The Dead Sea, the region of Israel’s last major earthquake, in 1927 ( photo)

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are warning residents of Israel to prepare for a major earthquake that could damage one out of every six buildings in Jerusalem that date to the nation’s founding.

The last significant quake to strike the region hit in the northern Dead Sea area on July 11, 1927, and left almost 300 people dead. Now Dr. Ron Avni, who specializes in the study of quakes, said statistically another earthquake would be expected in 2011, 84 years after the previous one.

But he is urging caution – and preparedness – even now.

“The 80-year birthday of the last earthquake brings us into a new period called ‘the range of statistical error,'” he said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. “[From] what we know regarding the previous destructive earthquake, the time that another destructive earthquake will return, like what occurred in 1927, is about 100 years.”

The last major quake hit 6.25 on the Richter scale, and killed victims both inside what now is Israel and across the Jordan River.

Researchers at the university say about 17 percent of Jerusalem’s buildings built around the time of the founding of the nation likely would be damaged, and in Tel Aviv, about one in 10 of such buildings would be damaged.

Avni based his assessments on statistics derived from earthquakes in central Europe, where earthquakes are more frequent – rumbling about once every 10 years. Officials say the region is an appropriate model because the construction style is similar, so the damage would be expected to be similar.

Avni estimated that when such a quake strikes, five percent of the buildings would be destroyed and another five percent would be so damaged as to require immediate evacuation.

The report estimates that only about 10 percent of the buildings that are in the range of 30 years old or less would be damaged, and half of those would suffer heavy damage.

Officials report the three most destructive earthquakes in Israel since the 18th century happened in 1759, 1837 and 1927. The 1837 event “obliterated” Safed and caused more than 5,000 fatalities, officials said.

The government, meanwhile, has appointed a committee to work on preparing the public for a quake.

According to a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the time of the 1927 quake, there was “not a house in Jerusalem or Hebron” that did not sustain some damage.

“Two synagogues, one in Jerusalem, the other in Tiberias, were destroyed,” the report said. “In several Palestinian towns the Muslim mosques and the government office buildings were damaged. The house of the British representative in Amman, Transjordania, was totally destroyed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the Greek Choir Chapel and two large domes are damaged.”

The damage was estimated at $1.25 million, in 1927 dollars.

Historical research indicates there have been hundreds of earthquakes across the region, peaking at 20 during the 6th Century. There had been 11 in the 4th Century and 10 in the 5th.

Two quakes were reported during the 17th Century, seven in the 18th and four in the 19th Century.

Another organization, called Becoming Jewish, noted that earthquakes damaged or destroyed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 746 A.D., 1033 A.D., 1546 A.D. and in the 1927 event.

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