New Pohang quake leaves more displaced

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New Pohang quake leaves more displaced

The number of displaced people staying at a gymnasium in the North Gyeongsang city of Pohang, the only evacuation center in the city, grew from 324 to 413 within a day after a 4.6-magnitude quake on Sunday shook the city, which is still recovering from being hit just three months ago by the strongest earthquake in Korean history.

But this evacuation center may not have been open at all had the city government decided to go with its plan to close down the center the day before the recent quake.

“Please be informed that the evacuation center will be closed after Feb. 10,” said a notice set up at the gym on Feb. 5.

Some residents staying at the gym complained and asked that the center be kept open. Most of them had requested private companies to re-examine their homes after government inspections had deemed them safe to live in again. They were asking the city government to keep the evacuation center open until these results come out.

“My home has cracks all over the walls, but the government said it is safe enough to go back,” said Seo, a 46-year-old mother of three children. “I have been staying at the gym since the quake in November because I am afraid to go back to my home.”

The government offered 160 families free housing for six months after the November quake. The recipients were selected based on how damaged their homes were.

The gym once housed over 1,000 people after the quake in November, but that number dropped to around 300 after free temporary housing was provided.

In a meeting with some residents on Saturday, the city government decided to keep the gym open as an evacuation center until the private companies’ analyses are out.

The gymnasium was one of around five being operated in the city since November. It is the only operating evacuation center as of Monday.

“We will have to keep the evacuation center open for a while,” said an official of the Pohang city government.

A total of 34 people were injured from the 4.6-magnitude quake that hit Pohang at around 5:03 a.m. Sunday.

As of Monday morning, three people were still hospitalized and the rest had returned home after being treated.

The number of reports of elevator shut downs and damaged walls totaled 134 as of Monday morning. A total of 47 schools reported property damage.

Some residents have been questioning whether a geothermal plant in the city may have been the cause of the more frequent onset of quakes. The plant is located 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the epicenter of the 5.4-magnitude quake in Pohang.

JTBC exclusively reported on Nov. 21, six days after the strongest quake in Korea hit Pohang, that the dates of drilling at the new geothermal plant in Pohang coincided with the quakes in the region.

“The plant in Pohang’s Buk District injected water into the ground for geothermal power from Dec. 15 to 22 in 2016, and then a 2.2-magnitude quake hit Buk District on Dec. 23,” JTBC reported. “Then when the water was injected from Dec. 26 to 28, a 2.3-magnitude quake hit the city on Dec. 29.

“The plant stopped injecting water then, and restarted around March 2017, keeping it up until April 14,” it said. “Then on April 15, Pohang was hit by a 3.1-magnitude quake.”

JTBC reported that the plant stopped injecting water after Sept. 18 last year.

Geothermal plants generate power by injecting high-pressure liquid into the ground and extracting heat. Studies outside Korea have pointed out that this process may cause quakes.

“For scientists to make themselves useful in this field we need to be able to tell operators how many gallons of water they can pump into the ground in a particular location and how many earthquakes that will produce,” Emily Brodsky, professor of earth and marine science at the University of California Santa Cruz, told the Guardian. “The problem is, we can only predict how many earthquakes will occur, but not their size, and so with this knowledge then it has to be decided what is an acceptable size and frequency of earthquakes for a particular area.”

“We cannot say right now that the drilling and water injection at the geothermal plant caused the quakes with 100 percent certainty,” Lee Jin-han, geology professor at Korea University, told JTBC. “But the possibility is still very high.”

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