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Effects of an earthquake

Clearing rubble after an earthquake, Bhuj, India

Clearing rubble after an earthquake, Bhuj, India

Earthquakes can destroy settlements and kill many people. Aftershocks [aftershocks: Smaller earthquakes and tremors that follow the main quake. ] can cause even more damage to an area. It is possible to classify the impacts of an earthquake, by taking the following factors into account:

  • short-term (immediate) impacts
  • long-term impacts
  • social impacts (the impact on people)
  • economic impacts (the impact on the wealth of an area)
  • environmental impacts (the impact on the landscape)


 Social impactsEconomic impactsEnvironmental impacts
Short-term (immediate) impactsPeople may be killed or injured. Homes may be destroyed. Transport and communication links may be disrupted. Water pipes may burst and water supplies may be contaminated.Shops and business may be destroyed. Looting [looting: A term which refers to stealing from unguarded homes or businesses. ] may take place. The damage to transport and communication links can make trade difficult.The built landscape may be destroyed. Fires can spread due to gas pipe explosions. Fires can damage areas of woodland. Landslides may occur. Tsunamis [tsunami: A large tidal wave caused by an earthquake under the sea. ] may cause flooding in coastal areas.
Long-term impactsDisease may spread. People may have to be re-housed, sometimes in refugee camps.The cost of rebuilding a settlement is high. Investment in the area may be focused only on repairing the damage caused by the earthquake. Income could be lost.Important natural and human landmarks may be lost.

Effects are often classified as primary and secondary impacts. Primary effects occur as a direct result of the ground shaking, eg buildings collapsing. Secondary effects occur as a result of the primary effects, eg tsunamis or fires due to ruptured gas mains.

Back to Natural hazards index

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