80,000 residential buildings vulnerable to quakes, Israel’s disaster agency told

After a series of minor earthquakes hit the north of the country over the past several days, a hastily organized seminar hosted by the National Disaster Management Agency on Wednesday heard that tens of thousands of residential buildings in Israel are vulnerable to more powerful tremors.

The meeting, called earlier this week by the Defense Ministry, included representatives from the police, army and ambulance services as well as from local authorities.

A recent rash of minor quakes has raised public concerns that a major one could be coming, and instructions have been issued to review and refresh procedures.

A situation assessment reported 80,000 residential buildings of three floors or more, and 4,600 public buildings, were built before new regulations requiring reinforcement against earthquakes were introduced in 1980, and are thus deemed potentially vulnerable, Channel 10 television reported.

Despite a government drive to reinforce those buildings, just 2,000 residential buildings have been strengthened as necessary, and only a few dozen public buildings.

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

In the north of the country, where the quakes of recent days have been centered, there are 1,871 buildings of between 3-6 floors which were put up before 1980, according to the television report.

A police representative told the gathering that there are some 30,000 officers and Border Police guards, along with a similar number of civilian volunteers, who can be called on for an emergency response 24 hours a day.

An IDF Home Command operations officer, Colonel Shay Blaish, stated that in the event of a disaster the army would use all its available resources to help police in saving lives.

Balish stated that the Home Front command is training independent first response aid units, comprised of municipal employees and volunteers from local authorities who provide an initial response until professional emergency services can arrive on the scene.

On Tuesday, Hadashot TV news reported that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has promised local and regional council heads in the north that the government will invest billions of shekels in reinforcing buildings throughout Israel and that the widespread project will be approved by the cabinet as early as next week.

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. In addition, 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.

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.

Israel lies on a volatile fault line that runs from Syria to Mozambique. Experts have warned that a large earthquake could strike the country 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.

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