Earthquakes and Natural Disasters

More on the Great Quake of 2004

I’m glad that the US networks are finally devoting more time to this disaster. It’s a shame that the first channel to break the news here is the Weather Channel. The death toll after two days is up around 50,000 people. When you consider just how widespread the damage is and how many countries are involved, this number should top 100,000 before all is said and done.

You can read some BBC readers personal stories from the tragedy here.
Is this the deadliest earthquake-related disaster ever? Heck no. Not even the deadliest in the last 100 years. That would be the Tangshan Earthquake of July 28, 1976. M7.8, 242,419 people killed (official, but estimates peg it closer to 655,000), the quake was centered below that city, 12.8 percent of the city of Tangshan’s population was killed, Over 80 percent of those buried in the rubble were rescued, Injuries from the earthquake caused 2,200 people to become paraplegics. The largest death toll ever? Shansi, China with the death toll over 830,000 in 1556.

I think what makes the Andaman-Nicobar Islands Earthquake interesting is that not only was it 9.0 big, but that its resulting Tsunami caused so many deaths. Most larger earthquakes (high 8’s and 9’s) are only really found in subduction zones and those are not usually associated with population centers, and thus usually only kill a few thousand (the Great Chile Quake of 1960 (M9.5) only killed about 5,000 – The Good Friday Quake of 1964 (M9.2) only 114). Most catastrophic quakes like the Tangshan Quake are in the 6 to high 7 range. Heck, I have been in a 7.1 in the Bay Area and a 6.6 in Japan and have been mildly inconvenienced. Yet when a quake of that size hits Iran, Turkey, or other places with little or no Earthquake construction guidelines, devastation reigns.

One also must consider that this was the first Tsunami to hit the Indian Ocean since Krakatoa exploded in 1883. Most people had no idea why the water suddenly receded. However people in Hawaii or other Pacific islands would have run for their lives since they have been hit several times in the last 40 years. I just hope people don’t consider this a once a century event and fail to set up adequate warning systems so this won’t happen again.