This morning our neighbouring Kuril Islands were thumped by a massive earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale. Sitting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk I felt nothing, but the news reports say the Kuril Islands have been partially evacuated following fears of a tsunami.
It is well known that Japan lies in an active earthquake zone, and so too does Sakhalin. Indeed, of the 12 most powerful earthquakes recorded since 1900, one of them occurred off the Kuril Islands and a further two off Kamchatka. In 1995, 2,000 people were killed in the town of Neftegorsk in the north of Sakhalin Island when an earthquake (.pdf, see page 13) of magnitude 7.6 struck the town, causing the total collapse of all seventeen large-block buildings in the town. The earthquake struck at night, when most of their inhabitants were at home. An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck Sakhalin Island in 2000, but thankfully the ground has been mainly steady since then. This is just as well, because the Neftegorsk earthquake demonstrated all too well the poor performance of Soviet era housing – which constitutes almost all the accommodation in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, including my own apartment - during a seismic event. Concerns over the ability of the structures and pipelines of the Sakhalin II project to withstand an earthquake have formed the basis of much of the opposition to the project from environmental groups, fears the project’s owners say are unfounded.
That you live in an earthquake zone and are a potential target for a building collapse or a tsunami are easy things to forget for a Brit, but in any case there is precious little any of us can do about it. All I can do is hope that the ground will be nice and steady during my stay on the island.