Earthquakes 101: What you need to know

In light of the recent natural disasters South Africa and surrounding areas have been experiencing, we decided to take a quick look into some of these phenomena, what they are and how they manifest.

South Africa is not a country prone to these types of weather patterns, but has been experiencing a range of them over the past year.

• Read: Interactive Map: Major earthquakes over the past decade

The following is a rundown of extreme weather conditions or natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, floods, tornadoes, drought as well as volcanic eruptions, and what to do in the event of one of these taking place.

This article is the first of six articles focusing on natural disasters that have affected South Africa recently and the importance of knowing more about them.

This first one, the  focus is placed on earthquakes.

What is it?

An earthquake is a violent shaking of the ground, which is caused by the movement of tectonic plates (lithosphere plates) located underneath the earth’s crust.

How does it occur?

Most earthquakes occur along fault lines, which is where two tectonic plates come together.

Tectonic plates, which are pieced together all over the planet, have many faults along their borders, which is where most earthquakes occur.

When two tectonic plates slip or collide against each other, this results in a violent shaking of the ground – in other words, an earthquake.

What are the dangers?

Earthquakes can be extremely dangerous, depending on the location and the size of the quake.

They can set off landslides, burying whatever is underneath them under tons of ground, or they can topple buildings and create cracks in the ground – again, depending on the magnitude of the quake.

The dangers of earthquakes are vast and big ones can cause hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

A small quake will probably not cause major destruction, but can still cause damage and possible injuries or fatalities if something should fall over.

A quake can be felt many kilometres away from where it happens. These ground vibrations, such as those which Gauteng experienced recently following a quake in Botswana, are known as tremors.

What to do?

The California Department of Conservation gives the following tips on what to do during an earthquake:

• If you’re indoors, stay there.

Get under, and hold onto, a desk or table or stand against an interior wall.

Stay clear of exterior walls, glass, heavy furniture, fireplaces and appliances.

• If you’re outside, get into the open.

Stay clear of buildings, power lines or anything else that could fall on you.

• If you’re driving, move the car out of traffic and stop.

Avoid parking under, or on, bridges or overpasses.

Try to get clear of trees, light posts, signs and power lines.

• If you’re in a mountainous area, beware of potential landslides.

Likewise, if you’re near the ocean, be aware that tsunamis are associated with large earthquakes.

Get to high ground.

• If you’re in a crowded public place, avoid panicking and do not rush for the exit.

Stay low and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.

To see where earthquakes have recently struck in South Africa, click here

Look out for Hurricanes and cyclones 101: Know the difference

• Also read: More tremors could follow quake

Izahn Krige
Digital journalist

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