Tel Aviv University's Dr. Shmuel Marco noted that the Syrian-African Rift is a high-risk location for earthquakes and noted that a major earthquake in the region was long overdue. The last strong earthquake in the area was in 1033. The head of the Israel Building and Infrastructures Engineers, Dr. Yoav Sarna, said that although Israel was expected to suffer from an earthquake measuring between six and seven on the Richter Scale, the Israeli government had not yet adopted measures to prepare the country for such a scenario. According to Sarna, most of the national initiative to encourage strengthening existing buildings against earthquakes and to ensure that future buildings will be built using "earthquake-resistant" technology has seen fruition in Tel Aviv - an area in which the earthquake risk is relatively low. Sarna said, however, he hoped that Tuesday's earthquake had released some pressure on the fault line, and could thus reduce the magnitude of the next major earthquake. A 6.0 earthquake - almost 100 times the strength of Tuesday's earthquake - releases a similar amount of force underground as one megaton of TNT and can cause significant damage within a 150 kilometer radius of the epicenter. The last such earthquake hit Israel in 1927, killing at least 500 people. A 2004 Knesset committee warned that should a major earthquake of a similar scale hit Israel today, the death toll could exceed 10,000. The last substantial quake in the area occurred in February 2004, and was measured at 5.2 on the Richter scale, causing light damage and resulting in the hospitalization of over a dozen people for shock. Judy Siegel and AP contributed to this report.