Saturday, May 21, 2011

Predicting the next big quake

By Augustine Anthuvan | Posted: 21 May 2011 1033 hrs

SUMATRA: A Banyan tree - well over a hundred years old - located on Simeulue island, has survived two tsunamis - a big one in 1907 and the recent one caused by the 2004 earthquake.

And those who survived continue to tell the story of the 1907 "Semong", the local word for tsunami.

Kerry Sieh, Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore, said: "The reason that villagers here were able to escape is because their grandparents, their great grandparents passed down to them the story of what happened in 1907.

"When the tsunami hit in 2004, the water tore all these buildings off their foundations, all you see are the slab foundations, so you can see it was pretty strong. It ripped them off their foundations leaving that little building, leaving the mosque...the wave was about four metres high.

"In 1907, the villagers said that (according to the story), the wave was about 10 metres or they learnt from that event in 1907. That when you feel a big earthquake, you run to the hills as fast as you can. They did that and no one in this village died."

However, Mr Sieh said survival in earthquake prone areas would require looking beyond oral traditions.

"If you pass things down from generation to generation, say like the Pacific North West Indians in the United States did about the big eruption of Mount Mazama in Oregon, 6,000 years of oral tradition, that's wonderful but it's rare and in big cities people don't tend to have these oral traditions.

"What I'm submitting to you is...geology can tell you a lot if you're willing to pay attention to it. Now the Japanese were caught short in that regard recently, even though they were the most prepared people in the world for tsunamis and earthquakes. They didn't pay enough attention to the geological evidence."

Geological evidence of the 1907 earthquake at Simeulue Island is in the form of a coral head, that popped up 1.3 metres out of the water.

"In a sense that's a seismogram, it's a record of an old earthquake," said Mr Sieh.

An island off the west coast of Nias became 10 times its original size after the 2005 earthquake.

Data from coral reef upliftments on this "new" island are helping scientists to understand the patterns of great earthquakes on the Sunda megathrust.

Mr Sieh said: "The corals show and the Dutch records show there was a big earthquake in 1861. After 1861, the island rose but then it slowly subsided, as the megathrust carried the subducting slab down, so it went down...if it kept going down for a couple of decades, this whole island would have disappeared beneath the water.

"But just in time, the next one happened and the island grew again so now its subsiding again. It will subside a centimetre per year over the next century or so and then (it will) pop up come again."

Scientists are now able to forecast the location of where an impending large Sumatran earthquake might hit. But challenges remain. For one, authorities will have to translate that knowledge into planning and changing land use and finding meaningful ways to protect the majority of the people that are likely to be affected.


Moderate quake hits Philippines

Posted: 22 May 2011 0000 hrs

MANILA: An earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale hit the northern Philippines late Saturday, causing localised power outages as buildings swayed, but no casualties were reported, officials said.

The epicentre of the quake, which struck at 9:08pm (1308 GMT), was a few kilometres northeast of Ilagan, the capital of Isabela province, a duty officer with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology told AFP.

There were no reports of casualties around the city of about 131,000 more than an hour later, said Inspector Joel Dulin, the senior officer on duty at the signal department of the Isabela police.

"We have been contacting the other (Isabela) municipalities for any reports of damage or casualties, but so far it has been negative," he added.

"Power outages hit some parts of Ilagan," Dulin told AFP, and the provincial police headquarters there were among areas left without electricity.

Police officer Lito Piga, duty officer for the region's civil defence office located in Tuguegarao, 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Ilagan, said the two-storey building swayed noticeably.

"I ran downstairs, but when we inspected the building for cracks later on we did not find any," he told AFP.

The US Geological Survey, which uses a different scale, said the quake had a magnitude of 5.3 and put its depth at 45 kilometres.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Moderate quake hits China's Sichuan province

Posted: 15 May 2011 1705 hrs

BEIJING - A 5.0-magnitude tremor hit the Chinese province of Sichuan on Sunday, the US Geological Survey said, three years after a giant quake left 87,000 dead or missing in the region.

The tremor struck at 3:05 pm (0705 GMT) at a depth of 15 kilometres (nine miles) with an epicentre 31 kilometres west of the city of Guangyuan, the USGS said. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

An 8.0-magnitude quake rocked Sichuan and parts of neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces on May 12, 2008, killing tens of thousands and flattening swathes of the province.

China's government issued a plan in September 2008 to rebuild 51 quake-struck counties covering 130,000 square kilometres (50,200 square miles), the official Xinhua news agency said.

Mu Hong, a vice director of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planning agency, said last week that work on 95 percent of the reconstruction projects in the plan had been completed.

China has spent nearly 800 billion yuan ($123 billion) to rebuild in the region, senior officials said last week.

- AFP /ls

Moderate quake hits Afghanistan

Posted: 15 May 2011 0621 hrs

KABUL: A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Afghanistan's mountainous Hindu Kush region near the Pakistani border early Sunday, US seismologists said, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The quake hit at 01:37am (2107 GMT Saturday) some 75 kilometres (46 miles) south-southeast of Feyzabad and 256 kilometres from the capital Kabul, the United States Geological Survey said in a report.

Its epicentre was 207 kilometres deep, and was 140 kilometres from Khorugh in Tajikistan and 236 kilometres from Mingora in Pakistan, USGS said.

Northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hit by earthquakes, especially around the Hindu Kush range near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005 killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fresh Quake in Japan

Posted: 14 May 2011 1006 hrs

TOKYO: A 6.2-magnitude earthquake on Saturday hit off the coast of northeastern Japan, still reeling from the massive March 11 quake and tsunami, according to the US Geological Survey.

The quake struck at 8:35 am (2325 GMT Friday), 59 kilometres (36 miles) northeast of the Pacific coast city of Iwaki at a depth of nearly 38 kilometres, the USGS said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties and no tsunami warning was issued.

The northeastern coast of Japan's main Honshu island was ravaged by a 9.0-magnitude quake and monster tsunami on March 11, leaving 24,525 people dead or missing, according to the latest count by the National Police Agency.

- AFP/cc

Indonesian Quake

Posted: 14 May 2011 0813 hrs

JAKARTA: A 5.2-magnitude earthquake struck beneath the sea between Australia's Christmas Island and the Indonesian island of Java on Saturday, US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was immediately issued.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the quake, which struck at 4:43 am (2143 GMT Friday) 224 kilometres (139 miles) from Christmas Island and 303 kilometres from Tasikmalaya city in Java, at a relatively shallow depth of 12.5 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high seismic activity, and is frequently hit by earthquakes.


6.0-magnitude quake rattles Costa Rica

Posted: 14 May 2011 0801 hrs

SAN JOSE : A 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook Costa Rica on Friday, alarming residents of the Central American country and causing minor damage but no known injuries, authorities said.

The quake struck at around 4:47 pm (2247 GMT), 25 kilometres (16 miles) northwest of San Jose, according to the US Geological Survey, which gave its magnitude as 6.0.

It was felt with particular intensity in San Jose's western Escazu and Santa Ana neighbourhoods, upscale areas where many diplomats and foreign business executives have their homes.

"It broke all the glasses in my bar," said an Argentine resident who lives on the sixth floor of a building in Escazu.

Residents in the area around the San Jose International Airport reported power outages that impacted traffic lights during the daily rush hour.

Cellphone service was disrupted in some areas, and some small landslides were reported on the road connecting the capital to the Pacific coast.

"It felt very strong. Some of the tiles on the houses in the condominium fell. People ran outside, frightened," said Carolina Diaz, a Chilean who lives in the centre of the city.

Local media reported that the shock waves were felt along the country's Pacific coast, and less strongly on the Caribbean side of the country.

The quake occurred at a depth of 70 kilometres (43.5 miles).

Juan Segura, the director of Costa Rica's Volcanology and Seismology Observatory, said it was caused by the impact of the Coco and Caribe plates.

He said it was the most serious earthquake in Costa Rica since a 6.2-magnitude quake in January 2009 that killed 23 people and destroyed dozens of houses in Volcan Poas, a tourist area 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the capital.

That quake was the strongest to hit the popular ecotourism and beach holiday destination in 150 years.

The Costa Rican Red Cross appealed for calm, and urged the public "to remain on alert in case of aftershocks".

- AFP/wk/ms

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

5.1 quake kills eight, topples buildings in Spain

Posted: 12 May 2011 0213 hrs

LORCA, Spain - A magnitude 5.1 quake killed at least eight people in southern Spain on Wednesday, sending historic buildings crashing down as panicked residents fled for their lives.

Eight people perished in the deadliest tremor in Spain in more than five decades, a spokeswoman for the regional government of Murcia said, revising down an earlier toll of 10 dead without explanation.

The quake collapsed fronts of buildings in the southeastern town of Lorca and ripped open walls, which slumped into the streets.

Witnesses reported many injuries.

A church clocktower smashed to the ground and narrowly missed one television reporter as he conducted an interview in the town on Spanish public broadcaster TVE. A bronze bell lay in the rubble.

Fearful residents including families with children gathered outside with blankets as night fell. About 10,000 people were evacuated from the cordoned-off city-centre.

"We are calling on shopping centres in the area to give them water, food and blankets," Lorca mayor Francisco Jodar said.

Television images showed shocked families with children gathering in squares and playgrounds, some weeping and hugging as they sought safety.

Masonry blanketed streets and a line of parked cars lay crushed under tonnes of rubble. A corpse lay in the street covered in a rescue blanket.

The tremor struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT) with a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles) and could be felt as far away as the capital Madrid. It hit nearly two hours after a smaller 4.4-magnitude quake.

Among the dead were a pregnant woman and two children, said regional newspaper La Verdad. One woman lost her life when a modern three-storey building collapsed, it said.

A doctor said many people had been hurt.

"I had just finished attending to a patient. We all went out into the streets and had to treat people, some with serious inuries, many unconscious, because the ambulances could not reach them. They took more than 40 minutes," the doctor, identified only as Virtudes, told the online edition of El Pais.

"They just took away a man who had a wall fall on top of him."

New-born babies were evacuated from the town's Rafael Mendez hospital for fear it could collapse, the paper said. "The stairway was totally open. The roof of the building opposite and the medical centre fell off," one of the evacuated mothers told the paper.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was informed of the disaster while he was in a meeting with King Juan Carlos, the premier's office said in a statement.

The king and prime minister then spoke to the president of the Murcia region and Zapatero immediately ordered the deployment of emergency military units to the area.

Earthquake damages were concentrated in the towns of Lorca and Totana, which lie in one of the most active seismic zones of the Iberian peninsula, but also spread as far as Albacete and Velez-Rubio in Almeria, the premier's office said.

Residents described confusion in the town of 92,700 inhabitants about 70 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of Murcia. Lorca traces its history back more than 2,000 years and boasts many medieval monuments.

"This is chaotic. All the ground is full of rubble," resident Jesus Ruiz told the paper.

"There are cracked buildings and all the ground is full of rubble and cornices. I saw them sewing up a child's head," said Ruiz, who was at work in an industrial zone when the quake struck.

Cristina Selva, 32, said she was playing with her two-year-old daughters.

"The building moved and I was was very scared for the girls. I took them and the three of us got under the table to wait for it to pass," she said.

"It was the longest 20 seconds of my life."

It was the deadliest earthquake in Spain since April 19, 1956 when a tremor wrecked buildings and killed 11 people in Albolote, a town in the southern Spanish province of Granada.

Ironically, it struck on the same day many residents stayed away from work in the Italian capital Rome fearing a supposed prophecy of a devastating tremor by a self-taught Italian seismologist who died in 1979.

- AFP /ls

Friday, May 6, 2011

6.1-magnitude quake hits Sulawesi, Indonesia

Posted: 06 May 2011 1527 hrs

JAKARTA : A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday, government seismologists said, but there were no immediate reports of damage and no tsunami warning was issued.

The quake hit at a depth of 35 kilometres (21 miles) at 0646 GMT, around 75 kilometres southeast of Gorontalo city, said Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency.

"The quake's epicentre is on the sea but there's no tsunami potential," Indra, an agency official who uses only one name, told AFP, adding that no damage had been reported so far.

The US Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 5.8 and said it had a depth of 85 kilometres.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high seismic activity, and is frequently hit by earthquakes.

- AFP/al