This past weekend was the 50th anniversary of the biggest earthquake to ever hit South Africa. On 29 September 1969 an earthquake that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale occurred in the Tulbagh area.
The earthquake struck at 10pm that evening and caused significant damage to the town, destroying many buildings in the main road and led to a reported nine fatalities, mostly young children.
The Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell says earthquakes in the Western Cape are very rare but remain a threat that needs to be managed.
“We’re fortunate in the fact that the African continent is on a very stable tectonic plate. We do not have major fault lines. Specifically, Southern Africa is on a very stable faultline. This means our risk for earthquakes and tsunamis is in fact very low.”
However, Bredell says seismic risk can also come from seismic movements in mountain ranges as erosion occurs and mountains shift. This is what some believe led to the 1969 earthquake.
“While there is always some seismic risk, we don’t believe there is a real threat for a mega earthquake of seven or more on the Richter scale in the Western Cape. While we can never rule it out completely, the science doesn’t support it. It also bears noting that a 7 on the Richter scale is considered to be 33 times stronger than a 6.”
Bredell says the nuclear plant Koeberg, which would be most at risk to major seismic activity, was built to withstand a lot of seismic activity including being built on shock-absorbers.
“Furthermore, the Western Cape government, over the past ten years, has developed an excellent disaster response system to save people from trapped buildings in a disaster situation should the need arise. At the moment we have two caches of highly specialised rescue equipment including high pressure airbags that can lift up to 120 tons at a time. We also have highly trained dogs that are trained to find people who may be trapped during a disaster.”
Colin Deiner, head of the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre, says that the province has 160 highly trained urban search and rescue technicians who can be called upon at short notice in the event of a major disaster.
“With regards to our caches of equipment, the two systems are always in a high state of readiness. One system is kept in Cape Town, the other is kept in Breede Valley, on the other side of the Hugenote tunnel. This is further pro-active planning to ensure we don’t get cut off in the event of a major incident.”
Bredell says that the Western Cape disaster teams are often called to assist with global crises.
“Members of our teams have responded to 9 major earthquakes across the world since 1999 including Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011. These experiences further enable their skill levels and experience. In addition there are numerous training exercises every year to ensure a permanent state of readiness.”
Spokesperson to the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning
Western Cape Government
9th Floor, Utilitas Building, 1 Dorp Street, Cape Town, South Africa
Telephone : +27 21 483 2820
Mobile : +27 84 5831670
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