The government has reportedly vowed to invest billions of shekels in reinforcing buildings throughout Israel, after dozens of minor earthquakes in recent days stoked fears of a major shake and highlighted significant gaps in readiness for such a scenario.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has promised local and regional council heads in the north — the region most affected by the recent quakes — that the widespread project will be approved by the cabinet as early as next week, Hadashot TV news reported Tuesday.
The report said Kahlon recently met with the council heads at Haifa City Hall. It added that the exact sum hasn’t yet been determined but it would be billions of shekels invested over several years.
The project will also reinforce many buildings against rockets, due to the threat of Hezbollah in the north and Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups near the Gaza Strip in the south.
On Monday, new details were published showing that the government has been making very little progress in preparing for a strong tremor and in strengthening structures.
Out of 1,600 schools deemed three years ago to be in danger of collapsing, just 53 have since been reinforced, Hadashot 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 said. Only one factory has presented a plan to implement the decision. The ministry said it was behind schedule, due to a “severe manpower shortage.”
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 shake could be coming, and instructions have been issued to review and refresh procedures.
On Sunday, four minor earthquakes were felt in northern Israel, measuring between 3.1 and 3.3 on the Richter scale, and another was felt on Monday. A series of quakes measuring 3.4 to 4.33 on the Richter scale were first felt last 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 shake 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 discussions, set for Wednesday, 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 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 that said that not much had been done in the intervening years, due to spats between ministries over responsibility for the work.
An inter-ministerial committee set up in 2004 proposed making preparations for a 7.5-magnitude quake in 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 injured 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.