Israel ‘not ready’ for a major earthquake

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 28, 2010
Israelis rescue a man buried in rubble in Haiti. Up to half of the buildings in Israel are not earthquake-proof

Israelis rescue a man buried in rubble in Haiti. Up to half of the buildings in Israel are not earthquake-proof

The Israeli Defence Ministry will hold a national earthquake preparedness exercise this year, in response to the Haiti disaster. Experts estimate that between 20 and 50 per cent of Israeli buildings are not built to withstand a large earthquake.

Israel is situated in the northern part of the Great Rift Valley in an area which historically has known devastating earthquakes. Seismological experts are convinced that a large-magnitude earthquake in Israel in the next few decades is all but inevitable.

Dr Avi Shapira, chairman of the inter-ministry committee responsible for preparing Israel for a quake, warned a special meeting of the Knesset Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday that a large proportion of the buildings in Israel were built before legislation setting out appropriate building standards was passed.

The experts gave varying estimates as to how many buildings are in danger of collapse in a major earthquake.

Dr Shapira said that at least 90,000 buildings, over 20 per cent of all the buildings in the country, were not built according to the specifications. Brigadier General Shalom Ben-Arieh, head of the IDF’s national search-and-rescue unit and commander of the delegation to Haiti, estimated that the proportion of buildings in danger could be as high as 50 per cent.

Officials at the meeting said that the government has still not come up with an effective policy as to how to strengthen such a large number of buildings. Meanwhile, the government is planning various ways to inform the public about basic survival methods in case of an earthquake and working to ensure that all new buildings will indeed be built to the appropriate standards.

The National Emergency Directorate in the Defence Ministry has sent a special fact-finding delegation to Haiti to learn more about the implications of such a disaster and how a country can return to normal afterwards. The Directorate is planning a nationwide exercise some time this year in which a siren will be heard throughout Israel, all the citizens will be asked to take basic precautions and the rescue services will practise emergency procedures.

Another area of concern is the major pollution that could be caused if factories storing hazardous material are hit. The National Infrastructures Ministry is carrying out a programme to reinforce all storage areas of hazardous materials but it is expected to be at least two years until all such areas are quake-proof.

Another concern raised at the Knesset meeting was the issue of burial. In Haiti, over 120,000 dead were buried in mass graves. ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav warned that such a method was unacceptable by halachah and preparations had to be made for proper identification and burial in the case of a large-scale tragedy.

Last updated: 4:40pm, January 28 2010