New earthquake hits northern Israel, as cracks in readiness exposed
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New earthquake hits northern Israel, as cracks in readiness exposed

More than 40 tremors rattle Sea of Galilee region in last several days; just 53 of 1,600 schools at risk of collapse have been reinforced, according to report

Damage caused to houses in the city of Tiberias in northern Israel after earthquakes shook the area, July 9, 2018. (David Cohen/ Flash90)
Damage caused to houses in the city of Tiberias in northern Israel after earthquakes shook the area, July 9, 2018. (David Cohen/ Flash90)

A minor earthquake hit northern Israel on Monday evening, bringing the number of tremors in the area in recent days to more than 40, further fueling fears that a major earthquake could be on its way.

The epicenter of 3.2 quake was at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, similar to the previous ones. It hit at 6:15 p.m. without causing damage or casualties.

But despite the looming threat, new details show that the government has been making very little progress in preparing for a strong tremor and strengthening structures.

Out of 1,600 schools deemed three years ago to be in danger of collapsing, just 53 have since been reinforced, Hadashot TV reported Monday.

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, the report added. Only one factory has presented a plan to implement the decision. The ministry said it was behind schedule, due to “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.

The recent rash of minor quakes has raised public concerns that a major quake could be coming, and instructions have been issued to review and refresh procedures, Hebrew language media reported.

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

On Sunday, four minor earthquakes were felt in northern Israel, measuring between 3.1 and 3.3 on the Richter scale. A series of quakes measuring 3.4 to 4.33 on the Richter scale were first felt Wednesday and then again on Thursday and Saturday.

Experts have warned that a large earthquake could strike Israel in the near future. The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured another 700.

The Defense Ministry on Monday called a major summit of emergency services and local municipalities to review the country’s readiness for dealing with a possible major earthquake wreaking havoc.

The Wednesday discussions will involve representatives from the National Emergency Management Authority, the army’s Home Front Command, police, firefighters, the Magen David Adom ambulance service and municipal authorities, Hadashot reported. The aim is to review events of the past week and prepare for any future developments.

A national plan for strengthening older buildings against earthquakes — known by the Hebrew acronym TAMA — relaxes zoning rules and gives developers rights to add extra floors and apartments to existing buildings to cover the costs of strengthening buildings and adding bomb-proof rooms to apartments.

But Bezalel Treiber, former head of the National Emergency Management Authority, told Army Radio on Monday that that TAMA program only provides limited protection.

“It needs NIS 5 billion ($1.38 billion) in order to make a revolution in the matter. The weaker apartments are exactly in the most dangerous place — on the Great Rift Valley,” he said, referring to the volatile fault line in the Earth’s crust that runs from Syria to Mozambique and includes Israel’s Jordan Valley.

“Tens of thousands of apartments are not reinforced and there is a high danger they will be damaged,” Treiber warned.

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, Hadashot reported.

An inter-ministerial committee set up in 2004 proposed making preparations for a 7.5 magnitude quake to the country’s north, with catastrophic loss of life and severe damage to infrastructure. It raised the prospect of 16,000 dead and nearly 100,000 wounded in such an event, with 10,000 buildings destroyed.

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 Thursday that a new multi-year plan to protect Israel from earthquakes will be presented to the cabinet this month.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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