What happens to people during an earthquake

Effects and damage from earthquakes

The damage an earthquake causes to human civilization depends on physical and anthropogenic factors. To the physical factors include the magnitude of the earthquake, the duration of the earthquake and the distance to the focus of the earthquake. Anthropogenic (human) factors include the settlement density and the prevailing construction method in the earthquake area. It is also decisive whether the decision-makers in a country have taken protective measures and installed warning systems (e.g. against tsunamis).

The human factor

With the same intensity, an earthquake can either turn into a humanitarian catastrophe - or pass almost unnoticed. Even very strong earthquakes in sparsely populated regions such as Papua New Guinea hardly cause any deaths. In addition, the chances of survival in a simple hut can be much higher than in a high-rise made of concrete that collapses weighing tons over its residents. The damage to the technical infrastructure (roads, supply lines, power plants, factories) is naturally much higher in metropolises than in rural regions. The Tōhoku earthquake in high-tech Japan in 2011 cost around 250 billion euros most expensive quake of all time.

The following Risk factors can be influenced by humans and make major earthquake damage more likely:

  • High density of buildings in earthquake-prone areas (for example in Japan and California).
  • Simple construction without earthquake protection (especially in poor countries).
  • Lack of early warning systems in the event of a tsunami threat.
  • Insufficient education of the population about correct behavior.
  • Downplaying potential dangers from politics and business.

Psychological aspects

Like other disasters, earthquakes do not only have physical and technically measurable effects. If a severe earthquake and / or a tsunami hits a densely populated area, it can trigger mass panic. The frightened people then do not act rationally, but often increase the danger to their own life and to the health of others.

If the actual catastrophe is finally over, perhaps it is not the body but the psyche that has been damaged: Anyone who has ever experienced a severe tremor and survived can trauma retained. In an extreme way, this is the case with people buried. Psychological support and follow-up care are therefore among the most important tasks after the acute relief measures.

Long term consequences

Above all, the destruction of important infrastructure has a detrimental effect on the regions affected and on the economies as a whole. Traffic routes have to be repaired, houses and industrial plants have to be rebuilt. All of this costs a lot of money, which usually neither the people concerned nor the state budgets own. But a major quake not only causes direct costs, it also lowers income: Destroyed factories can no longer produce anything, defective power plants do not provide electricity and the fear of further quakes keeps tourists willing to spend away from the country.

Many earthquake areas are in poor countries around the world that already have scarcely sufficient resources for the most important tasks of a state. Therefore, such disasters can only be overcome with international aid measures and donations.