Two devastating earthquakes hit in near opposite sides of the world on Wednesday: one killing over 60 people and leveling towns in Italy and one destroying ancient pagodas in Burma. The difference between life and death? Time of day — the Italy quake hit at 3:36 a.m. (9:36 p.m. Tuesday ET), while the one in Burma happened at around 4:34 p.m. local time (6:04 a.m. Wednesday ET). Also, the Burma quake was much deeper than the Italian one, and earthquakes closer to the earth’s surface tend to do more damage.
“Everything is destroyed, there is no town anymore,” Sabrina Fantauzzi, a mother in Illica, one of the Italian towns hit by the quake, told CBC News. She recalled sleeping at home when the magnitude 6.2 quake hit at 3:36 a.m. She managed to escape her house with her children. “I’ve been very lucky,” she said through tears.
Across the many towns hit by the quake, an estimated 63 people have been killed.
Italy’s civil protection agency said the preliminary death toll in the town of Amatrice was 38. The town of around 2,000 people is in ruins. “The town is no more,” Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told CNN’s local affiliate. “Help us.”
Here is a video of the damage:
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Tommaso della Longa, a spokesman for the Red Cross, said Amatrice had been “almost completely destroyed.”
The mayor of nearby Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, told of desperate scenes where rescuers fought to save those beneath the rubble. “We’re digging, digging… hoping to find someone alive.”
The quake hit 6.2 miles southeast of the town of Norcia at 3:36 a.m. (9:36 p.m. Tuesday ET), and was about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) deep. Its tremors even reached the capital of Rome, about 100 miles away.
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There were between 40 and 60 reported aftershocks following the initial quake, the strongest measuring 5.5, according to the Italian seismic office.
The pope called for prayers.
Nine hours later, an even more powerful quake hit the Southeast Asian country of Burma, near the Indian border. The 6.8 magnitude quake centered around 15 miles west of Chauk, an area west of the ancient capital of Bagan. Residents of Yangon, the country’s largest city, rushed from tall buildings and objects toppled from tables and from Buddhist shrines in homes, Britain’s The Independent reported.
At least 65 centuries-old brick pagodas in Bagan were damaged, according to the Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs.
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Dr. Myo Thant, general secretary of the Myanmar Earthquake Committee, said other areas were apparently not badly hit and there were no reports of deaths.
A firefighter in Pakokku, who spoke anonymously, told the Associated Press (AP) a woman there was reportedly killed, but the report could not be confirmed.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was located far below the Earth’s surface, as opposed to the more shallow Italian quake, at 84 kilometers (52 miles). Deep earthquakes generally cause less surface damage.
The damage was far-reaching, however: the quake was felt in half a dozen states in India and caused buildings to sway in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.
Next Page: How plate tectonics explains the two earthquakes.
While the earthquakes took place on the same day, they were spread out by about 9 hours. In terms of plate tectonics, the quakes both involved the Eurasian Plate. Italy experiences many earthquakes due to its unique location on the borders of the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate. Burma is also a hot zone, involving the Eurasian Plate, the Indian Plate, and the Australian Plate.
According to this map, other quakes in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and South Korea also occurred in the past 24 hours, also on the borders of the Eurasian Plate.
This does nothing to assuage the pain and suffering involved in these devastating earthquakes, but it can help explain what is going on. Let us pray for the victims, and offer what support we can.