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Physics - The Quaking Crust

Sometimes, two of the great plates that are part of the Earth’s crust grind against each other. If one moves against another with a sudden jerk the ground above will shake. Huge cracks may open up across fields and roads. The land on one side of a crack. Buildings may sway and crash, killing people inside them.

Giant Waves

All this and more can happen in an earthquake. If the earthquake happens under the sea, huge shock waves called tsunami travel outward. These waves can travel at hundreds of kilometres an hour. If they enter shallow bays, tsunami may tower taller than a house and roar inland, perhaps drowning towns and villages.

Earthquake Belts

Each year special instruments help the world’s scientists to detect about half a million earthquakes. Most happen where a crustal plate overrides another or slips sideways past it.

Most earthquakes happen in belts of land from North Africa to China and round the Pacific Ocean. Of every 500 earthquakes, only one is very damaging. The worst recent earthquake killed three-quarters of a million people in the Chinese city of T’ang-shan in 1976.

One day scientists may be able to foretell and even prevent severe earthquakes.

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