Eli5 How do Earthquakes kill people?

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By which I mean what is the actual cause of death for most people killed by earthquakes? I was reading a list of the 10 deadliest earthquakes ever and a number happened hundreds or even over a 1,000 years ago. This would be in a time where I presume people would have been less likely to live in large buildings and get buried under rubble. So how exactly were they killed?

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14 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Stuff falling on them. Your house doesn’t have to be a skyscraper to kill you if it falls on you.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Things falling on / collapsing on people for the most part. Some of the impact / damage may be too powerful that even hiding under objects (like a table) may not be enough to save possible victims

Anonymous 0 Comments

Normally it is through things falling on people especially buildings, one of the worst disasters was when people were living in caves and a whole cave system collapsed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1556_Shaanxi_earthquake

Anonymous 0 Comments

Stuff falling on them. Your house doesn’t have to be a skyscraper to kill you if it falls on you.

Anonymous 0 Comments

People still lived in houses 1,000 years ago, you know. Maybe not a 8 story building, but masonry was a thing for thousands of years before written history became a thing.

Which brings me to your question: falling stuff kills people, not earthquakes. You could be living in a roman house in 500 B.C. and the thing would crumble on you and crush you to death when an earthquake happens. If you were in an open field with no real falling hazards, earthquakes would not be very dangerous unless the earth happened to split in that very spot and you fell into a pit. And the ground beneath you failing does not happen often enough to kill loads of people. Either that or you can die to a subsequent tsunami, which is way more dangerous than the earth shaking.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Normally it is through things falling on people especially buildings, one of the worst disasters was when people were living in caves and a whole cave system collapsed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1556_Shaanxi_earthquake

Anonymous 0 Comments

They might have been less likely to live in large buildings, but they still lived in buildings, and they mostly lived in **much, much less well-built** buildings.

Even 100 years ago, many people built their own homes themselves. In poor parts of the world, people still do. Most people are not engineers, or anything close to engineers, and do not build their homes with any advanced understanding of how to engineer them to withstand natural disasters.

If your people have lived in the same area for a long time, you might have cultural knowledge of how to do that (in the sense that you’ll build the same way your parents did and that that method has adapted over time), but that cultural knowledge often trades off other factors, too.

For example, [adobe](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe) is a very useful building material that can survive for many centuries and is cheap and easy to make, but it happens to be quite horrible at withstanding earthquakes. Native peoples of the Americas used adobe all over the place because, well, you want to have walls and you don’t have a lot of resources because you’re a pre-industrial society, so that’s what you’ve got. Yes, it’ll collapse in the earthquake you might have once every couple centuries, but you’ll have walls for those couple centuries, and you’re a pre-industrial society that is pretty used to people randomly dying for reasons out of your control anyway.

Modern houses, especially in earthquake-prone areas, are built differently. They’re built to have *tensile* strength, not just compressive strength (for example, concrete is excellent at compressive loads and terrible with tensile loads, so we reinforce it with steel that can handle tension). They’re built in deeper and stronger foundations, which for large buildings are built to absorb much of the force of an earthquake. They’re built with much wider safety margins in mind. And they’re much more resistant to fire, which was a major contributor to death and property damage in natural disasters in the past.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Things falling on / collapsing on people for the most part. Some of the impact / damage may be too powerful that even hiding under objects (like a table) may not be enough to save possible victims

Anonymous 0 Comments

#1. Stuff falling and crushing them.
#2. Fires from gas main ruptures
#3. Drowning from being trapped with a ruptured water main
#4. Car collision at high speed
#5. Infrastructure collapse – see double decker higway in la
#6. Tsunami, flooding, drowning by a raise in sea level.
#7. Electrocution from fallen electrical wires
#8. Infection with no access to healthcare.
#9. Smoke inhilation.
#10. Miriad of infections casued by drinking non-potable water (developing nation mostly)
#11. Radiation expousre ( japan is one of the most nuclearized countries and is a heavily active earthquake zone.
#12. Lack of expeidient health care, bleeding to death etc.

Some redundancies here, but this is what i could think of off the top of my head.

Anonymous 0 Comments

People still lived in houses 1,000 years ago, you know. Maybe not a 8 story building, but masonry was a thing for thousands of years before written history became a thing.

Which brings me to your question: falling stuff kills people, not earthquakes. You could be living in a roman house in 500 B.C. and the thing would crumble on you and crush you to death when an earthquake happens. If you were in an open field with no real falling hazards, earthquakes would not be very dangerous unless the earth happened to split in that very spot and you fell into a pit. And the ground beneath you failing does not happen often enough to kill loads of people. Either that or you can die to a subsequent tsunami, which is way more dangerous than the earth shaking.