Bracing for an earthquake

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Bracing for an earthquake

A series of powerful earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador over the weekend has raised alarm about a possible mega-earthquake brewing along the infamous Ring of Fire, the chain of tectonically active structures that stretches across the Pacific Ocean.

Following a 6.5-magnitude earthquake on Thursday, Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu in southwest Japan was hit by a 7.3-magnitude quake the next day, killing over 40. It was the biggest to hit Japan since the tsunami and earthquake that devastated its eastern coast in March 2011.

On Saturday, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck off of the west coast of northern Ecuador, on the other end of the pacific but still on the Ring of Fire, which accounts for 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes.

Earthquakes and volcanic activity have recently been reported in areas straddling the ring like Japan, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Rim islands, Alaska, and coastal regions along the North and South Americas. There have also been shakes in the Philippines, Vanuatu, and Myanmar since Thursday.

The Korean Peninsula is located outside the Ring of Fire and has managed to stay relatively safe from major earthquakes so far. But shakes have been more frequent recently, with 91 cases in 2013 alone, compared with 44 cases throughout the 2000s and 16 in the 1980s. This year, 17 tremors have been detected.

Korea also has to be vigilant in the design of its buildings and infrastructure, as well as the maintenance of its alert and emergency systems for quakes. But the government still regards earthquakes as the problems of other countries. Although shakes have been felt by a number of citizens across the Chungcheong and around the capital on Saturday, no national-level alert system was available. Authorities must establish an alert system for earthquakes as they have for floods and snowstorms.

Buildings taller than six stories from 1988 and three stories from 2005 were required to designed to withstand earthquakes, but most private buildings neglected the guidelines. Seven out of 10 buildings across the nation aren’t engineered to withstand a serious quake. The government must hasten with tougher safety regulations to better protect the nation against natural hazards.

JoongAng Ilbo, Apr. 18, Page 30
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