Earthquake Forecasting

July 16, 1976

Report Outline
Advances in Forecasting Research
Advances in Forecasting Research
Uncertainty About Public Reaction
Special Focus

Advances in Forecasting Research

In the early evening of Feb. 4, 1975, Liaoning Province in northeast China was rocked by a major earthquake which destroyed the town of Haicheng. More than a million people lived near the quake's epicenter and nearly 90 per cent of the houses collapsed, yet according to the Chinese there were few casualties. Exactly one year later, on Feb. 4, 1976, an earthquake of similar magnitude struck Guatemala. More than 22,000 persons were killed and 75,000 were injuried.

It was neither luck nor allegiance to Chairman Mao that enabled the Chinese to avert the heavy loss of life suffered by the Guatemalans. Casualties from the Liaoning earthquake were low because Chinese scientists predicted it and the government ordered the populace to leave their houses for tent cities and other open-air shelters. Vehicles were removed from garages and farm animals from barns. Emergency squads were mobilized. Less than six hours after the final evacuation order was given, the earthquake struck.

“The Chinese success” in predicting the Liaoning earthquake “signals that the age of earthquake prediction may be upon us,” states Dr. Robert M. Hamilton, who heads the Office of Earthquake Studies in the U.S. Interior Department's Geological Survey. Dr. Frank Press of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called the Chinese achievement “one of the major events in the history of geophysics.” Not too many years ago, earthquake forecasting was considered an effort best left to psychics, astrologers and religious prophets. It was only within the past decade that new theories on the mechanism and cause of earthquakes made earthquake prediction a reputable field for scientific study.

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