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Great shakes

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A street is covered by debris from the earthquake damaged Duty Free Zone of Iquique, in Iquique, Chile, Friday, April 4, 2014. Following a magnitude-8.2 earthquake early in the week, soldiers have kept a close watch on supermarkets and gas stations to prevent looting as many people continued to line up on Friday for gasoline, water and food. The city remained largely peaceful and no new major damage or casualties were reported from the continuing aftershocks that have rattled the sleep-deprived citizens of Chile's north.

LUIS HIDALGO / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

A street is covered by debris from the earthquake damaged Duty Free Zone of Iquique, in Iquique, Chile, Friday, April 4, 2014. Following a magnitude-8.2 earthquake early in the week, soldiers have kept a close watch on supermarkets and gas stations to prevent looting as many people continued to line up on Friday for gasoline, water and food. The city remained largely peaceful and no new major damage or casualties were reported from the continuing aftershocks that have rattled the sleep-deprived citizens of Chile's north.

"I feel the earth move under my feet

I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down!"

With apologies to famed singer/songwriter Carole King, her 1971 No. 1 megahit seems like the perfect theme song for the past few weeks.

To put it bluntly, the earth has been doing a whole lot of moving under people's feet lately.

On Friday, March 28, a 5.1-magnitude temblor hit Orange County, Calif., about 32 kilometres southeast of central L.A. That was followed by hundreds of aftershocks in which at least 70 residents fled damaged homes and products literally flew off store shelves.

That quake came less than two weeks after L.A. residents were awakened by a 4.4-magnitude event early March 17. No fatalities were reported, but the rocking and rolling spread fear in a city that had not endured a killer quake since the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake of 1974 left 57 dead.

Then, on Tuesday night, a nasty 8.2-magnitude quake struck the northern coast of Chile, triggering landslides, fires, a small tsunami, destruction of homes and blackouts. At least six people were killed after suffering heart attacks or being crushed by falling debris, and an estimated 900,000 were forced to evacuate.

Sadly, Chile, located along an arc of volcanoes and fault lines, is no stranger to devastating disasters, as you'll see in our groundbreaking list of the Five Biggest Earthquakes in History:

 

5. SHAANXI, CHINA

WHEN IT ROCKED: Jan. 23, 1556

HOW ROCKY WAS IT: About 8.0 on the Richter scale

THE BIG BANG: OK, technically, in the No. 5 spot we should be talking about the earthquake that occurred off the coast of Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia on Nov. 4, 1952, believed to be the world's first recorded 9.0 quake. No lives were lost, but the 13-metre tsunami it generated rocked Crescent City, Calif., and Hawaii, where property damage was pegged at about $1 million. Kamchatka ranks as No. 5 on the list of biggest quakes in modern history, but it pales when compared with what happened in Shaanxi in 1556, well before scientists were able to accurately measure a quake's magnitude. Considered by some to be the deadliest quake in history, it reportedly killed more than 830,000 people, roughly 60 per cent of the area's population at the time. The quake was felt in a reported 97 countries and devastated an area of about 840 kilometres, collapsing city walls and buildings and creating crevices about 20 metres deep. This killer quake reminds us there are two ways of measuring disasters -- by their magnitude and by the resulting loss of life.

 

4. THE EAST COAST OF TOHOKU, JAPAN

WHEN IT ROCKED: March 11, 2011

HOW ROCKY WAS IT: Magnitude 9.0

THE BIG BANG: The numbers here are staggering. It was not only the most powerful quake to ever hit Japan, but also the fourth-largest quake in recorded history. On Friday, March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m., northeastern Japan was walloped with a devastating double whammy worthy of a horror movie -- a 9.0-magnitude quake that occurred 372 kilometres northeast of Tokyo at a depth of 30 kilometres and unleashed a deadly tsunami with nine-metre waves that spawned a nuclear disaster. The effects were felt around the world and today, three years later, debris continues to wash up on North American beaches. According to some reports, the quake moved Honshu, the main island of Japan, 2.4 metres east and literally shifted the Earth on its axis by between 10 and 25 centimetres. The tsunami waves rolled up to 10 kilometres inland and damaged four major nuclear power stations, causing meltdowns at three reactors in one complex. While numbers can fluctuate wildly, recent statistics confirmed 15,884 deaths, 6,148 injured and 2,633 missing. "In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan" is how then-Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan put it at the time.

 

3. SUMATRA, INDONESIA

WHEN IT ROCKED: Dec. 26, 2004

HOW ROCKY WAS IT: Magnitude 9.1

THE BIG BANG: One of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, the so-called Indian Ocean Earthquake struck the seabed with the force of more than 32 gigatons, resulting in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Some news reports claim it caused more deaths than any other tsunami in recorded history, with 227,898 people killed in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. However, other estimates say the death toll from the 2010 Haiti earthquake was greater. An estimated 1.7 million were displaced by the quake and subsequent tsunami. It began one day after Christmas off the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra along the interface of the Indian and Burma tectonic plates, which are huge, moving slabs of the Earth's crust. According to some online sources, the quake spawned more than $7 billion in damage during the first 10 minutes alone. It was said to have caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as one centimetre and even triggered a quake in Alaska.

 

2. PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA

WHEN IT ROCKED: March 27, 1964

HOW ROCKY WAS IT: Magnitude 9.2

THE BIG BANG: Ever heard about this one? No? Neither had we, but it stands as the most powerful recorded earthquake in North American history and the second-most powerful ever measured by seismograph. It hit on Good Friday at 5:36 p.m. local time and the shaking lasted about three minutes. When it was over, the quake and resulting tsunami resulted in about 139 deaths and $2.3 billion in damage (or around $311 million in 1964 dollars). Anchorage, about 120 kilometres northwest of the epicentre, sustained the most severe damage, with 30 blocks of dwellings and commercial buildings damaged or destroyed. An 8.2-metre tsunami took out the village of Chenega, killing 23 of the 68 villagers. The survivors are said to have outrun the wave. While incredibly powerful, the Alaska quake's devastation pales when compared with the Jan. 12, 2010, 7.0-magnitude quake in Haiti, where some estimates have placed the death toll between 222,570 and 300,000 people, with another 300,000 injured, 1.3 million displaced and 97,294 houses destroyed.

 

1. VALDIVIA, CHILE

WHEN IT ROCKED: May 22, 1960

HOW ROCKY WAS IT: Magnitude 9.5

THE BIG BANG: On a quiet afternoon in 1960, southern Chile was hit by the Big One, the largest quake in recorded history, a 9.5-magnitude monster known as the Great Chilean Earthquake. The epicentre was off the coast beneath the Pacific Ocean and experts say it was fortunate it struck in the middle of the afternoon with a powerful foreshock that chased citizens outside, where they were safer when the main quake came to town. Estimates of the death toll vary widely, from about 1,655 people to in excess of 6,000. The point is, it was the biggest earthshake of all time, erupting with a force equivalent to 178 gigatons, comparable to 1,000 atomic bombs going off all at once. It spawned a tsunami that killed 61 people in Hawaii, 138 in Japan and 32 in the Philippines. Thousands were injured and millions left homeless. Waves rocketed across the Pacific at speeds of over 320 kilometres per hour. In California, small boats were damaged as waves pounded marinas. So far, this is the quake that takes the cake, but the real fear is that an even bigger one is likely lurking somewhere near Chile in the Pacific Rim's so-called Ring of Fire.

 

Which makes you feel thankful to be reading this in the comfort of your quake-free Winnipeg home, where natural disasters are measured in mosquito counts and wind-chill factors.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 D2

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