Local press rumors cause earthquake panic [Archives:2008/1201/Front Page]

October 23 2008

Nadia Al-Sakkaf
SANA'A, Oct. 22 ) Rumors of strong earthquakes up to 7 degrees on the Richter scale in the Gulf of Aden, Marib, Dhamar and Taiz governorates last Sunday have caused panic among people living in those areas and disturbed their daily lives.

Lutfi Bana, a mathematics teacher who teaches seventh to ninth grade students in a private school in Hadda, said that some of his pupils were scared by the news and kept asking about the earthquake.

“Some students told me that they had heard the earthquake was so strong that it would cause a gap between the cities of Aden and Taiz,” the teacher remarked.

Older students were no better: Yousif Turais, a secondary level English teacher, said his students were anxious and enquired repeatedly about the to-be devastating earthquake.

In fact, some families in Aden and Dhamar left their homes that day in fear of the expected earthquake.

“The story started over two months ago when an article was published in the national newspaper Al-Thawra, in which a center I have never heard of for astronomy, minerals and oil predicted strong earthquakes of 7 Richter. The next day we published an article in the newspaper denying any of that news,” said Jamal Sholan, director of the National Seismology Observatory Center (NSOC) based in Dhamar.

The news was republished in different Yemeni media on several occasions, each time with a new location suggested for the so-called devastating earthquake.

Ibtisam Shaiban, 24 years old from Dhamar, now living in Sana'a, said her uncle's family was talking about another earthquake to happen at the end of the month in Dhamar. Some families have already secured arrangements to move to the local school's yard, the safest place in the area, in the event of a tremor.

“It is the families with old homes that are the ones most cared for, because they feel their homes would collapse on them if an earthquake took place. Were it to take place, the earthquake supposedly forecast for the end of the month would be as catastrophic as the 1982 Dhamar earthquake,” she said.

Getting the facts right

Sholan was dismayed at the rumors, especially as they were spread by the media who he accused of fomenting panic among the people. Although he admitted that there had been a slight earthquake on Sunday, he stressed that it had been no more than 4 degrees Richter.

“The point is that you cannot predict the time, intensity or location of an earthquake to the extent that is being spread around by the media. It is scientifically impossible,” he said.

He added that, if there were any news of such events, the NSOC -which he leads and which is the official scientific body responsible for seismology observation in the country- would announce it on its website www.nsoc.org.ye and alert all concerned bodies such as the Disaster Management Unit at the Civil Defense Authority, the local councils, the Ministry of Interior and Yemen's various governors.

He assured that, since Yemen's worst earthquake which occurred in 1982 killing thousands and leaving another thousand homeless, there hadn't been a significant earthquake to date. Although some Yemeni areas do witness regular seismic events due to the region's tectonic geological structure, they are in the range of 2.5 and 4 degrees on the Richter scale, which is considered moderate and not harmful.

“A group from the Civil Defense went to check any casualties and damages when the latest earthquake took place at 10:30 PM on Sunday in the Bani Salama area about 42 kilometers northwest of Dhamar city, but, despite local fears, nothing had happened at all,” Sholan explained.

He also explained that people living in the higher floors of multi-storey houses could feel an earthquake more strongly than those below, and added that it is very important to build homes according to the Seismic Code provided by NSOC to ensure the buildings' resistance to earthquakes.

“I have called on the authorities more than once to apply the code when giving construction permits. It is not the earthquakes that kill people, it is the buildings,” he concluded.

The center recorded 2,485 seismic events in 2005 – 943 on Yemeni regional lands and 1,342 in Gulf of Aden and Red Sea territorial waters, in addition to 200 seismic events outside the above-mentioned regions. The civil report said Yemen had experienced extensive seismic activity during 2005 compared to previous years in regions like Sana'a, Hajja, Al-Mahwit, Al-Baidha, Yafa and Sa'ada.