IOWA CITY — More than a week has passed since a deadly magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. Nepalese officials ruled out finding any additional survivors this weekend, with the death toll now over 7,000.
Bill Barnhart, assistant professor at the University of Iowa, is an expert on earthquakes in the Middle East and Asia. Historically speaking, he says this is a region prone to them.
“This is an earthquake that has probably happened in the past, as recently as 1833,” Barnhart said.
Unfortunately, Barnhart said while earthquakes are not confined to national boundaries, the funding to pay for quake-resistant buildings and early warning systems tied to networks of seismic sensors is.
“Scientists and policy makers know in these regions, earthquakes are very, very common, and they can be very large like this earthquake was. The technology exists to engineer buildings to survive that level of shaking, but it just hasn’t been done,” Barnhart said. “We’ll continue to see devastation coming out as the days and weeks go by, and rescue personnel are able to successfully get into these areas.”
Barnhart said anyone with an Internet connection can help those rescue personnel, through the crowdsourcing website Tomnod. It loads satellite images of areas near the quake’s epicenter, showing what they looked like before and after it hit. Using the site is as simple as tagging a building or road, if it looks like it sustained damage. This tells relief workers where to concentrate their efforts.
“And that’s really important,” Barnhart explained, “because there’s a lot of potential for errors in this, so they want to see a lot of people marking the same things, which is why it’s important to get a lot of people to do it.”