Deadly tremor

An earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale has struck Christchurch in New Zealand. Around 113 people have been killed and several hundreds are still missing. Rescue workers are working round the clock to save lives but hopes are fading. The destruction has been extensive. Tuesday’s earthquake is the deadliest to hit New Zealand since 1931 when a tremor killed 236 people. It was less intense than the one which hit Christchurch six months ago. The September 2010 earthquake measured 7 on the Richter scale but no lives were lost. That seismic event had its epicentre 40 ku west of the town. The epicentre of the latest tremor was just 10 ku outside the city. Scores of buildings which were perhaps weakened in the earthquake last year were reduced to dust when hit by another one. Seismologists say that the latest earthquake has caused serious destruction because it was very shallow — only 5 ku underground unlike the one in September which was much deeper inside the earth. The death toll is expected to rise and many fear that casualties could surpass those in the 1931 quake.

New Zealand lies in the volcano and earthquake prone Ring of Fire, an area circling virtually the entire Pacific Rim where about 90 per cent of the world’s earthquakes and 80 per cent of the largest earthquakes occur. New Zealand experiences around 14,000 tremors each year; most of them are minor and not felt. New Zealanders are therefore no strangers to earthquakes and generally take them in their stride. This was not the case on Tuesday as the tremor jolted their lives like never before.

Earthquakes are impossible to predict. But their devastation can be limited. New Zealand has put in place building codes to minimise damage when tremors happen. It has some of the strongest building codes in the world and these are respected by its citizens.
Devastation would have been far greater when the ground moved on Tuesday had the country not strengthened its buildings. Compare this to the situation in India where preparedness even for disasters that can be predicted is poor. Cyclones hit India’s coast annually and their advance is predicted. But local communities are never prepared for disaster. More often than not, they have not even recovered from the previous disaster when another strikes. The efficiency with which New Zealand authorities are responding to the disaster should serve as a model for other countries.

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