Monday, November 26, 2012

Israeli History: The Earthquake That Wasn't

This past week's Olam Katan Parsha page featured a commentary article by Rabbi Avraham Wasserman about the TAMA 38, Israel's plan to limit damage from future earthquakes.

In this article Rabbi Wasserman wrote (my translation):
".. the construction [based on TAMA 38] is focused in the Gush Dan region, a place where there were no fatal earthquakes in recorded history.  In 1837 an earthquake destroyed Safed and Tiberias and caused hundreds of fatalities..."

Most earthquakes in Israel originate in the Dead See Rift (ie, the Jordan Valley).  The valley and nearby mountain regions are most at-risk for earthquakes and so places like Tiberias, Safed and Jerusalem have suffered many devastating earthquakes.  Beit She'an practically disappeared from history after it was hit by an earthquake in the 8th century.  But it's of course incorrect to say that other places in the country haven't been affected as well.

The reason Gush Dan hasn't been affected much is because until Tel Aviv was built, it's been relatively empty.  In fact, for most of the past millenium the entire population of Israel was less than half a million (and possibly even a quarter of a million).     

However, we do know that the big city in the area - Ramla - was hit by earthquakes several times.    The big one, in 1068, destroyed the city and left tens of thousands dead.  It never regained its status as regional capital.  The city was again destroyed by the earthquake of 1546, suffering casualties once again.  It took years for the city to recover.

It all depends on where along the rift the earthquake centers, and how forceful it is.

On a related note, the Gush Dan region faces another threat - earthquakes elsewhere in the Mediterranean or along the Mediterranean coast can cause tsunamis.  There have been several such recorded incidents.

Today about half the country's population - more than 3 million people - lives in the Gush Dan area.  We should learn from history: A big enough earthquake could be disastrous.

See here for an archive of articles about our history in Israel

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rabelad said...

The problem with much of Gush Dan is that a majority of the construction there is on sandy soils. Many apartment buildings there are not anchored to bedrock. Instead they dig down deep, pour a pad of concrete and attach piers to that, fill it in and use that for the foundation. It's all built on soil and when the earthquake waves hit those buildings will be bouncing around. Up here in Judea all of our buildings are attached to soil bedrock.

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