What Earthquakes Are The Most Destructive?

This article discusses earthquakes in general, and which tend to be most destructive.

Earthquakes occur all over the world every day. Most of the time, we never hear about them. Most of the time, we never even feel them. But they happen. Once in a while, a really large earthquake will occur, causing great destruction, and costing many lives.

An earthquake, in short, is when the tectonic plates that make up the earth's crust shift and move against each other. The resulting friction is what we call an earthquake. Earthquake intensity is measured on the Richter Scale, which gives scientists an idea of how destructive the quake was. The higher the number, the more severe the earthquake. A quake measuring 1-3 on the Richter Scale may not even be felt, or may rattle windows at the worst. A 4.0 magnitude quake will shake smaller structures, cause pictures to fall off the walls, and may cause some minor structural damage. The destruction increases exponentially the higher the quake is on the scale.

Predicting how destructive an earthquake is depends on many factors: where the quake is, how deep underground it occurred, what structures are in the area, which direction the force travels and a host of other variables.

The most destructive earthquakes are probably those that occur in heavily populated areas, particularly in areas that are not prepared for earthquakes and where the buildings are not constructed to withstand them. What happens in these cases is that a moderately severe earthquake hits and buildings start crumbling, water and gas pipes break, causing fires to break out and since the people are caught unaware, the death toll is usually very high. Earthquakes can also cause highways to collapse, which also accounts for high death tolls.

Another destructive earthquake is one out at sea that causes a tsunami. The whole world witnessed the utter devastation in Indonesia in December, 2004, when the tsunami struck that country and surrounding areas. The cost to that area is incalculable. Not only were hundreds of thousands of people killed in the event itself, but many more thousands will probably die of illness and exposure because even basic services were eliminated from some parts of that area. Clean drinking water, transportation and even rudimentary medical care are not available. This is the second wave of disaster from an earthquake. Because so many people tend to be affected by the "big" ones, getting medical help and rebuilding is a mammoth task. People are often left homeless and have been stripped of all their worldly goods.

The U.S. Geological Survey monitors seismic activity and can issue warnings of possible earthquakes, based on their readings, and known earthquake trends. Many large cities in earthquake-prone areas build to special codes that promote a building's ability to withstand an earthquake. This ties in with a third loss during earthquakes "" the loss of historical structures. These were not usually built to withstand earthquakes and are sometimes damaged beyond repair. Seattle, Washington experienced this when that city suffered a large earthquake a few years ago.

Most cities and countries that experience large earthquakes, such as the West Coast of the U.S., or Japan, have building codes and disaster plans in force to help minimize damage and fatalities when a "big one" hits. Sadly, many Third World countries do not have this kind of infrastructure in place, which is why the most destructive earthquakes seem to occur in these countries. These countries also tend to have very densely populated towns and cities, which explains why the death toll is often high in any natural disaster, be it an earthquake or a typhoon.

The best way to minimize destruction from an earthquake is to have proactive measures in place before the "big one" hits "" not after.

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