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Effects of earthquakes

The primary effect of an earthquake is the ground motion caused by seismic waves.

The loss generated by an earthquake is determined not only by the earthquake parameters themselves (magnitude, distance, duration) and the local subsoil conditions (intensity) but also by the characteristics of the affected buildings: type of design, type of building, occupancy, year of construction, height, asymmetries in the floor and elevation plan, resonant frequency (Mexico City effect), etc.

Earthquake-resistant construction is one of the main ways of reducing the enormous loss potential of earthquakes and the threat they pose to human life. Rigorous building regulations for exposed regions and above all compliance with those regulations, however, are essential if such building methods are to be implemented.

The earthquake that rocked Turkey on 17 August 1999 was a striking illustration of how non-compliance with the building code in earthquake-prone regions can cost many lives. The cheap houses that had been erected at great speed could not withstand the quake, collapsed, and buried thousands of people. Time after time, gross negligence and greed in housebuilding prove to be the cause of a sad and unnecessary loss of human life in earthquakes.

Secondary effects of earthquakes

Strong earthquakes in particular often trigger secondary effects which also have a high loss potential and are usually the prime factor for determining whether an earthquake is categorised as a catastrophe. These are the main secondary effects:

  • Amplification
  • Seismic sea waves (tsunamis)
  • Liquefaction
  • Landslides
  • Surface rupture
  • Subsidence
  • Fire following earthquake


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