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Study Projects Higher Earthquake Death Toll Over Next Century

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Destruction around Union Square.  The tall steel skeleton left of center is the Whittell Building - then known as the Union League Building. It was under construction at the time of the earthquake, later finished, and still standing on Geary Street.  The Butler Building at right, also under construction at the time of the quake, had walls peel away during the quake, killing several people. The building later became I. Magnin's, and its windows shattered during the 1989 earthquake. Several people on the street were injured by falling glass. The Butler Building is now part of Macy's. (sfmuseum.org)

Destruction around Union Square. The tall steel skeleton left of center is the Whittell Building – then known as the Union League Building. It was under construction at the time of the earthquake, later finished, and still standing on Geary Street. The Butler Building at right, also under construction at the time of the quake, had walls peel away during the quake, killing several people. The building later became I. Magnin’s, and its windows shattered during the 1989 earthquake. Several people on the street were injured by falling glass. The Butler Building is now part of Macy’s. (sfmuseum.org)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Large, catastrophic earthquakes causing larger death tolls and creating greater destruction are expected to increase in the 21st century, according to a newly published study led by U.S. Geological Survey engineering geologist Thomas Holzer.

Expected population increases in the 21st century translate into more people dying from earthquakes, according to the USGS report written by Holzer and co-author James Savage.

The authors studied earthquakes that deal with death tolls of more than 50,000, considered catastrophic, and reported death tolls going back to 1500 A.D.

The study results were found by statistically correlating the number of catastrophic earthquakes in each century with world population, according to the USGS.

New population predictions by the United Nations allowed them to project 21 catastrophic earthquakes to occur in the 21st century, triple the amount that occurred in the prior century.

The study goes on to highlight that the increase in lethal earthquakes has more to do with the amount of people living in seismically vulnerable buildings in the world’s earthquake zones, rather than simply an increase in the amount of catastrophic earthquakes.

According to officials at the USGS, the study underscores the need for earthquake education and seismically safe structures throughout these earthquake-prone regions.

“Without a significant increase in seismic retrofitting and seismic-resistant construction in earthquake hazard zones at a global scale, the number of catastrophic earthquakes and earthquake fatalities will continue to increase and our predictions are likely to be fulfilled,” Holzer said.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, four catastrophic earthquakes have occurred that have killed more than 200,000 people combined.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

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