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Earthquake survival

Rescue workers search for people trappedRescue workers search for people trapped Thousands of earthquakes occur every year, some of them major ones. But only where these quakes affect densely populated regions is there a great loss of life, usually resulting from the collapse of large buildings or from flooding caused by powerful tsunamis. New buildings in earthquake-prone areas can be designed to withstand tremors and absorb shocks—and thus save lives in the event of a serious quake. Measures to protect towns and cities from tsunamis are more difficult. Japan's sea wall, standing up to 12 metres (39 feet) high in places, was not high enough to prevent tsunamis from devastating areas of the northeast coast during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

Torre Mayor, quake-resistant building in Mexico CityTorre Mayor, quake-resistant building in Mexico City

The Transamerica Building in San FranciscoThe Transamerica Building in San Francisco

Quake-resistant buildings

Taller buildings can be built larger at the bottom than the top. This shape is more stable during an earthquake, so the buildings are less likely to collapse. The Transamerica Building in San Francisco is specially designed to withstand even the most severe earthquakes. It is shaped like a slender pyramid and, thanks to special steel supports, its top is strong enough to sway 12 metres and still remain intact. In 1989 an earthquake shook California. Its epicentre was 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of San Francisco. Although quite severe, the quake damaged few buildings in San Francisco. Most had been built to resist earthquake shaking.

Designing for danger

The 1989 earthquake near San Francisco caused little damage because most of the city's buildings had been built to resist shaking.

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