10/8/2005 Kashmir Quake

Updated 10/29/2005

The strongest earthquake to hit Pakistan in over a century hit in the middle of the morning on Saturday October 8 at 8:50 AM local time (03:50 UTC). With a magnitude of 7.6, it caused extensive damage and thousands of casualties throughout Kashmir. The epicenter was near the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir, Muzaffarabad.

Death tolls have been estimated at over 79,000, with thousands more injured and, according to the UN, 3 million in need of shelter. Many villages and towns have been reduced to rubble. At least 400 children were killed when two schools collapsed. Whole families have been wiped out. An upscale apartment building in Islamabad, 60 miles away collapsed. With over a dozen aftershocks of at least Magnitude 5.5 in the first week after the quake, many were afraid to sleep inside, despite the bad weather. People have been arriving in the cities, having walked from their mountain villages where they say no aid had arrived after days of waiting.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told the BBC that Pakistan needed "massive cargo helicopter support" and aid supplies. Aid has been offered from many countries. The US has offered helicopters, which are in need because rescue vehicles can't reach many areas because landslides have blocked roads. People were digging through the rubble by hand in heavy rain to try to find survivors. Ten days after the quake the Pakistani government said they had reached most, but not all the areas affected. However, they estimate that 20% of the affected area hadn't receives any shelter or supplies. Even 3 weeks afterwards, the World Food Programme estimates that 500,000 people haven't received any aid at all. The international community has provided 90 helicopters to help get supplies to remote areas and evacuate the wounded. Thousands of injured are still waiting for help in inaccessible areas. Helicopters cannot reach all of them due to high altitude, rugged terrain and bad weather. For many people, the only reliable way to get injured people out or supplies in, is on foot or mule. 30 field hospitals have been established but serious cases need to reach a major hospital in a city and that is still difficult. There are fears that people could develop gangrene due to lack of attention and that disease could spread due to lack of clean water and sanitary facilities.

An international donors conference pledged over $500 million dollars in aid, but only about 20% has been delivered so far. Meanwhile the UN is running out of funds for their efforts and will have to scale back if more money is not made available. The most serious problem, after the immediate rescue efforts, is lack of shelter. Many families are trying to stay on their land, but with the oncoming Himalayan winter, lack of adequate housing is a major problem.

Private charities who depend on individual contributions have noted a reduced level of giving from the United States, following the massive outpouring of donations for Hurricane Katrina victims last month and the tsunami last year. However, contributions and volunteers in India and Pakistan have been very substantial. In the Indian administered areas some of the first to respond were Kashmiri independence groups. Throughout the region, people have turned out to do whatever they can, even before the government has been able to reach many areas. Heavy rains have hampered relief efforts. Also hampering efforts has been a lack of coordination and organization of the relief. Mountain roads are being clogged by trucks bringing in supplies, making it difficult to evacuate the wounded. In some cases, roads that survived the quake, or had been repaired, are damaged by the heavy traffic.

One organization, Working Assets, is urging contributions specifically to rebuild schools, especially for girls, that were damaged. From their website: "One of the most heart-wrenching stories emerging from this catastrophe is that of the girls' school in the village of Ghari Habibibullah, Pakistan. There, 250 students were killed, more than 500 injured, and the school was completely demolished. Similar catastrophes happened in villages all over the region, such as Balakot. Girls' schools were often beacons of hope and implicit progress in a region dominated by fundamentalist Islam, and rebuilding these schools is likely to be at the bottom of the political agenda. So Working Assets has launched a campaign to support rebuilding girls' schools in Pakistan and India -- and we're asking for your help."

Most of the casualties have been in the Pakistani administered areas, but almost1400 have also died in Indian administered Kashmir. 5,000 were injured and 140,000 homeless. The Prime Minister and Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi, toured the area soon after the quake, but there have been complaints that aid was slow in coming.

The USGS reports : "Earthquakes and active faults in northern Pakistan and adjacent parts of India and Afghanistan are the direct result of the Indian subcontinent moving northward at a rate of about 40 mm/yr (1.6 inches/yr) and colliding with the Eurasian continent. This collision is causing uplift that produces the highest mountain peaks in the world including the Himalayan, the Karakoram, the Pamir and the Hindu Kush ranges. As the Indian plate moves northward, it is being subducted or pushed beneath the Eurasian plate. Much of the compressional motion between these two colliding plates has been and continues to be accommodated by slip on a suite of major thrust faults that are at the Earth�s surface in the foothills of the mountains and dip northward beneath the ranges. These include the Main Frontal thrust, the Main Central thrust, the Main boundary thrust, and the Main Mantle thrust. These thrust faults have a sinuous trace as they arc across the foothills in northern India and into northern Pakistan. In detail, the modern active faults are actually a system of faults comprised of a number of individual fault traces. In the rugged mountainous terrain, it is difficult to identify and map all of the individual thrust faults, but the overall tectonic style of the modern deformation is clear in the area of the earthquake; north- and northeast-directed compression is producing thrust faulting. Near the town of Muzaffarabad, about 10 km southwest of the earthquake epicenter, active thrust faults that strike northwest-southeast have deformed and warped Pleistocene alluvial-fan surfaces into anticlinal ridges. The strike and dip direction of these thrust faults is compatible with the style of faulting indicated by the focal mechanism from the nearby M 7.6 earthquake. "

(See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.) The US Geological Survey (USGS) is an invaluable resource in understanding and tracking earthquakes.

See also the following news stories:

3/28/2005 Sumatra Quake

Updated 4/2/2005

This 8.7M quake was centered off the West coast of Northern Sumatra. Earthquakes over Magnitude 8 are classified as "Great" Earthquakes. "Great" quakes are relatively rare and usually very destructive. By comparison, this earthquake was considerably larger than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and indeed larger than any seen in the US outside of Alaska. Of course damage from any quake is due to a number of factors including density of population, building methods and materials, local geology and the duration of shaking. This quake struck at 4:09 PM (GMT) or 11:09 PM local time. Shaking lasted 3 minutes, which is a long time for an earthquake. There have been at least 518 people confirmed killed and thousands displaced. A few people were pulled alive from the rubble after 4 days. Worst hit was the island of Nias, where electricity and water supplies have been disrupted. Roads and runways across the island have large cracks across them and are in many cases unusable. Also hard hit was the nearby island of Simeulue. Fires have raged unchecked with fire fighting equipment buried in rubble.

Aid has been arriving from around the world. Some teams were already in place in nearby Aceh from the December quake and tsunami. Some of the areas devastaed then have seen more damage from this quake. Tsunami warnings went out around the Indian Ocean and people were evacuated from coastal areas in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. However this time there was no tsunami.

This earthquake occured on a neighboring section of the same subduction zone that caused the December 26, 2004 tsunami. Scientists had been concerned that that quake would increase the pressure on parts of the zone that had not moved and this appears to be what happened here. This map shows the relationship between these two quakes and two other quakes that have occured in the same area in the past. You can see quite clearly how different sections of this zone will move at different times.

(See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.) The US Geological Survey (USGS) is an invaluable resource in understanding and tracking earthquakes. Here is the USGS report on this earthquake

See also the following news stories:

3/20/2005 Japan Quake

Updated 3/20/2005

This 6.4M quake hit 570 miles west of Tokyo, off the coast of the island of Kyushu, Japan at 01:53AM (GMT) or 10:53 AM local time. Some news reports rated the quake as a Magnitude 7, which would have been much more powerful than the 6.4 Magnitude reported by the USGS. Many buildings were damaged, utilities were cut off, 1 person was killed and another 250 were injured. Tall buildings swayed in Fukuoka. Numerous aftershocks have followed the main quake. Intial fears that the quake would generate a tsunami proved unfounded.

The damage from this quake was very much less than the Iranian quake of similar size just a month before. Hundreds of people died in that quake. Both areas are subject to frequent strong earthquakes, but Japan has done a much better job of preparing for the inevitable with strong earthquake resistant building codes. Even so, a large earthquake in an urban area can cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars worth of damage, as demonstrated in Kobe.

Japan is subject to frequent earthquakes due to the interactions of the Pacific, Phillipines, North American and Eurasian Plates in this area of the world.

(See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.) The US Geological Survey (USGS) is an invaluable resource in understanding and tracking earthquakes.

See also the following news stories:

2/22/2005 Kerman,Iran Quake

Updated 3/20/2005

This 6.4M quake hit Central Iran Tuesday, February 22, 2005 at 02:25AM (GMT) or 5:55 AM local time.

The epicenter was:
55 km (35 miles) NNW of Kerman, Iran
185 km (115 miles) NE of Sirjan, Iran
270 km (165 miles) ESE of Yazd, Iran
745 km (465 miles) SE of TEHRAN, Iran

According to the USGS at least 602 people were killed and 991 injured. The quake hit a rural area with no large cities, lessening the impact. Five villages were reported very heavily damaged with perhaps 50 more having substantial damage. Rescue efforts were somewhat hampered by heavy rains and freezing temperatures but there were also reports that rescue units were already on alert for fear that the rain would cause damage. Roads to some of the area have been blocked by landslides, making it difficult for needed heavy equipment to reach the scene. Numerous aftershocks kept many out of doors for fear of further damage to buildings. Most of the casualties were from collapsed buildings. Gas and electricity supplies have been disrupted and the government has asked people to limit use of mobile phones to allow better communications among emergency personnel. The Iranian government declared a national day of mourning for the dead.

The earthquake was caused by stresses generated by the northward movement of the Arbaian Plate into the Eurasian Plate at about 1 inch per year. This is sufficient to cause frequent quakes throughout Iran. The February 22 earthquake is 125 km northwest of the destructive earthquakes of June 11, 1981 (magnitude 6.6, approximately 3,000 deaths) and July 28, 1981 (magnitude 7.3, approximately 1,500 deaths) and about 250 km northwest of the devastating Bam earthquake of December 26, 2003 (magnitude 6.6, over 30,000 deaths).

(See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.) The US Geological Survey (USGS) is an invaluable resource in understanding and tracking earthquakes.

See also the following news stories: