Destruction Caused by Earthquakes

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  • 0:08 Earthquakes are Destructive
  • 0:52 Physical Land Destruction
  • 2:51 Structural Damage
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Earthquakes are well-known for their damage and destruction, and in this video lesson you will learn about the different types of damage that these dangerous natural disasters can cause.

Earthquakes Are Destructive

Earthquakes are one of the most dangerous natural disasters that occur on Earth. This is because the shaking of the ground can strike with little to no warning, and sometimes the ferocious ground shaking can even be felt hundreds of miles away.

Have you ever thrown a rock into a pond and watched the ripples travel outward? Anything that is in the path of those ripples gets disturbed, like bugs lounging on the surface and plants poking their heads out from under the water. Even the shoreline gets disturbed once the ripples make their way to the edge of the pond.

Earthquakes have a similar affect on objects above Earth's surface. Anything that is near where an earthquake occurs is likely to be affected. Some of the effects are immediately seen, while some are more long-term.

Physical Land Destruction

Because an earthquake is literally the quaking of the earth, you can imagine that anything on the surface that is near the shaking will shake as well. Remember how your mother asked you not to run in the house? This is because if you run into something, like a china cabinet or a bookshelf, you could knock the contents loose. By bumping into the shelving, you shook everything that it was holding.

Earthquakes have the same affect on land. Landslides and mudslides are common events during an earthquake because the ground is shaken so much that it gets knocked loose and slides downhill, taking anything else down with it. Trees, houses, power lines, and anything else along the hill gets brought down when the land or mud comes sliding down. This is not only dangerous for people whose houses get destroyed, it also destroys the habitat along the hillside and at the bottom.

Liquefaction is another type of damage caused by earthquakes. This is when water-saturated sediment moves and acts like a liquid. You may have experienced this standing along the edge of a beach when the surf comes up. As the water comes up around your feet, it soaks the sand underneath, which then starts to move like a liquid instead of solid ground. During an earthquake, the ground shaking loosens moist soils in the area, which separates the particles, and the ground begins to act like a fluid. Liquefaction is very dangerous because the flowing ground can swallow up entire buildings and roads.

Tsunamis are large sea waves that arise from ocean earthquakes. Tsunamis are not just larger versions of ocean waves and are often like a large, rising tide. They can be tens of feet high and wash over large areas of coastal land. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is considered one of the deadliest natural disasters in history because it killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries.

Structural Damage

Just like the books on the bookshelf or the dishes in the china cabinet, anything attached to the shaking ground is also going to shake. Buildings, roads, power lines, and other human-made structures are at risk for damage when an earthquake hits.

Earthquakes themselves rarely kill people; it's the collapsing buildings that tend to be the deadly factor. Items inside buildings fall on top of people, building structures come loose, and many times buildings simply collapse to the ground, killing those who may be stuck inside. Because earthquakes do not generally give us much warning when they're coming, people often do not have time to escape.

Roads may also collapse, or they may be covered by debris from landslides or sucked into the ground by liquefaction. Bridges are especially at risk because they are supported above ground and are not as stable as roadways that are directly on the surface of the ground. Fires are quite common during earthquakes as materials in the debris from falling buildings and roads can be flammable, power lines get torn down, and electrical wiring in houses becomes exposed. These fires are very dangerous and can spiral out of control if firefighters can't access them due to collapsed roads and other structures.

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