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Environment

Ring of Quakes

By Kathy A SvitilJanuary 1, 1996 6:00 AM

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The pacific rim is sometimes called the Ring of Fire because of its many volcanoes, but it is also a Ring of Quakes, as 1995 made painfully clear: by fall, it had already endured three major quakes. The deadliest of the bunch was a magnitude 6.8 quake that ruptured a shallow fault directly under the port city of Kobe, Japan, on January 17--a year to the day after the quake that devastated Northridge, California. Striking in the early morning, the Kobe quake killed more than 5,500 people, most of whom were crushed to death in their homes--and most of whom lived in wood-frame houses built before Japan instituted a stringent building code in 1981. More than 50,000 buildings were destroyed in all, along with elevated highways, railway lines, and roads.

The residents of Neftegorsk, a remote Russian oil-producing town on Sakhalin Island (just north of Japan) were also caught in their beds. On May 28, nearly two-thirds of them died--at least 1,989 people--when a magnitude 7.0 quake all but leveled their town of shoddily constructed apartment buildings. The people of Manzanillo, on Mexico’s west coast, were slightly luckier: the magnitude 7.6 quake that struck 15 miles north of the town on October 9 happened at 9:36 A.M., when they were up and about. Their buildings were also sturdier than those in Neftegorsk. As a result, the quake killed only 48 people--but it injured 200 and left at least 1,000 homeless.

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