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Primary & secondary effects of earthquakes

Earthquakes have primary violent impacts followed by long-lasting secondary impacts. In a sparsely populated area, a large earthquake might not cause many casualties. In a big city, even a relatively small earthquake could kill thousands. While the primary effects are dangerous and deadly, the secondary effects, especially if help is not available or adequate can be much worse. Though thousands died in the earthquake in Haiti in early 2010, the longer lasting effects are proving just as deadly, according to Common Dreams.

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Destruction of Nature and Property

Due to the shaking and rupturing of the ground from an earthquake, primary effects include buildings and surrounding nature being destroyed. Depending on the development of the affected area, the damage can be catastrophic. Buildings can fall, bridges can collapse, fires can start along with avalanches and mudslides. Earthquake engineering is important in cities that have a high risk of earthquakes. Buildings can be retrofitted and developed to have a better chance of withstanding an earthquake. Engineers consider the potential seismic performance of a building. Its structure should be able to withstand the violent shaking nature of an earthquake. Preparations in countries like China aim to reduce the casualty count if and when the next major earthquake arrives, according to NPR.

Initial Casualties

Initial casualties are a primary effect of earthquakes. People who are near to collapsing buildings, fires or mudslides can be killed instantly or become trapped under falling debris. The dead may become buried by the damage. Injured people may have a difficult time finding medical care because of the primary destruction.


Disease is a secondary effect of earthquakes. Because water lines may have been broken, fresh water might not be available. Injured people who cannot get immediate medical attention could find that their injuries have become infected. Corpses can infect the available water. Hospitals may not operate at full capacity, and the spread of disease from within the hospital can be a concern. Decisions need to be made about what to do with the dead so the bodies do not spread more disease.

Lack of Resources

Following the earthquake, a secondary effect is the lack of resources available. Water lines might be broken, fresh food might not be available nearby. Hospitals and homes may have been destroyed. The aftereffects of an earthquake may be many homeless people in need of medical attention. Access roads could be blocked because of the damage, making it difficult for help and resources to arrive. These types of effects last far into the future.

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About the Author

It Still Works Staff

This article was written by the It Still Works team, copy edited and fact checked through a multi-point auditing system, in efforts to ensure our readers only receive the best information. To submit your questions or ideas, or to simply learn more about It Still Works, contact us on the Contact Us Page.

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