At the moment, people in and near Christchurch, New Zealand are surviving and recovering from an earthquake which appears to have taken about 200 lives.
Natural disasters have always been around. They vary in size and magnitude. Indeed, this disaster is minute compared to the Tsunami of December 31, 2004 let alone bigger natural disasters which pre-date living memory.
I said “natural” disasters. That must incorporate diseases like the Black Death in the mid 14th Century. In this post, the discussion is about those natural disasters that are concerned with the physical Earth.
Around the world, much geological destruction occurs as a result of earthquakes or volcanoes. Most of these natural phenomena occur near tectonic plate boundaries. New Zealand itself straddles tectonic plate boundaries and will see much more destruction in the future.
There are many areas around the world where people live close to where these disasters are likely to occur. This includes parts of Europe.
Along South Western Italy and Northern Sicily is a chain of volcanoes adjacent to where the African and Eurasian plates clash. One of those volcanoes is Mount Vesuvius.
This mountain has a very violent history. In AD 79, it wiped out two cities, Pompei and Herculaneum. It is certain to erupt again. The scary thing is that nearly 3 million live in an area around the mountain. The Italians have the capability to evacuate the population, provided that the scale of the eruption is not too high. It could not cope with an eruption on the scale of the one in AD79.
What about us in the British Isles?
There are some geological faults and fissures which do occasionally cause tremors and may do so again. Some experts have predicted that a fault under the straights of Dover could cause a large scale disaster in London. Ireland is understood to have some active geological faults but there is no record of any significant damage.
There was a time (about 60 million years ago) when the area of nearly all of, what is now, County Antrim was a hotbed of volcanic activity on the edge of a divergent tectonic boundary. This tectonic boundary was the mid-Atlantic ridge. In 60 million years, our lands have been pushed about 1000 miles away from that boundary. The Volcanoes of Iceland, which today straddle that boundary, are the descendents of extinct volcanoes in Britain and Ireland including those on the Isle of Skye and the Giant’s Causeway.
Something might happen in Britain. We don’t know. What we do know is that our lands are very far away from a tectonic plate boundary and, in all likelihood, very far away from the world’s most destructive geological activity. That is always worth bearing that in mind when we consider the plight of the victims of natural disasters abroad.