The devastating earthquake that has ravaged Turkey and Syria grabbed the attention of Israel’s leaders.
Everyone knows, or at least assumes, that one day Israel will be hit by another massive earthquake of the kind that has laid waste to the Holy Land in centuries past. But with so many other concerns and dangers, focus on the earthquake threat quickly fades.
“It gives us a reminder of the enormous danger knocking on our door. In my opinion this is not given enough attention,” said Shuki Ohana, mayor of the northern town of Tsefat (Safed), after two tremors measuring 3.7 and 3.5 respectively on the Richter scale hit last year.
Those were relatively minor earthquakes. But Israel sits on one of the longest and most volatile continental rifts in the world. There is consensus among experts that a “big one” is coming.
According to Mayor Jacky Levy, when that big one does come, his town of Beit Shean, which sits right in that rift valley, is going to face catastrophe. Government assessments presented by Levy to Army Radio speak of at least 10,000 dead, which is half of Beit Shean’s population.
“Everyone knows that there is going to be an earthquake but no one is doing anything,” Levy warned. “The State of Israel doesn’t know how to handle an earthquake and the number of casualties will be insane.”
Levy and others have been lobbying for years for an increased budget to reinforce sub-standard buildings, many of them residential, across the country. But with the Corona pandemic further stretching Israel’s state budget, it’s an uphill battle, to say the least.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
Israel’s Knesset will hold a top-level ministerial meeting next week to assess the nation’s preparedness for a major earthquake.
Meanwhile, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman has urged authorities, both national and local, to take action now before it’s too late.
“Instead of waiting for a commission of inquiry after a disaster, the government should act on pre-disaster preparedness,” Englman said following the earthquake in Turkey.
While Israel’s Homefront Command routinely trains for major man-made and natural disasters, many of the buildings in Israel are as likely to collapse as those seen tumbling in Turkey this week. In the early years of the state, building codes regarding earthquakes were not up to modern standards, and many of those buildings are still standing. In more recent decades, local contractors have not always adhered to up-to-date building codes.
The bottom line, according to Englman, is that in Israel there are about 600,000 buildings, residential and commercial, that do not meet the standard for earthquake resistance. The result, if a major earthquake hits here, will be an estimated 7,000 dead and 160,000 homeless Israelis.
Israel Today Membership
Save 18% Per Month.
Six Months Membership
Save 9% Per Month.