NIS 3.5b. to go to reinforcement of buildings against quake

Israel feels 6.8 tremor from Rhodes.

Earthquake GEN 224.88 (photo credit: )
Earthquake GEN 224.88
(photo credit: )
National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer will propose at the next cabinet meeting earmarking NIS 3.5 billion toward reinforcing buildings against a major earthquake along the Dead Sea fault, deemed inevitable by many experts. Ben-Eliezer submitted the plan to a parliamentary subcommittee on Tuesday. "This proposal is timely and set within budget constraints," he said in an e-mailed statement. On Tuesday morning, Israel trembled as an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale traveled outward from its epicenter near the Greek island of Rhodes. Although no casualties or damage were reported, the effects were felt in northern and central parts of the country at 6:35 a.m. Greece reported one casualty, a 56-year-old woman killed while attempting to flee down a flight of stairs. Ben-Eliezer's proposal is based on a comprehensive study conducted by the National Earthquake Preparedness Committee, which was established by the Knesset in 1999 after the Izmit earthquake struck Turkey, leaving tens of thousands dead and many more injured and homeless. "The only real solution for preventing damage from earthquakes, not only in Israel, is to make sure that buildings will sustain ground motion," committee chairman Dr. Avi Shapira told The Jerusalem Post. In 1975, a building code was introduced by the Knesset to ensure that structures were designed to endure such natural disasters. However, much of the construction in the country occurred before the code was passed, and these buildings have not been equipped to sustain earthquakes. Therefore, the government issued National Plan #38 to motivate its citizens to reinforce their property, promising, among other things, additional building rights and exemption from certain taxes. The potential budget increase will be spread over 25 years, with NIS 4 million channeled toward raising public awareness of National Plan #38 in the first two years. Although careful not to discount the severity of the geological threat, experts insisted that Tuesday's tremor had minimal implications for Israel and did not foreshadow impending disaster - at least, no more so than has already been predicted. "The area is pretty active. Most of [the earthquakes] are small, but from time to time you have a large earthquake and it's widely felt," said Rami Hostetter, director of the Seismology Division of the Geophysical Institute of Israel. "I would not consider this to mean any type of doomsday." Shapira echoed his sentiments. "The earthquake that happened Tuesday morning we don't even count as in the region," Shapira said. "It's really far away from us. It was deep and strong, and that's why it was felt for a very long distance." Nevertheless, Israel's position along the Dead Sea fault, which runs from the south of Turkey to the southern tip of Sinai and encompasses Israel, makes the threat of earthquakes a grave reality. Though it is impossible to predict when or where the next significant earthquake will occur, geological examinations of the region support the conviction that it is unavoidable. "There are roughly 15 million people living along the Dead Sea fault, and we will all be affected by the major earthquake that will eventually occur here," Shapira said. "It could really happen at any moment, but it will happen." Israel's last destructive earthquake emanated from an epicenter in the northern Dead Sea in 1927, leaving approximately 300 people in Jerusalem and nearby Jericho dead. The region was sparsely inhabited at that time, and had the same event occurred today, the consequences would likely have been far more severe. In light of this, Shapira has championed the NIS 3.5 billion program as critical, urging that strengthening the country's buildings is the main precaution necessary to minimize the damage of stronger earthquakes. Aside from that, he said, all that can really be done is to respond effectively to whatever transpires. "Unfortunately we are a rather trained society for emergency situations," Shapira said. "We are trained to respond, and in this respect, compared to other countries in the world, we are relatively prepared." Northern Israel and southern Lebanon face increasing odds they will be struck by a significant earthquake, according to Health Ministry data. About 500 earthquakes measuring less than 2 on the Richter scale have occurred in southern Lebanon in the last three months. The last major earthquake to strike the region killed more than 300 people and destroyed 1,000 buildings when it hit the Dead Sea area in 1927, the Geophysical Institute of Israel said. In Lebanon, a tremor in 1956 caused 136 deaths and leveled 6,000 buildings. Bloomberg contributed to this report.