Saturday, November 19, 2011

Red Sea Earthquake

This morning I felt like I'd transplanted myself back a few years to when I used to live in California. At 9:12 a.m. this morning, the Red Sea was hit by a series of "mini quakes" felt throughout Sharm and Hurghada, with the highest registering a 4.1 on the Richter scale.

As is the norm in a country that isn't regularly hit by earthquakes, the rumours have started. It didn't take long for news outlets to begin reporting that there were experts 'predicting' that there would be another, bigger quake to follow the series of quakes this morning.

So, I'm here to blow open some of these myths about earthquakes, and tips on what you can do if you find the ground shaking under your boots.

Let's visit the first, and perhaps most common myth in Egypt, that experts can "predict" earthquakes. This is entirely false. While their predictions may seem to come true, these are aftershocks from the initial tremor, and rarely if ever exceed the magnitude of the first quake. As the U.S. Geological Survey says: "Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future. However based on scientific data, probabilities can be calculated for potential future earthquakes."

Another common myth that accompanies earthquakes, which I myself have been prone to telling people, is that the safest place you should find refuge is a door frame. Myth. California's Department of Conservation explains:  The safest place to be in an earthquake is under a doorway. That's true only if you live in an unreinforced adobe home. In a modern structure the doorway is no stronger than the rest of the building. Actually, you're more likely to be hurt (by the door swinging wildly) in a doorway. And in a public building, you could be in danger from people trying to hurry outside. If you're inside, get under a table or desk and hang on to it.

I was told this morning by an individual that they had been told ground floor apartments were safer in the event of an earthquake, because you would be able to run outside if it struck. This fails to take into consideration two very important factors. One: The time it takes you to get outside may not be much shorter than the actual length of the quake, which are often less than 30 seconds long. Unless you're standing right by your front door, can you make it out of your house in under 30 seconds? Two: In Egypt we face the problem of buildings that are not constructed to an "earthquake code." This means that the ground floor is actually one of the more dangerous floors to be on, as the building can pancake in on itself during an earthquake. If you look back to the Cairo quake of 1992, most of the fatalities occurred due to buildings collapsing and panicked people stampeding out of buildings. The New York Times reported that over 100 school children were trampled as they attempted to run out of their school building. 

Finally, one of the hot contended topics is that animals can "predict" earthquakes. This is not 100 % proven, nor is it dis-proven. As dogs in particular are known for their sensitive hearing, the chances are more likely that they hear the deep rumblings of the earth long before we do. Often animals will seek refuge in corners, or under beds, but you can rest assured that they most likely know the safest place to be in your house. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) for us, Orien was sleeping at my feet this morning, and did little more than grunt and roll over. Very tense dog we have :p 

So, overall things to remember: 

No - earthquakes cannot be predicted. 

Yes - you should seek refuge under a desk or table. Check out more information on the "triangle of life." 

For a more detailed list of frequently asked earthquake questions, click here.  

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