Report: Kahlon to Allocate Billions to Earthquake-Proof Buildings

YERUSHALAYIM -
View of damage caused to houses in the city of Teveria, in northern Israel, after earthquakes shook the area on Monday. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has promised to allocate “billions” to strengthen buildings in northern and southern Israel which could be vulnerable to collapse in the wake of a strong earthquake, Hadashot News reported. The report quoted Kahlon as saying that the plan would be brought to the government – and approved – next week.

A final sum to be allocated for the plan has yet to be decided, the report said, but after meeting with local officials, including Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, it’s clear that the plan will cost billions of shekels. Officials are set to meet on Wednesday to discuss developing emergency plans that would be enacted in the event of a major earthquake, and in advance of that meeting, Hadashot News broadcast documents in which officials have classified over 1,600 schools as being in danger of collapse.

The study that the documents were based on was conducted three years ago, but since that time, only 53 buildings have been brought up to code. The documents also discussed 108 factories where hazardous materials are handled; not one has been improved yet, Hadashot News said.

Yet another earthquake hit northern Israel Monday. Like the more than a dozen that Israel has experienced in the past week, this one, too, was a mild one, measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale. But scientists are agreed that the country, sitting atop the Syria-Africa Rift, 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.

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 Jericho 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.