Damage to Utilities Fires Broken Gas Mains Transportation Network

Much of the damage and many of the casualties caused by earthquakes are associated with damage to the infrastructure and system of public utilities. For example, much of the damage associated with the San Francisco earthquake (1906) came not from the earthquake itself but from the huge fire that resulted from the numerous broken gas lines, overturned wood and coal stoves, and even from fires set intentionally to collect insurance money on partially damaged buildings. In the Kobe, Japan, earthquake (1995), a large share of the damage was likewise from fires that raged uncontrolled, with fire and rescue teams unable to reach the areas worst affected. Water lines were broken so that even in accessible locations, firefighters were unable to put out the flames.

One of the lessons from these examples is that evacuation routes need to be set up in earthquake hazard zones in anticipation of post-earthquake hazards such as fires, aftershocks, and famine. These routes should ideally be clear of obstacles such as overpasses and buildings that may block access, and efforts should be made to clear these routes soon after earthquake disasters, both for evacuation purposes and for emergency access to the areas worst affected.

See also geological hazards; plate tectonics; seismology; tsunami, generation mechanisms.

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