When Bigger Is Not Better


Preparing for the Inevitable

We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.

- Samuel Goldwyn

Source: Wellington City Council Newsletter November 2000

City councillors included these words:

Your "Be Ready" Shopping List

Enclosed in this issue of Absolutely Positively Wellington is a brightly-coloured shopping list to help you build your "Be Ready" emergency home survival kit.

On it are the essential items you'll need.  Take the list with you to your favourite supermarket and start building your kit.  You don't have to do it all at once, especially if money's a bit tight - but it is important to get started.  In a major earthquake or emergency you are likely to have to take care of yourself and the others in your house for at least three days without help, and probably without water, power or gas.

So we're trying to make it easy for you to look after yourself in an emergency.

We'd also like to remind you that there are other things you need to think about now - like extra supplies of essential medications, and a family plan for reuniting with each other if separated.

For more free shopping lists call the Wellington Emergency Management Office on (04) 499 4444.

Source: Absolutely Positively Wellington (the Wellington City Council newsletter) November 2000

Unfortunately, in the newsletter I saw, the shopping list wasn't enclosed.  All I have is the illustration they printed above their article, so I don't really know what are the "reminders of other things" I "should be thinking about" they said were written on the reverse.  However, I saved the list printed by the Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO) before the Y2K [non-]crisis.  It sounded like it would leave survivors fairly prepared, so I've included it instead:

Check the List

Your kit should contain the items that you will need if there is interruption to services such as power, gas, water, banking, telecommunications and the supply of products such as food and medicines.  You should have enough to last three days.

You should have

bulletCanned and preserved food such as dried food, milk powder and fruit juice.  You will also need to provide for pets and members of your household who have special needs such as babies.  If electricity fails use the fresh food in the refrigerator first and then the frozen items.
bulletWater.  You should store 3-5 litres per person per day.  More information on how to store water and get water from your hot water cylinder, is available from WEMO.
bulletAn alternative cooking source such as a BBO or Primus.  Check your gas bottles to make sure that they are full.  Make sure you have matches or lighters to light this but keep them away from children.
bulletAlternative lighting such as torches and light sticks (available from camping shops).  Make sure you have a good supply of fresh batteries for your torches as well.
bulletA portable radio and batteries.  In an emergency, you can use your radio (or car radio) to find out what is going on.  You will need a supply of spare batteries for your portable radio as well.
bulletMedication.  Make sure that you have adequate supplies of any medication or special equipment you need.
bulletHygiene items.  If there is no sewage, you may have to make an emergency toilet.  Use a plastic bag in a bucket or the toilet bowl.  Make sure you have disinfectant and spare toilet paper.
bulletSpare cash and cheques.  You may not be able to rely on electronic transactions so it's a good idea to have some spare cash and cheques.  However don't keep large amounts of cash in your home.

Possibly this list would be a good start for the types of things to be sent in aid to India, recently stricken with a 7.9 earthquake.

The Sound of the 26 December 2004 Earthquake

Source: earth.columbia.edu

The Richter Scale - What It Is and What It Means

Most people have heard of the Richter scale - the measure of the strength of an earthquake - but what does it really measure and what does it mean?

The United States Geological Survey estimated that Friday's quake that killed thousands in India measured 7.9 on the scale.  The quake that killed 2,400 people in Taiwan in September 1999 measured 7.6 - so does that mean the Indian quake was just slightly stronger the one in Taiwan?

The answer is no.

As the strength of earthquakes rises in steps up the Richter scale, each quake releases 31 times more energy than the one at the previous notch.

Introduced in 1935, the scale is named for American physicist Charles F Richter of the California Institute of Technology, who evolved it from patterns he discovered by studying more than 200 earthquakes a year.  The Richter scale is a more objective, quantitative basis of measuring quakes than the other widely-used standard, the 12-point Mercalli scale, the US Geological Survey says.  It does not measure an earthquake's effects, but gives its strength in terms of the energy released, as measured by seismographs.

The scale starts at one and has no upper limit; each unit is 10 times greater than the one before.  Mathematicians refer to this method of arranging numbers on a scale as logarithmic.  For instance, the survey says, a magnitude of 5.3 might be calculated for a moderate earthquake, and a strong earthquake might be classed as magnitude 6.3.  But because the Richter scale has a logarithmic basis, each whole number increase in magnitude on the scale represents a 10-fold increase in an earthquake's measured amplitude.

A quake's strength is ranked on the basis of the maximum amplitude of the signal recorded by a seismograph and how far the instrument is from the earthquake; state-of-the-art seismic systems use telephone lines and satellites to link to a central computer, which churns out preliminary results within minutes.

Earthquakes with a magnitude of about two or less are called microearthquakes; people don't usually feel them and they are usually tracked only by local seismographs.  Events ranking about 4.5 or greater - of which there may be several thousand every year - are strong enough to be recorded by sensitive instruments all over the world.  Great earthquakes, such as the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in Alaska, have magnitudes of 8.0 or higher.  The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 has since been calculated at 8.3.

Another in Mexico in 1985 registered 8.1 on the scale.

On average, one earthquake of such size occurs somewhere in the world each year, the US Geological Survey says.

The Richter scale has no upper limit, but the largest known shocks have had magnitudes in the 8.8 to 8.9 range.

In 1950, a quake measuring 8.6 on the scale struck northeast India, killing hundreds of people.  In a quake measuring possibly NINE on the scale, more than 830,000 people died when the most devastating earthquake in recorded history hit China's Shaanxi province in 1556.  China suffered the worst quake in its modern history on 28 July 1976 when the northeastern city of Tangshan was completely razed, and at least 240,000 people, possibly hundreds of thousands more, were killed.  The Richter reading was 7.8.

The Mercalli scale, by contrast, is more subjective in assessing the effect of earthquakes.  For example, an earthquake registering five on the Mercalli scale is defined as having made furniture to shake and church bells ring, but triggering little or no damage. - Reuters

Source: The Evening Post Tuesday 30 January 2001

Not everyone agrees about "the most devastating earthquake in recorded history...

The worst earthquake in recorded history happened in the Middle East along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the year 1201.  From manuscripts and illustrations written about the event shortly afterwards, historians have determined that over one million people lost their lives.  Earthquakes are measured on a scale of one through nine that was developed by two seismologists, Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg.  A "1" score means the tremor is only felt by scientific instruments, while a "7" score means that buildings have been destroyed.  A "9" score has never been recorded.

Source: yahooligans.com

Most Destructive Known Earthquakes on Record in the World

(50,000 deaths or more, listed in order of greatest number of deaths)

Date Location Deaths Magnitude Comments
1556 Jan 23 China, Shansi 830,000 9?
1737 Oct 11 India, Calcutta** 300,000
1976 Jul 27 China, Tangshan 255,000* 8.0
1138 Aug 8 Syria, Aleppo 230,000
1927 May 22 China, near Xining 200,000 8.3 Large fractures
856 Dec 22 Iran, Damghan 200,000
1920 Dec 16 China, Gansu 200,000 8.6 Major fractures, landslides
2004 Dec 26 Banda Aceh, Indonesia 175,000+ 9.3 Tsunami in Indian Ocean
893 Mar 23 Iran, Ardabil 150,000
1923 Sept 1 Japan, Kwanto 143,800 8.3 Great Tokyo fire
1948 Oct 5 USSR 110,000 7.3 Turkmenistan, Ashgabat
1908 Dec 28 Italy, Messina 70-100,000 7.5 Earthquake and tsunami
1290 Sep ? China, Chihli 100,000
1667 Nov ? Caucasia Shemakha 80,000
1727 Nov 18 Iran, Tabriz 77,000
1755 Nov 1 Portugal, Lisbon 70,000 8.7 Great tsunami
1932 Dec 25 China, Gansu 70,000 7.6
1970 May 31 Peru 66,000 7.8 Great rock slide, floods
1268 ? ? Asia Minor Silicia 60,000
1693 Jan 11 Italy, Sicily 60,000
1935 May 30 Pakistan, Quetta 30-60,000 7.5 Near complete destruction
1783 Feb 4 Italy, Calabria 50,000
1990 Jun 20 Gilan, Iran 50,000 7.7 Landslides

* Official casualty figure - estimated death toll as high as 655,000.
** Later research has shown that this was a typhoon, not an earthquake according to The 1737 Calcutta Earthquake and Cyclone Evaluated by Roger Bilham, BSSA, Vol 84 No 5 October 1994

Data compiled from several sources including United States Geological Survey and the National Earthquake Information Center.

Source: madsci.org

The Top 10 Earthquakes for the US According to the USGS:

  1. Prince William Sound, Alaska 1964, 9.2
  2. Andreanof Islands, Alaska 1957, 9.1
  3. Rat Islands, Alaska 1965, 8.7
  4. East of Shumagin Islands, Alaska 1938, 8.2
  5. New Madrid, Missouri 1811, 8.1
  6. Yakutat Bay, Alaska 1899, 8.0
  7. Andreanof Islands, Alaska 1986, 8.0
  8. New Madrid, Missouri 1812, 8.0
  9. Near Cape Yakataga, Alaska 1899, 7.9
  10. Fort Tejon, California 1857, 7.9


Earthquakes have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the last 100 years and improvements in technology have only slightly reduced the death toll.

bullet26 December 2003: Southeastern Iran, magnitude 6.5; government estimates at least 40,000 killed.
bullet1 May 2003: Southeastern Turkey, magnitude 6.4; 167 people killed, including 83 children in a collapsed dormitory.
bullet24 February 2003: Western China, magnitude 6.3 or 6.8; at least 266 killed.
bullet22 June 2002: Northwestern Iran, magnitude 6; at least 500 killed.
bullet12 April 2002: Dozens of people are killed in the third large tremor to hit northern Afghanistan in two months.
bullet25 March 2002: Second earthquake in a month in Afghanistan.  At least 800 die in the north of the country (some sources say 1,000).  The earthquake registers 6.0 (or maybe 5.8) on the Richter scale.
bullet3 March 2002: Some 150 killed by earthquake in Afghanistan centred on Samangan province.  It registers 7.2 on the Richter scale.
bullet3 February 2002: An earthquake registering 6.0 on the Richter scale strikes western Turkey, leaving at least 43 people dead and thousands homeless.
bullet24 June 2001: An earthquake lasting more than a minute hits southern Peru, killing at least 47 people and injuring hundreds.  It measured 7.9 on the Richter scale.
bullet13 February 2001: Nearly 300 people are killed as the second earthquake in a month hits El Salvador.  The latest quake measures 6.6 on the Richter scale.
bullet26 January 2001: An earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale devastates much of Gujarat state in north-western India, killing an estimated 30,000 people and making more than a million homeless.  Bhuj and Ahmedabad are among the towns worst hit.  Other sources say at least 2,500 killed and estimates put death toll as high as 13,000.
bullet13 January 2001: El Salvador is devastated by an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale.  More than 700 people die.
bullet21 September 1999: Taiwan is hit by a quake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale that kills nearly 2,500 people and causes damage to every town on the island.
bullet17 August 1999: An earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale rocks the cities of Izmit and Istanbul in Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 dead and many more injured.
bulletMarch 1999: Uttar Pradesh in northern India is hit by two earthquakes in as many days, killing more than 100.
bullet25 January 1999: A shock measuring 6.0 kills up to 1,000 in the town of Armenia in western Columbia.  Other sources say 1,171 killed.
bulletJuly 1998: More than 1,000 are killed after a tsunami or sea wave, caused by an undersea earthquake, wipes out communities on the north-western coast of Papua New Guinea.
bulletJune 1998: Adana in south-eastern Turkey is shaken by an earthquake measuring 6.3 which claims 144 lives.  A week later the same area suffers two strong aftershocks, leaving more than 1,000 people injured.
bullet30 May 1998: Northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan is hit by a major earthquake, magnitude 6.9, killing 4,000 people (some sources say as many as 5,000 were killed).
bullet10 May 1997: Northern Iran, magnitude 7.1; 1,500 killed.
bulletFebruary 1997: A quake measuring 5.5 tears apart rural areas of north-western Iran, killing 1,000 people.  Three months later a stronger tremor, measuring 7.1, kills 1,560 in eastern Iran.
bulletMay 1995: The far eastern island of Sakhalin is hit by a massive earthquake, measuring 7.5, which claims the lives of 1,989 Russians.
bullet17 January 1995: The Hyogo quake, magnitude 7.2, hits the city of Kobe in Japan, killing 6,430 people.
bulletJune 1994: About 1,000 people are killed by an earthquake and ensuing landslide in Colombia.
bullet30 September 1993: About 10,000 villagers are killed in western and southern India, mainly around Latur, magnitude 6.0.
bullet21 June 1990: Northwest Iran, magnitude 7.3 - 7.7; 50,000 killed.
bulletOctober 1989: The Loma Prieta earthquake hits California, killing 68 people.
bullet7 December 1988: An earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale devastates northwest Armenia, killing 25,000 people.
bullet19 September 1985: Mexico City and central Mexico is shaken by a huge earthquake, magnitude 8.1, which razes buildings and kills 10,000 people.  (Other sources say 9,500 killed.)
bullet1980: Hundreds are killed by tremors which ripple through southern Italy.
bullet16 September 1978: Northeast Iran, magnitude 7.7; 25,000 killed.
bullet28 July 1976: Tangshan, China; magnitude 7.8 - 8.2; 240,000 killed.
bullet4 February 1976: Guatemala, magnitude 7.5; 22,778 killed.
bullet1960: The world's strongest recorded earthquake devastates Chile, with a reading of 9.5 on the Richter scale.  A tsunami 30ft (10m) high eliminates entire villages in Chile and kills 61 hundreds of miles away in Hawaii.
bullet1948: The Fukui quake, centred in the East China Sea, devastates western Japan, killing 3,770.
bullet26 December 1939: Erzincan province, Turkey, magnitude 7.9; 33,000 killed.
bullet24 January 1939: Chillan, Chile, magnitude 8.3; 28,000 killed.
bullet1935: Taiwan is hit by a tremor measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale, which kills 3,276 people.
bullet31 May 1935: Quetta, India, magnitude 7.5; 50,000 killed.
bullet1 September 1923: Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan, magnitude 8.3; at least 140,000 killed.
bullet1906: San Francisco is hit by a series of violent shocks which last up to a minute.  Between 700 and 3,000 people die either from collapsing buildings or in the subsequent fire.

Sources: news.bbc.co.uk Saturday 22 June 2002 and story.news.yahoo.com Saturday 27 December 2003 from the Associated Press

What is fascinating to me is that these two sources each had articles reputedly covering the same thing - deadly earthquakes over the past century - yet there was little overlap and the earthquakes that were common to each list sometimes gave very different figures.  Apparently earthquake evaluation and reporting is hardly a science, even today.

The Great Prince William Sound Earthquake of 28 March 1964

by Doug Christensen, Phd

bulletEpicentral Parameters
bulletOrigin Time - 28 March 1964 03:36:14.0 GMT (27 March 05:36:14.0pm local time)
bulletLocation - Latitude 61.04 N - Longitude 147.73 W depth approximately 25km.  The epicenter was about 10km east of the mouth of College Fiord, approximately 90km west of Valdez and 120km east of Anchorage.
bulletMagnitude - 9.2 (Moment Magnitude) Second largest earthquake ever recorded.  The largest was a 9.5 earthquake in Chile in 1960.
bulletDuration of Rupture - approximately 4 minutes (240 seconds)
bulletAftershocks - The aftershock zone of this earthquake was about 250km wide and extended about 800 km from Prince William Sound to the SW end of Kodiak Island.  The mainshock and its aftershocks occurred on a fault which is part of the boundary between the Pacific and North American plates.  Thousands of aftershocks were recorded in the months following the mainshock.  In the first day there were 11 aftershocks with magnitude greater than 6.0 on the Richter scale; in the next 3 weeks there were 9 more.  Smaller aftershocks continued for more than a year.
bulletCause - The northwestward motion of the Pacific plate at about 5 to 7cm/year causes the crust of southern Alaska to be compressed and warped, with some areas along the coast being depressed and other areas inland being uplifted.  After periods of tens to hundreds of years, this compression is relieved by the sudden southeastward motion of portions of coastal Alaska as they move back over the subducting Pacific plate.
As a result of the 1964 quake, the Latouche Island area moved about 18 metres to the southeast.  Also, the patterns of uplift and subsidence which had been slowly developing prior to the earthquake were suddenly reversed, with areas around Montague Island being uplifted 4-9 metres and areas around Portage down-dropped as much as 3 metres.  The hinge line (line of no vertical change separating the uplift and subsidence zones) extended from near the epicenter in Prince William Sound to the SE coast of Kodiak Island.  This vertical deformation affected and area of approximately 250,000sqkm (100,000sqmi).  The end results was the movement of the Pacific plate under the North American plate by about 9 metres on average.
bulletDamage - The area where there was significant damage covered about 130,000sqkm.  The area in which it was felt was about 1,300,000sqkm (all of Alaska, parts of Canada, and south to Washington).  The four minute duration of shaking triggered many landslides and avalanches.  Major structural damage occurred in many of the major cities in Alaska.
bulletLosses - Deaths: 115 in Alaska, 16 in Oregon and California.  The death toll was extremely small for a quake of this size, due to low population density, time of day (holiday) and type of material used to construct many buildings (wood).  Damage: 300-400 million dollars (1964 dollars).
bulletWater Waves - Much of the damage and most of the lives lost were due to the effects of water waves.  These were mainly of two kinds: the tsunami of open-ocean sea wave, generated by large-scale motion of the sea floor; and the local wave, generated by underwater landslides in bays of fiords.  The 1964 Alaska tsunami was the second largest ever recorded, again following only the one caused by the 1960 Chile earthquake (4 metres at Sitka).  Of the 119 deaths attributable to the effects of the ocean, about 1/3 were due to the open-ocean tsunami: 4 at Newport Beach, Oregon; 12 at Crescent City, California; and about 21 in Alaska.  Local waves claimed at least 82 lives.  Maximum height reported for these waves were 70 metres in Valdez Arm.  Seiches, a sort of sloshing of water back and forth in a small body of water like a boat harbour or swimming pool, were observed as far away as Louisiana where a number of fishing boats were sunk.  Oscillations in the height of water in wells were reported from as far away as South Africa.
bulletSeismic Waves - In addition to damage in the epicentral region immediately following the quake, long period seismic waves travelled around the earth for several weeks.  Basically the whole earth vibrated (rang) like a church bell during this time.  States as far away as Texas and Florida were affected with vertical motions of up to 5 to 10cm.

Doug Christensen is with the Geophysical Institute University of Alaska Fairbanks

Source: aeic.alaska.edu

The largest earthquake in the world since measurements have been made was a 9.5-magnitude event that shook Chile in 1960.  The 1964 Alaskan quake above had held the #2 spot globally until scientists provided an updated estimate of the 26 December 2004 tsunami-causing Sumatran earthquake.  That event has now been pegged at 9.3.

The Rule of Threes

A person can live for:

bulletThree seconds without thinking
bulletThree minutes without air
bulletThree hours without shelter
bulletThree days without water
bulletThree weeks without food
bulletThree months without hope

Source: American Survival Guide November 1997

For satellite photos and pictures of Wellington from several different angles and for articles about earthquakes, history, business, the Ohariu Valley, statistics, fireworks, the national anthem, the kiwi icon and more click the "Up" button below to take you to the Table of Contents for this Wellington section.

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