Earthquakes in Azerbaijan: yesterday, today and tomorrow

Azerbaijan Materials 21 February 2014 11:00
Only one earthquake was felt in Baku since the beginning of 2014, however there were 11 in total.
Earthquakes in Azerbaijan: yesterday, today and tomorrow

Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 21

By Tim Tal -Trend:

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan was shaken by a magnitude 3.0 quake on February 10. It was the 10th earthquake to strike in Azerbaijan since the start of 2014, as recorded by the Republican Seismic Survey Center of Azerbaijan's National Academy of Sciences. In total, there were 11.

The tremor of the February 10 quake was tangible - a shade of the past, an unpleasant memory of the year 2000, when Azerbaijan's capital was shaken by a strong earthquake on November 25.

Back in 2000, Baku suffered a 6.6 magnitude earthquake (other sources have it between 6.1 - 6.5), which indeed was something the country didn't experience for decades.

The February 10 earthquake occurred in Azerbaijan's Hagigabul region, with the epicenter of the quake located at a 55 km depth, some 100 km away from the capital city. No one was hurt as a result of the tremor. As it usually happens, after that Azerbaijan's local media outlets published opinions from various sources, mostly to reassure the public.

The seismic situation in the country is constantly being observed by about 35 seismic stations, and the public is constantly updated on the situation. This of course is good, and is necessary; however it doesn't hurt to inquire about the overall situation from other sources. The more you know, the better you're prepared, right?

Diving into history

The last serious earthquake to hit Baku was on November 25, 2000 and prior to that was back in 1842. That being said, Azerbaijan has a history of earthquakes measuring 6.0 and over, the most of which were centered away from the capital.

A quick look at the archive of the Centre of Seismic Service of Azerbaijan's National Academy of Sciences (ANAS), shows the year, the area where the earthquake happened, as well as the intensity of the quake.

Most of the strong earthquakes took place in Azerbaijan's Shamakha region, with only two striking the city of Ganja.

The following list is compiled using the Medvedev-Sponheuer-Karnik scale (MSK-64), the maximum of which is 12 points.

427 - Ganja (9.0)
891 - Ardebil (8.0-9.0)
906 - Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (8.0)
957 - Caspian Sea (7.0)
1139 - Ganja (9.0)
1235 - Ganja (8.0)
1667 - Shamakha region (9.0-10)
1669 - Shamakha region (9.0)
1671 - Shamakha region (8.0-9.0)
1828 - Shamakha region (8.0)
1859 - Shamakha region (8.0)
1872 - Shamakha region
1902 - Shamakha region
2000 - Baku (8.0)

"Celestial Patrol"

A number of analysts and seismologists say it is impossible or nearly impossible to predict an earthquake. Well, "Celestial Patrol" could prove them wrong. "Celestial Patrol" is a computer program that is able to predict an earthquake over a period of 1 to 5 days. The privately-funded program claims to be unlike any other similar forecasting systems.

The program - developed by a citizen of Kazakhstan, Sergey Breshuk - allows monitoring of 55 world countries, and is completely independent from the existing information systems, as the creator claims. The success rate of the "Celestial Patrol" forecast in its current version says to be 75-87 percent, while in the pro version it goes up to 90 percent.

But it is not all that simple. The reliability of the program is questioned by some scientists, and yet it has already made a couple of predictions that turned out to be true. In case with Azerbaijan, "Celestial Patrol" has predicted in November 2013 that Azerbaijan will have an earthquake in the first part of 2014. February 10, anyone?

"No need to panic in the next 30 years..."

World Earthquakes Live is an online service that monitors seismic activity all over the world, with its specific algorithm. Since it's nearly impossible to actually predict an earthquake, World Earthquakes Live offers probabilities and possibilities of a quake happening. Some of their forecasts have been successful. For example, their algorithm successfully predicted a 2012 California earthquake, as well as Indonesia's 2014 earthquake, and Papua New Guinea's 2013 earthquake.

According to Anna Karpentiva, the spokesperson for the service, World Earthquakes Live has also successfully predicted three earthquakes in Japan in 2011, a 2012 earthquake in California, and a 2013 quakes in Sandwich Islands, and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Karpentiva told Trend that World Earthquakes Live has won various international awards for their work, namely National Institute of Research and Development for Earth Physics (Japan, 2011), European Seismological Commission (Geneva, 2011) and The Canadian National Data Centre for Earthquake Seismology and Nuclear Explosion Monitoring (Ottawa, 2012).

Azerbaijan is among the countries that World Earthquakes Live monitor, and Karpentiva explained why the South Caucasus country is not on the list of the most monitored countries.

"With the actual data that we have in our database, the algorithm calculates that Azerbaijan will not have an earthquake of magnitude greater or equal with Mw 6.5 in the next 30 years," she said.

It doesn't mean Azerbaijan will not be having any earthquakes at all, just they won't be as devastating as some others previously mentioned.

"Buildings are built not to withstand strong earthquake, but to fall in a safe way"

Not all relies on predictions and forecasts for earthquakes, as there are also other factors that need be taken into consideration, such as buildings, for example.

"It is important to have good foundation for the buildings, especially for tall buildings - they must stand on solid foundations," Wayne Richardson, senior seismologist of International Seismological Centre in the UK, told Trend.

"If there's a large earthquake nearby there is the possibility that soft sediments will liquefy. The buildings therefore need to be connected to solid rock below or be broad and stable enough to float like a ship," he said.

When asked about probability of Baku's buildings near the Caspian suffering a lot of damage due to a sudden earthquake, Richardson said it depends on the building standards.

"I was in Baku back in 2002 I think, and you had very nice skyscrapers being build up, with very modern design," he said.

"Azerbaijan also has much older buildings of very nice European, Italian style, but of course they weren't too high, 2-3 storey, from what I remember. And if you want to preserve the old buildings that you think may be at risk as a result of an earthquake, then you have to decide whether to strengthen them or to tear them down and build new ones."

Richardson went on to say that engineers can't build a perfect building, they have economic constraints.

"They have to think about the economic costs for the building that is going to stand 50 or 100 years," he said. "They know about the hazards, and what they have to design for. Modern buildings are designed to avoid dominant resonant frequencies caused by the tremors. The buildings are built not so that they could withstand a strong earthquake, but so that they could fall in a safe way, so there would be a chance for people would get out safely."

Azerbaijan shares a border with Iran - which is a very seismic country, to say the least. When the February 10 earthquake hit Azerbaijan, it was felt in Iran as well. So, if an strong earthquake hits Iran, what is the possibility that it reaches Azerbaijan?

"The earthquakes in Iran mostly happen in rural villages, as buildings there don't have reinforced concrete, steel, or anything like that," Richardson said, adding that one can feel a large earthquake for a long way from the source.

"So if you have an earthquake in Iran, you will only feel a long wave of surface waves. Most of the tall buildings will just sway like an ocean wave, and when the engineers design the building they know what the period of these waves will be," he said.

Speaking about recent earthquake in Azerbaijan, Richardson noted that the magnitude 3.0 quake which was felt in Baku, was quite a small event.

"Magnitude 3.0 from 100 kilometers is quite a small motion. The ground motion you feel depends on how far you are away from the earthquake, and on the local surface conditions. It also depends on the size of the earthquake and the measure of the energy release at the source," he explained.

"We rely on observation. Only a possibility of an earthquake can be given. But the big earthquakes are for far apart, you might not see one for another 50 years," Richardson said.

Your "to-do list"

Right, so imagine you're reading this article right now, and all of a sudden you hear screaming, the room starts swaying and all you can think about is "earthquake!"

So what do you do in case of an earthquake? Most of the advice is common knowledge, yet, as mentioned in the beginning of the article - "the more you know, the better you're prepared." It should be noted that it is not just about the moment when the earthquake actually starts - one must be prepared before it, live through it, and follow instructions after the earthquake.

"The usual advice is to take cover where you are," ISC's Wayne Richardson said. "Usually it is advised to get into a strong place in the building - under a door frame or under a sturdy table. And in many seismic countries this is taught to schoolchildren. It is better to take cover than to panic and run down the stairs, and certainly not to use a lift."

Richardson added that certainly running into the street is also not advisable, as "the glass can come down from the windows of the buildings".

"In a seismic country it is useful to always have a map of the place to know where the exit points are, to know how to get out of the building, even if there's no electricity," he said.

U.S. national public service "Ready.gov" has several recommendations, since earthquakes can catch you indoors, outside, or while you're driving.

If you are indoors - DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn't a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.

Do not use a doorway except if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway and it is close to you. Many inside doorways are lightly constructed and do not offer protection.

Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

DO NOT use the elevators.

Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

If outdoors - first thing to do is to stay outdoors. Move away from buildings, street lights, and utility wires. Stay there until the shaking stops.

The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

If you are caught in a driving vehicle - stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If somehow you're trapped under debris - do not light a match, and do not move about or kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing. Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

After the earthquake - When the shaking stops, look around to make sure it is safe to move. Then exit the building. Also expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake, but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake.

If you're helping out your neighbors or other people who may require special assistance, give first aid when necessary, and do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help. Keep in mind that fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake. Look for and extinguish small fires.

Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves. Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Be careful when driving after an earthquake and anticipate traffic light outages. Be sure to put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects. Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.

Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire. Inspect utilities. Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.

Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

Other recommendations:

Make sure you have a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight, and extra batteries at home. Learn first aid. Learn how to turn off the gas, water, and electricity. Make up a plan of where to meet your family after an earthquake. And make sure not to use matches, candles, or any flame.

Online sources to follow:

If you're in Azerbaijan, you can check out more information on possible earthquakes and seismic activity here - http://seismology.az/en

Remember "Celestial Patrol"? The program has an English version website, which monitors seismic activity in real time here - http://celestialpatrol.com/index.php?lang=eng

You can also see the website of the World Earthquakes Live here - http://www.world-earthquakes.com/ - as they have a lot of information on earthquakes all around the world there.

And the last, but not the least - make sure to subscribe to the feed of the U.S. Geological Survey here - http://earthquake.usgs.gov/.

A 2010 study published in Journal of Zoology found that 96 percent of male toads in a population abandoned their breeding site five days before the earthquake that struck L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009, about 46 miles (74 kilometers) away.

Since we're no toads, it is better to be prepared.