Government knows: 80,000 buildings in danger in Israel

The 10 most earthquake-vulnerable cities in Israel have already been mapped.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Just a week before the latest two earthquakes were felt in northern Israel on Saturday night and Sunday, Israeli authorities completed a report mapping the country’s 10 most earthquake-vulnerable cities,  Channel 12 reported Sunday.

One is at Israel’s southern tip – Eilat. The rest are in the north: Tiberias, Safed, Kiryat Shemona, Hatzor, Migdal HaEmek, Afula, Katzrin and Beit She’an.

The report, compiled by the Construction and Housing Ministry, also warns that some 80,000 buildings built before 1985 are at high risk if a strong earthquake hits. A full 35% could be heavily damaged. In the worst-off cities, over half – 54% – of those at high risk would suffer substantial damage.

These numbers are not actually new. In 2018, after a series of light earthquakes hit the country, Betzalel Treiber, a former head of the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), cited the 80,000 figure as those buildings not reinforced to withstand the tremblors.

Early warnings on the way

Treiber also had some good news: seismological sensors were being deployed around the country to caution residents when an earthquake was about to hit their area. They are sheduled to be in operation “by the end of the year”.

The seismographic devices, which are already installed in schools throughout northern Israel, worked well on Sunday. Connected to the warning system of the Home Front Command, loudspeakers announced a warning several seconds before the tremblor hit. This gave children and staff members time to run outside.

In general, the further away the epicenter of the quake, the longer the warning time, similar to the siren alerts when Hamas rockets are launched at Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip. Since earthquakes usually occur in sets beginning with less severe ones, the devices’ warning before an initial quake can save lives.

Experts in the field agree that the danger of a big earthquake hitting Israel is real, even if they cannot predict when it will occur. The country has been hit with a devastating earthquake approximately once every hundred years in the last few centuries, and the last major one was in 1927. Striking near Jericho in the center of the country, it measured 6.2 on the Richter scale and killed almost 500 people. A deadlier one measuring 6.7 on the scale hit Safed in 1837.

Those felt over the weekend measured only 3.7 and 3.5 on the Richter scale, yet they still caused damage and rattled residents. Some 500 buildings are currently being checked by engineers in cities like Tiberias after apartment owners reported finding new cracks in their buildings or on the supporting pillars.

“We examined buildings after nervous residents called us,” Tiberias fire station shift commander Shmulik Ahituv told the network in a separate report.” We found nothing that justifies evacuating a building or anything like that.”