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Israeli Official: Country Not Prepared for Major Earthquake

An earthquake of the same magnitude as the one two weeks ago in Haiti or stronger is certain to strike Israel, Avi Shapira, chairman of the National Earthquake Preparedness Committee, said on Tuesday.

“I just returned from Haiti,” Shapira told a special Knesset committee that gathered in the wake of the Haiti disaster to discuss Israel’s readiness to deal with earthquakes. “What happened there will also happen here.”

Shapira warned that hospitals are not prepared for such a disaster and that, according to his estimates, most buildings constructed before 1980 would not withstand a quake.

Previous estimates held that 40 to 50 percent of residential buildings in Israel were not constructed in accordance with guidelines meant to prevent damage in case of an earthquake. However, Shapira said the actual number is closer to 20 percent.

“The situation is not optimal,” Shapira told the committee comprising members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense and Interior and Environment committees, adding that Israel is waking up to the threat of earthquakes.

Shapira also told the committee that while it is impossible to know when an earthquake would strike, Israel must take precautions to minimize potential damage.

Israel has been struck by minor quakes and tremors in recent years that have caused no casualties. The last major earthquake to strike the area was in 1927. It had a magnitude of more than 6 and killed 500 people.

Israeli experts have said that because of population growth and high-rise construction, an earthquake of the same magnitude today would kill more than 18,000 people.

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