Plain Truth Magazine
September 1976
Volume: Vol XLI, No.8
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Donald D Schroeder  

Surprisingly, this awesome and destructive natural disaster can strike almost anywhere. Here is how you can prepare to protect yourself and your family.

   Killer quakes have hit the headlines with disturbing frequency in recent months.
   "Guatemala's 39 Second Eternity of Terror." Death Toll in Hundreds in Italy." "10,000 Left Homeless by Soviet Quake," and others in Mexico, Bali, and New Guinea hit in rapid succession. Then China was devastated by the most gigantic quake of the decade, killing tens of thousands.
   Even before the China disaster, earthquakes in 1976 had killed over 24,000, making it the deadliest year for quakes since 1970, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
   Instinctively we don't like to think about earthquakes happening to us. Yet hundreds of millions of people live in major earthquake belts. (See map.) And other areas seemingly immune from quakes may nonetheless be subject to damaging tremors caused by stresses building up over centuries of time.
   Failure to face the possibility of experiencing an earthquake crisis can lead to uncontrolled panic, immobilizing fear, and dangerous rumors, as well as disregard for basic safety precautions when a quake hits. The tragic result is many unnecessary injuries, deaths, and properly losses added to disaster columns.

Few Areas Untouched

   One has but to map the geography of large earth tremors or major quakes in the last decade alone to realize that very few regions of the earth have been untouched by upsetting jolts if not some type of tragic destruction.
   The truth is that terra firma, in an absolute sense, is a myth. Thousands of tremors occur daily. Most are detectable only with ultra-sensitive instruments. Still, about a dozen or so "major" quakes (7 to 7.9 on the Richter Scale) occur yearly. A "great" quake, such as occurred in San Francisco in 1906 and in Alaska in 1964. measures 8 or more on the same scale. Yet, even "moderate" quakes measuring little more than 6 can cause extensive damage in areas of poor construction.
   In the last ten years major quakes have wiped out whole regions and villages in Sicily, Turkey, Pakistan, and Latin America and severely jarred many other areas around the Circum-Pacific "Ring of Fire."
   In this same period, temblors have been felt in England, France, Austria, and other parts of Europe.
   All but forgotten to most Americans is the tremor that jolted 23 Midwest States in 1968. Ceilings and walls cracked, windows broke, chimneys toppled, and tall buildings swayed over a wide area.
   Earthquakes east of the Mississippi River are much less frequent and in most cases milder than those in Western States. Nevertheless, a three-hundred-mile strip of the central Mississippi Valley, Boston. Charleston (South Carolina), and other East Coast areas are vulnerable to major quakes, say experts.

Why Earthquakes?

   The most widely accepted theory explaining many, but not all, earthquakes is plate tectonics. At least a dozen great crustal slabs 80 or so miles thick have been found covering the planet. These huge plates are floating on the earth's semi-molten mantle and are kept in motion by powerful internal forces which are not as yet very well understood by geologists.
   Imperceptible to human senses in most cases, these plates are constantly interacting at their edges bumping, grinding, pulling apart or plunging beneath one another - producing tremendous strains from a few to several hundred miles below the surface.
   The earthquake-plagued Japanese islands are the summits of a young and still evolving mountain chain which marks the boundaries of several of these plates.
   Friction frequently locks sections of these huge plates in place, causing great strains that suddenly release themselves as earthquakes
   In California. two great plates are sliding past each other. A sliver of California coastal area is moving northwest a few inches a year. The famous San Andreas Fault marks the edges of these two plates.
   Unfortunately, a section of this fault near Los Angeles (an area including the "Palmdale Bulge" that has risen a foot in the last fifteen or so years) and another near San Francisco appear locked while other sections of the plate have moved around twenty feet.
   For years a major earthquake has been forecast for California on the order of the 1906 magnitude. "There will be a big earthquake in California sooner or later," said one official of the U.S. Geological Survey. "It could be decades away, but it could occur tomorrow."
   While earthquakes most frequently occur along jostling plate edges, violent convulsions can and do occur far from the edges.
   In fact, one of the greatest series of quakes in United States history devastated a huge area around New Madrid, Missouri, in 1811 and 1812. It was so strong that it reversed the Mississippi River in some places and created new lakes.

Lucky So Far?

   Recent quakes have killed thousands at a time, but for the most part, they have hit relatively unpopulated land or ocean areas, or in villages with poor building standards. (Often these villages have many stick-frame dwellings plastered over with mud that collapse in even a moderate quake.)
   Modern construction and heavily populated areas in highly advanced nations have not yet been put to a "great" quake test. Yet earthquake experts fear hundreds of thousands could be injured or killed, because buildings, building codes. and human preparations have been greatly neglected in many areas.
   The earthquake that ripped Nicaragua in late 1972 was a "moderate" quake (6.3 on Richter scale), no bigger than the early morning Los Angeles quake (6.5) of 1971. Yet, downtown Managua resembled ground zero after an atom bomb blast. Thousands died in Managua while less than 100 died in the Los Angeles area.
   Building construction, soil conditions, and time of day differences produced a wide disparity between these two disasters. Had the Los Angeles quake hit during hours of busy streets, occupied schools, and factories, casualties would have been much higher.
   At the time of the devastating quake of 1906. San Francisco was relatively undeveloped compared to the present city. Today many officials are alarmed at the extensive housing projects built right on or along the San Andreas Fault that were not there in 1906.

Earthquake Prediction: Closer to Reality

   In recent years, scientists have found that most big earthquakes do not come like a bolt out of the blue. Tell-tale seismic evidence will usually be present to signal the impending tembler.
   Many seismologists now theorize that rocks in the vicinity of the future earthquake break apart slightly under increasing pressure. As a result, the speed of sound waves passing through these fracturing rocks slows down slightly as the rocks become filled with greater amounts of air. Many of these scientists feel that as water fills the minute cracks, a return to normal sound-wave measurement occurs. In several cases, this "normalizing" has been the tip-off that a quake is about to strike. Changes in tilt-meters, creep-meters, electrical conductivity, and magnetism in the earth also may be additional tip-offs.
   Already, as a result of using detectable changes in the earth, several earthquakes around the world have been predicted accurately as to place, approximate time, and magnitude. (However, it is not known how many other predictions have failed.)
   The most startling success in earthquake prediction occurred in the Manchurian province of Liaoning in China in late 1974 and early 1975. As a result of numerous instrument-recorded premonitory signs (as well as signs from alarmed animals: cattle behaving fitfully, frogs jumping through holes in ice on frozen ponds, rats surging from their dens) villages in several Chinese cities were evacuated several days before a devastating 7.3 quake tore the area. The town of Haicheng was leveled. Because of the advance orderly evacuation, casualties were largely among those who refused to heed the warning.
   Late last year, Dr. James Whitcomb of Caltech's Seismology School success fully predicted a moderate quake east of Riverside, California. He predicts another for Southern California in the 5.5 to 6.5 magnitude range by May next year.
   However, some public officials point out earthquake predictions could be a curse as well as a blessing. "A prediction itself could in some ways be worse than an actual earthquake," says Dr. Vincent E. McKelvey, director of the U.S. Geological Survey. "Visions of stalled economic growth, thousands of autos streaming over bridges in a mass evacuation are frightening indeed. Many would rather take their chances with no warning."
   Still, most seismologists feel they have a moral obligation not to keep secrets and to at least give a warning to responsible government and public agencies.

What Can Be Done?

   The energy released in a major earthquake could actually be more than several hydrogen bombs. It would seem that governments that scarcely flick an eyebrow to spend additional millions or billions of dollars on military defense should expand their (so far usually meager) budgets for earthquake research and prediction.
   Next, it is vital to upgrade building codes and improve their enforcement. Dr. Charles Richter, the famous seismologist who developed the scale bearing his name, says, "Ninety percent of the loss of life [from earthquakes] results from the collapse of structures that any engineer could have established as unsound." These deaths and half of the property losses are unnecessary and preventable, according to Richter.
   Well-built, modern, steel-framed skyscrapers are, in most cases, safer from complete collapse than lower, multi-story buildings built before earthquake codes were enforced.
   Yet equally as important as good earthquake structural engineering are the surface conditions upon which a building rests.
   An area underlain by unstable ground (sand, clay, volcanic rubble, or other unconstituted materials) is likely to experience much more damage than an area equally distant or even nearer the earthquake epicenter but underlain by firm ground such as granite.
   Apart from these considerations, the most the average individual can do is prepare himself or herself to act as calmly and sensibly as they can before, during, and after an earthquake.
   The following section contains some sound advice from earthquake and safety experts.


   The Plain Truth research staff provides the following basic earthquake safety rules as a public service. You may wish to post or keep them for future reference.
   Few casualties come from the actual ground movement of an earthquake. Most result from falling objects and debris, fires, and uncontrolled panic. No rules can eliminate all earthquake dangers, but the following rules can greatly reduce injuries and damage.


   1. Support local safe building codes with efficient inspection and enforcement for schools, offices, homes, etc.
   2. Support and encourage earthquake drills and training for schools, work areas, and homes.
   3. As a homeowner or tenant: Fasten shelves to walls. Remove heavy objects from upper shelves unless they are restrained. Place breakable or valuable items in a safe place. Remove or securely fasten high, loose objects, as well as heavy objects above beds. If you have defective wiring or leaky gas connections, replace them. You could thereby save your home. Bolt down water heaters and other gas appliances.
   4. Teach members of your family how to turn off electricity, gas, and water at main switches and valves.
   5. Maintain an up-to-date medical kit. Provide responsible family members with basic first-aid instruction because medical facilities could be overwhelmed immediately after a severe quake. Keep a flashlight and a battery-powered radio in the house.
   6. Conduct calm family discussions about earthquakes and related problems. Do not tell frightening stories about disasters.
   7. Think about what you would do if an earthquake struck when you were at home, in a car, at work, in a store, in a public hall, or outside. Your prior planning may enable you to act calmly, safely and constructively in an emergency and enable you to help others.


   1. Remain calm as possible. Think through the consequences of any action. Calm and reassure others.
   2. If indoors, watch for falling plaster, bricks, light fixtures, and other objects. Stay away from windows, mirrors, chimneys, and outer walls. If in danger, get under a table, desk, bed, or a strong doorway. School children should be taught to get under desks. Usually it is not best to run outside. The one exception may be if you are in a heavy, poorly constructed old building.
   3. In a high-rise office building, get under a desk. Do not dash for exits; stairwells may be jammed with people or broken. Power for elevators may fail.
   4. If outside, avoid high buildings, walls, power poles, and objects that could fall. Do not run through the streets. If possible, move away from all hazards. If you're in an automobile, stop in the safest place and stay in your automobile (because you are encased in steel).
   5. Never be stampeded into leaving an upright building merely because it groans horribly or cracks appear and plaster falls. If collapse is obviously imminent, you may need to do something else. (Collapse of a building is generally indicated by walls falling as a unit.)


   1. Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they're in immediate danger of further injury. Wear shoes to avoid foot injuries from debris and glass.
   2. Shut off all damaged electrical and gas lines. Do not operate light switches, use matches, or open flame appliances if you suspect that there are any gas leaks. Do not touch downed power lines.
   3. If water is off, emergency water may be obtained from water heaters, toilet tanks, ice cubes, canned vegetables, and even radiators of cars. (Water from radiators should not be used for drinking as it may contain antifreeze.) Check to see if sewage lines are intact before permitting the flushing of toilets.
   4. Do not use your telephone except for genuine emergency calls. Turn on radio for information.
   5. Do not spread rumors or be quick to believe them. Rumors can cause great harm and panic following disasters.
   6. Do not go sight-seeing immediately. Keep streets clear for emergency vehicles.
   7. Be prepared for additional after-shocks. Although usually smaller, they may be large enough to cause further damage to weakened structures.
   8. Watch out for and stay clear of tidal waves and landslides in certain areas.
   9. Help police, fire fighters, civil defense or relief units only if requested to do so. Otherwise stay out of damaged areas.
   10. Make thorough check or your home for cracks or leaks in chimneys, utility connections, or other weakened parts of the home that could cause future fires, asphyxiation, or damage.

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Plain Truth MagazineSeptember 1976Vol XLI, No.8