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A million homes at risk of collapse by earthquake — report

Home Front Command and geological officials unsure whether two tremors felt in northern Israel earlier this week are isolated, or a prelude to a stronger event

Illustrative: A researcher shows seismograph sensor readings from an earthquake in Mexico, on July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Illustrative: A researcher shows seismograph sensor readings from an earthquake in Mexico, on July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Some one million homes in Israel are at risk of collapse in case of an earthquake, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The report comes after two minor earthquakes shook northern Israel earlier this week around 12 hours apart.

The first quake, measuring 3.7 on the Richter scale, struck late Saturday, while the other, at a magnitude of 3.5, was felt at around noon the following day.

The first earthquake’s epicenter was 19 kilometers (11 miles) northwest of the town of Beit She’an, according to the Geological Survey of Israel, and that of the second about 16 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of the city of Tiberias.

There were no reports of injuries or serious damage in either case, but IDF Home Front Command engineers were set to assist the Tiberias municipality in surveying 60 buildings that residents say were damaged by the earthquakes.

A senior Home Front Command official called the event “disturbing.”

Cracks that appeared in a building in Tiberias following an earthquake on January 23, 2022, prompting an evacuation of residents. (Screenshot: Twitter)

At this point, Home Front Command officials and geological experts are not sure whether the earthquakes were an isolated incident or a prelude to a more powerful event.

According to data presented by Kan Sunday, about 60 percent of homes in Israel are still not protected from missile attack, earthquake or just collapse due to obsolescence. More than half of Israeli citizens live in a building not properly protected against such events.

Israel lies along an active fault line: the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust that runs the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan. The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700 — and seismologists estimate that such earthquakes occur in this region approximately every 100 years.

According to Kan, a major earthquake is predicted to cause about 7,000 deaths and 145,000 injuries, with 170,000 people left homeless and 320,000 buildings damaged.

In response, the government approved in 2005 the TAMA 38 plan — an urban initiative designed to encourage tenants to strengthen their buildings’ structures.

However, it takes at least three years to have a building approved for TAMA 38, with the waiting period rising to almost five years in more populated sections of the country like the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

According to Kan, since 2005, only 27,000 buildings have been reinforced under the plan.

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

Channel 12 news reported on Sunday that based on mapping by local authorities, the cities most at risk from an earthquake are Kiryat Shmona, Safed, Tiberias, Hatzor Haglilit, Migdal Haemek, Afula, Katzrin, Rosh Pina, Beit She’an and Eilat.

In total, some 80,000 buildings in those cities are classified as “high risk,” all of them built before 1982. According to Channel 12, a strong earthquake could severely damage about 35% of them — around 28,600 buildings.

The news channel also quoted a government report as saying that at least NIS 2 billion is needed to reinforce the structures, but so far only NIS 70 million has been allocated.

In addition to the possible damage to residential buildings, officials are worried about the damage an earthquake could cause to national infrastructure.

Kan reported that Mekorot — Israel’s national water company — has in recent days ceased routine maintenance work on the National Water Carrier of Israel over fears for the safety of the workers, whose work is mostly done underground.

Sources also expressed concern that a serious earthquake will cut off the entire area of Beit She’an and the adjacent Emek HaMaayanot Regional Council from the water supply.

In 2018, the state ombudsman warned Israel is woefully unprepared for a major earthquake.

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