JERUSALEM – An earth tremor has shaken the Holy Land, scattering Israelis and Arabs in panic and sending a reminder of the potential for a destructive quake foreseen by seismologists and biblical prophets.
Israel said the epicentre of the quake was at the north of the Dead Sea and that it measured about five on the Richter Scale — often felt but rarely strong enough to cause damage.
“I said, oh God, stop, stop it, and I am still trembling,” said one woman called Rachel. “I felt death and I said in a few more seconds the building will crash.”
Cracks were spotted in Israel`s Knesset parliament building after a session was suspended because of the tremor. Damage was reported to buildings in the West Bank city of Nablus and a Lutheran church in Bethlehem.
“We have not seen such a strong tremor here in recent years,” said Infrastructure Minister Yossi Paritsky.
Emergency services Magen David Adom said they had treated several people for shock after the tremor, which was felt in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. The Dead Sea is about 20 km (13 miles) from Jerusalem.
Fearing further shocks, people ran from offices, homes and schools in Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian cities. High-rise buildings were evacuated in Damascus.
In the Gaza Strip, Samira Mohammad said “I thought my husband was teasing me and his son by shaking the bed. I opened my eyes and I felt the whole building was shaking.”
The Middle East has a long record of destructive quakes and more than 40,000 people died in the ancient Iranian city of Bam in an earthquake on December 26.
In 1927, a quake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale killed more than 300 people and damaged more than 1,000 buildings in Jericho, Nablus, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Lod and Ramla.
The biggest quake measured in Israel, also with a magnitude of 6.2, was in 1995. It was in the Red Sea some 100 km (60 miles) south of the resort of Eilat and caused no serious damage.
But seismologists have long warned that the Holy Land could be due for a more serious quake.
“A big earthquake may occur at any moment,” said the Web site of the Israeli Army`s Home Front Command.
“Statistical estimates point to a high probability of an earthquake occurring in the next 50 years along the African Fault which runs the length of Israel`s eastern border.”
Biblical prophets also foresaw destructive earthquakes, which they believed would herald a return of the Messiah.
The Hebrew prophet Zecharia predicted that Jerusalem`s Mount of Olives would be cleft in two by a quake. The New Testament Book of Revelation predicts “a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth”.
The Koran, the Muslim holy book, also predicts destructive earthquakes in the region.
As the panic died down in Israel on Wednesday, radio stations repeatedly aired the Carole King song “I feel the earth move under my feet”.