Geologists were not surprised by the earthquake — or its destructive power — that hit Nepal on Saturday, wrote Colin Stark at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in a commentary for CNN.
"We knew this disaster was coming eventually. Geophysicists have long monitored how fast the Earth's plates are moving, and we know that the entire subcontinent of India is being driven slowly but surely underneath Nepal and Tibet at a speed of around 1.8 inches per year. It's the reason (Mount) Everest exists," Stark wrote.
The magnitude-7.8 earthquake and its aftershocks devastated the capital, Kathmandu. The confirmed death toll to date is around 3,300, according to the The Associated Press
The 1934 magnitude-8.0 Bihar earthquake — along the India-Nepal border — killed 10,600 people. Since that quake "the land mass of India has been pushed about 12 feet into Nepal," wrote Stark. This week's earthquake drove India up to 10 feet northward and below Nepal in a matter of seconds, he said.
With a per capita income of about $1,350, the country is one of the poorest in the world and was until recently riven by civil war. It did not have the capacity to build structures that could withstand an earthquake of such magnitude, even though the Kathmandu area was known to be at risk of a magnitude-8 earthquake, Stark wrote.
A week ago, some 50 earthquake experts and social scientists were in Kathmandu for meetings on ways to improve readiness for precisely the kind of devastating earthquake that has now struck, USA Today
The nonprofit group Geohazards International
had also cautioned that the earthquake casualty risk in the Kathmandu region was the highest in the world. "The orthodoxy among seismologists is that earthquakes don't kill people; buildings kill people," according to the Geohazards website. The group has been trying to encourage government agencies in Nepal to develop and enforce building codes, according to USA Today.
"A person living in Kathmandu is about nine times more likely to be killed by an earthquake than a person living in Islamabad, and about 60 times more likely than a person living in Tokyo," according to a recent report by Geohazards.
"It was sort of a nightmare waiting to happen," seismologist James Jackson of the University of Cambridge said. He was one of those who attended the Kathmandu conference. "Physically and geologically what happened is exactly what we thought would happen," according to USA Today.
The country is governed by the centrist Nepali Congress party
of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala in a coalition with the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist).
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