Earthquakes overwhelm Tajikistan, Solomon Islands

by Brian Fisher Johnson
Thursday, January 5, 2012

A quake in Tajikistan in Central Asia left thousands of people homeless, and earthquakes and a tsunami devastated parts of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.

A magnitude-5.3 earthquake rocked south-central Tajikistan on Saturday about 7:15 a.m. local time. No deaths were reported, but about 20,000 people were left homeless when their mud-brick homes collapsed, according to the Associated Press . Even though the event was moderate on the scale of earthquakes, such events can cause major damage to highly populated areas with poor construction, says Julie Dutton, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) in Golden, Colo.

The interaction of tectonic plates in the Tajikistan region is complicated, says Paul Earle, a geophysicist with NEIC. But, he adds, the most likely cause of the event was “broad-scale stresses built up by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates.”

Starting Sunday, a series of at least 12 earthquakes has struck the Solomon Islands, according to USGS. Magnitudes of the quakes have ranged from 4.7 to as high as 7.2 — at least most of which appear to have occurred near where the Australian Plate subducts beneath the Pacific Plate, Earle says. At least one of these quakes induced a small tsunami that washed over the Solomon Islands, damaging dozens of houses in at least one village, according to AFP. No injuries have been reported there yet, although at least 500 homes have been damaged or destroyed.

The tsunami likely resulted from the largest quake, which struck about 9:30 a.m. local time on Monday, says Paul Caruso, a geophysicist at NEIC. Typically, he says, only large quakes can induce such an event. There are currently no tsunami warnings, watches or advisories in effect for the Solomons or anywhere else across the Pacific, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

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