Indonesia’s earthquake had just a 5.6 magnitude. Why are hundreds of people dead?

by | Nov 22, 2022 | Top Stories

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Enjot, 45, who lost his house and some of his relatives, walks on Tuesday past the rubble of a building collapsed in Monday’s earthquake in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia.

Tatan Syuflana/AP

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Tatan Syuflana/AP

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A 5.6 magnitude earthquake left more than 260 dead and hundreds injured as buildings crumbled and terrified residents ran for their lives on Indonesia’s main island of Java. Bodies continued to be pulled from the debris on Tuesday morning in the hardest-hit city of Cianjur, located in the country’s most densely populated province of West Java and some 135 miles south of the capital, Jakarta. A number of people are still missing. While the magnitude would typically be expected to cause light damage to buildings and other structures, experts say proximity to fault lines, the shallowness of the quake and inadequate infrastructure that cannot withstand earthquakes all contributed to the damage. Here’s a closer look at the earthquake and some reasons why it caused so much devastation. Was Monday’s earthquake considered strong? The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake late Monday afternoon measured 5.6 magnitude and struck at a depth of 6.2 miles. Quakes of this size usually don’t cause widespread damage to well-built infrastructure. But the agency points out, “There is not one magnitude above which damage will occur. It depends on other variables, such as the distance from the earthquake, what type of soil you are on, building construction” and other factors.

Dozens of buildings were damaged in Indonesia, including Islamic boarding schools, a hospital and other public facilities. Also damaged were roads and bridges, and parts of the region experienced power blackouts. Why did the quake cause so much damage? Experts said proximity to fault lines, the depth of the temblor and buildings not being constructed using earthquake-proof methods were factors in the devastation. “Even though the earthquake was medium-sized, it (was) close to the surface … and located inland, close to where people live,” said Gayatri Marliyani, an assistant geology professor at Universitas Gadjah Mada, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. “The energy was still large enough to cause significant shaking that led to damage.”

The worst-affected area is close to several known faults, said Marliyani. A fault is a place with a long break in the rock that forms the surface of the earth. When an earthquake occurs on one of these faults, the rock on one side of the fault sl …

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