Sunday 28 February 2010

Earthquakes - stay inside or go out?

As expected, the death toll in the Chilean earthquake has risen – to at least 300, and dozens more are feared trapped in a block of flats in Concepcion. Powerful aftershocks have been felt in a number of cities, including Santiago.

Tsunami waves hit coastal towns, with Talcahuano the most seriously damaged. French Polynesia and Tahiti have also experienced big waves – though no casualties have been reported – and Japan has evacuated more than 300,000 people thought to be at risk.

90% of those killed in Chile are said to have died in their own homes, and many survivors spent last night sleeping outside. The question of where there are more dangers – in a building or in the open air – often presents those caught up in earthquakes with a terrifying dilemma.

A Chinese scholar named Qin Keda, who survived the great Shaanxi earthquake of 1556, had no doubt – stay inside. “Just crouch down,” he advised, “and wait. Even if the nest is collapsed , some eggs may still be kept intact.” It is not clear whether those who cowered indoors did any better than those who went outside, but up to 830,000 people are said to have been killed in the quake – probably the most deadly the world has ever seen. (see also my blogs of Jan 23, 2009 and Jan 22, 2010)

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