Israel Prepares for a Major Earthquake

The Health Ministry has advised hospitals in the north to prepare for a major earthquake. More than 500 tremors were recorded since February 15.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 15:04

Locating the Dead Sea Fault
Locating the Dead Sea Fault
Israel News Photo: (file)

Increased seismic activity in the region has prompted the Health Ministry to advise hospitals in the north of the country to prepare for a major earthquake.

The prospect didn't seem to faze National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who kibitzed Monday on Voice of Israel government radio's midday news program, saying he's "more afraid of a political earthquake" than of a major natural disaster.

Nonetheless, the issue is one that Ben Eliezer takes seriously, as do others. The Health Ministry warning came in response to a government report that a major earthquake in the Galilee may be on the way.

Ben Eliezer noted that literally hundreds of very weak tremors have been registered in the past decades. The minister also warned cabinet ministers a little over a week ago that the irregular seismic activity has been affecting southern Lebanon.

According to Rami Hopsteter, director of the Geophysical Institute of Israel, hundreds of tremors have hit the region since February 15, in a series of four waves that emanated from southern Lebanon.

The tremors were felt in an area some 10 to 15 kilometers west of Metulla and Kiryat Shmona in Israel, and 20 kilometers east of Tyre, in Lebanon.

In an exclusive interview with Israel National News, Hopsteter said the pattern of the quakes was unusual, one that had never been seen before in the region.

"Had you been checking the activity in early February you would have seen that the average was one or two events per year, really low activity," he said. "Then suddenly there was this very pronounced activity, with the strength going up and down, and this has happened four times. Such activity, the up and down activity, sometimes ends with a strong event," he noted.

Hopsteter said the pattern is one that is sometimes seen by seismologists in New Zealand and Japan "and elsewhere, particularly in the Pacific region, where it is much more active." But along the Dead Sea Fault, where Israel is located, the pattern has never before been recorded.

So how likely is it that Israel will get hit with a major earthquake?

"We cannot say numbers," Hopsteter stressed. "But it is clear that the probability is now much higher.  It may occur. And different organizations should do what they can to minimize damage in any event.  The Health Ministry decided, look, there is this report and let's just make sure everything is in order.  That was smart."

There is no reason to break out the alarm bells, however, he hastened to emphasize.  "In any case, you have to do it, to prepare for natural disasters. Look, there is a chance that a strong quake could occur. So do something about it and get ready.

A Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On
More than 500 tremors have been recorded by seismic registers in the region since mid-February, and among them have been a number of significant earthquakes in Israel.

Four moderate quakes shook the northern region on June 12, all originating in southern Lebanon and ranging from 3.9 to 4.2 on the Richter scale. Those were followed by another wave of more than 70 aftershocks, all within a two or three-day period, according to Hopsteter.  There were also seven tremors since June 13, which were felt by residents of the Galilee.

In March 2008, an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale was felt throughout much of northern and central Israel, the strongest quake to hit the country in years. Several days prior to it, a temblor measuring 4 on the Richter scale shook the Jewish State from Kiryat Shmona to Jerusalem, also originating in Lebanon.

On July 11, 1927, an earthquake that registered 6.2 on the Richter scale caused major havoc on both sides of the Jordan River, in the northern Dead Sea area, said Hopsteter. He explained that 285 people were killed, 985 others were wounded and thousands of buildings were damaged and destroyed. "A similar event would affect all neighboring areas," he commented.

The bottom line, he said bluntly, was this: "If you can do something at home or in an office to prevent damage, just do it."