Minister: Major Earthquake in Israel Could Kill 7,000

Contractors aren't being offered adequate incentives to reinforce public housing projects, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan admits.

Experts predict that a powerful earthquake in Israel would leave an estimated 7,000 people dead, tens of thousands injured and some 200,000 homeless. Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan revealed the figures in the Knesset on Wednesday evening, during a session held in wake of five small earthquakes in northern Israel last week.

The minister said a large-scale exercise simulating the intake of massive international emergency aid in the event of a national disaster would be held in coming weeks. “Last year, in cooperation with all the various government ministries, we drew up a list of the items that, in our opinion, would be in short supply," Erdan said, discussing a possible national emergency.

"A protocol was also prepared for the manner of disseminating the list worldwide, and for the intake of international emergency aid. In another two weeks, an exercise will be held at the Ashdod Port and at the Ben-Gurion International Airport in collaboration with all the different ministries and the customs authorities," Erdan added. "This is not a response to the recent series of earthquakes [in northern Israel], but, rather, part of our program of preparation and response in the event of a [major] earthquake.”

The minister was responding to a question from MK Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid) about the government’s actions in preparation for such an event.

Erdan also informed parliament that various local authorities have been granted permission to acquire satellite telephones in order to back up their communication systems, should landline networks crash.

A public information campaign was recently launched in Israel’s media to inform residents how they should act in the event of an earthquake.

Erdan admitted to the Knesset that the division of powers has not yet been worked out between his ministry and the Defense Ministry for dealing with a national catastrophe. He also called on the Finance Ministry to grant clearly defined incentives to contractors to reinforce buildings in accordance with the National Master Plan 38 (the so-called Tama 38).

During the Knesset debate, the minister admitted that presently there aren't adequate incentives for the reinforcement of public housing projects. Since hundreds or perhaps even thousands of apartments need to be reinforced, he underlined the urgency in finding the areas in Israel where homes require immediate reinforcement.

Erdan added that the interministerial committee on structural reinforcement, currently under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office, is slated to be placed under the jurisdiction of the Home Front Defense Ministry.

In the debate, MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) stressed that, despite last week’s earthquakes, no official guideline had yet been issued to residents of northern Israel as to how they should conduct themselves in an earth tremor, especially at night. Meanwhile, Shas MK and former deputy finance minister Yitzhak Cohen called for an immediate update of the financial readiness plan for dealing with a major earthquake scenario.

Oded Antman
Michal Fattal