Earthquakes are well covered in the news here in San Francisco. We've been there; we know the terror when terra firma acts more like jello. When we hear one has happened somewhere, we'll stop and pay attention; I vividly remember seeing TV footage of people caught in the shake that struck Mexico City in 1985 and feeling horror and fear. And that was before we got our own mini-"Big One" in 1989.
Today's news from Pakistan and Kashmir brings it all up again. Apparently the epicenter was well off the grid near Muzaffarabad, the capital of disputed Kashmir. According to BBC correspondent Zaffir Abbas in Islamabad:
Three minutes is a hell of a long time. In 1989, we got off with a mere 17 seconds of shaking.
The early estimate of the death toll is "thousands," meaning the authorities don't know, but fear there are many. It does seem clear that "hundreds" of children died when a school collapsed.
We need to take note: a death toll in the thousands is more than US authorities claim died in the inundation of a large US city and devastation of a long stretch of our coastline. There are many devastated Pakistanis and others in that region tonight. Can we imagine their plight -- despite having just a month ago watched live on TV what Katrina did? If not, why not?
The chart that follows is something I found after Katrina that puts the death tolls from various 20th century disasters in some kind of context:
UPDATE, OCTOBER 8, 2005, 9:00 PM PDT: Pakistani authorities now say some 18,000 died in the quake. That puts this event in a category with the disasters listed in the chart above.