Minor earthquake again shakes Sea of Galilee
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Minor earthquake again shakes Sea of Galilee

Israel's Geophysical Institute says temblor measuring around 3.4 on the Richter scale felt in northern Israel

View of the Sea of Galilee, northern Israel, April 19, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
View of the Sea of Galilee, northern Israel, April 19, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

A minor earthquake was felt in northern Israel Sunday morning, the latest in a series of tremors in the region.

The temblor, measuring around 3.4 on the Richter scale, was felt in the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee, according to Israel’s Geophysical Institute.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

Minor quakes have continued to rattle parts of northern Israel in recent weeks, as concerns grow about the country’s level of preparedness for a larger quake.

Israel is situated along the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust running the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan, and which is part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.

The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured another 700.

Northern Israel and areas around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea are at high risk of a quake measuring 5 to 5.9 on the Richter scale, according to the World Health Organization, with the central and southern coastal areas and the Negev Desert at medium risk of a quake in the 4 to 4.9 range.

Experts have warned a large earthquake could strike Israel in the near future, and the government has begun funding projects for public buildings to be bolstered against tremors.

“If, God forbid, we have an earthquake like this, it will leave thousands dead and hundreds of thousands of people will have to leave their homes. Houses will be destroyed, there will be massive economic damage that will set the country back dozens of years,” geologist Ariel Heimann told Hadashot news earlier this month.

IDF soldiers search for survivors in a building that collapsed during an earthquake that struck Mexico on September 24, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

An expert on mass casualty disasters, Ephraim Leor, said school children were particularly vulnerable, pointing to a recent report that out of 1,600 schools deemed to be in danger of collapsing in a survey three years ago, just 53 have since been reinforced.

Col. Itzik Bar from the IDF’s Home Front Command put expected casualties from a major quake at 7,000 dead and 200,000 homeless.

“Apparently it will unfortunately take a mid-sized quake with 100-200 casualties to make this country wake up and seriously prepare,” he told Hadashot.

None of the 108 dangerous material factories, ordered two years ago by the Ministry of Environmental Protection to strengthen their structures, has completed the process, an earlier Hadashot news report said. Only one factory has presented a plan to implement the decision. The ministry said it was behind schedule, due to a “severe shortage of manpower.”

A nationwide early warning system approved in 2012 only began its deployment a year ago. The Geological Survey of Israel has only deployed 55 of the 120 alert stations, none of which are operational.

Schoolchildren taking part in a Home Front drill, simulating an earthquake, at a Jerusalem school on February 20, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Schoolchildren taking part in a Home Front drill, simulating an earthquake, at a Jerusalem school on February 20, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

A State Comptroller report in 2001 found that no funding had been allocated for strengthening buildings and infrastructure. It was followed by another report in 2004, which said that not much had been done in the intervening years, due to spats between ministries over responsibility for the work.

In 2011, another state comptroller report sounded further warnings about the threat to northern communities and infrastructure from an earthquake, and once again lamented the dearth of precautionary measures taken.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced earlier this month that a new multi-year plan to protect Israel from earthquakes will be presented to the cabinet this month.

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