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Chile the Latest in a Decade of Deadly Quakes

In Chile, smoke billowed from cities damaged by Feb. 27’s 8.8-magnitude quake. The death toll, which stands at more than 700, is expected to rise.

Six weeks ago, Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince was demolished by a 7.0 earthquake. The death toll has reached more than 222,500.

The past decade has seen a spate of other quakes with massive death tolls including China in May 2008 when 86,000 died; Pakistan’s 2005 quake killed just as many. In 2003, 31,000 were killed by a quake in Iran.

The New York Times reported a few days before the Chilean quake that many of the world’s fastest-growing cities are sitting on active fault lines and rapidly filling with the kind of ad hoc housing that is vulnerable to large quakes.

Roger Bilham, a seismologist at the University of Colorado who has spent decades studying major earthquakes around the world, including the recent quake in Haiti, said that the planet’s growing, urbanizing population, projected to swell by two billion more people by midcentury and to require one billion dwellings, faced “an unrecognized weapon of mass destruction: houses.”

Without vastly expanded efforts to change construction practices and educate people, from mayors to masons, on simple ways to bolster structures, he said, Haiti’s tragedy is almost certain to be surpassed sometime this century when a major quake hits Karachi, Pakistan; Katmandu, Nepal; Lima, Peru; or one of a long list of big poor cities facing inevitable major earthquakes.

Compare the toll of the past decade’s deadliest earthquakes:

Earthquake Date Magnitude Local time Nearest population center Estimated Deaths
Chile Feb. 27, 2010 8.8 3:34 a.m. Chillan (60 mi) 711
Port au Prince, Haiti Jan. 12, 2010 7.0 4:53 p.m. Port au Prince (15 mi) 222,521
Eastern Sichuan, China May 12, 2008 7.9 2:28 p.m. Chengdu (50 mi) 87,587
Pakistan Oct. 8, 2005 7.6 8:50 a.m. Islamabad (65 mi) 86,000
Sumatra, Indonesia Dec. 26, 2004 9.1 7:58 a.m. Banda Aceh, Sumatra (155 mi) 227,898
Southeastern Iran Dec. 26, 2003 6.6 5:26 a.m. Kerman 115 mi) 31,000
Turkey Aug. 17, 1999 7.6 3:01 a.m Izmit (10.5 mi) 17,118

Source: U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS has a full list of earthquakes that killed at least 1,000 people.

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