Experts Fret Over ‘Big One’ As More Earthquakes Hit Israel

Sunset at the Kinneret. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Earthquakes hit Israel for a second night overnight Wednesday – and, sitting atop the Syria-Africa Rift, the country is due for a “big one” at some point in the future. If and when that happens, it could mean tragedy for Israel, according to Tamir Levy, the chief engineer of the Israel Housing Society, a government-sponsored group that encourages good building practices.

“Many buildings in Israel were not constructed for standards to resist earthquakes,” he told Hadashot News. “Most of these buildings were constructed before 1980, and there are many of them in Israel.”

Programs have been enacted to refurbish buildings and bring them up to code, but more effort is needed, he said. “Without accelerated effort, many of the apartment buildings in Israel could suffer major damage in a serious earthquake, causing hundreds of casualties,” he added.

Overnight Wednesday, two earthquakes were felt in northern Israel, both measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale. No injuries or damage were reported. On Tuesday night and early Wednesday, four earthquakes were reported, the strongest one measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale. All the earthquakes were centered northeast of Teveria, inside the Kinneret.

Dr. Ron Nof, chief geologist in the Israel Geological Institute, said that that “big one” was unlikely to come in this round of earthquakes. “We have earthquakes here all the time, usually very mild that are not felt by people,” he told Hadashot News. “It’s not surprising to have a series of earthquakes like we have had in the past several nights.” The fact that a large quake occurred and was followed by smaller ones indicates that the geological activity that caused the quakes was simmering down.

Israel in recent years has sustained numerous small earthquakes, but the potential for a “big one” definitely exists, as Israel sits squarely on the Syria-Africa Rift, also known as the Great Rift Valley. An earthquake centered in Tzfas in 1837, according to geologists, hit at least 6.5 on the Richter scale, who evaluated the earthquake based on reported destruction resulting from the event. Thousands were killed in that earthquake, which was felt as far north as Beirut. Tzfas was almost completely destroyed, and there was substantial damage in Teveria and in Arab villages in the Galilee. Another large earthquake centered around Yericho took place in 1927, destroying hundreds of structures and killing at least 300.

Israel has invested a great deal of money in recent years upgrading apartments, offices and factories to be able to withstand earthquakes. The Tama 38 program, specifically designed to upgrade older buildings to meet modern earthquake conditions, has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for the upgrade of thousands of buildings around the country.

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