Today marks the 30th tragic anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters in Armenia’s history – the devastating Spitak earthquake. Three decades on, the pain and grief from the disaster are not eliminated and the wounds – not healed yet, with tens of thousands of lost human lives and hundreds of thousands homeless, some living in temporary shelters up to now.
On 7 December 1988, at 11:41am local time (07:41 GMT), an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale struck the northern Armenia. The epicenter lied in the town of Spitak and surrounding villages. The quake measured magnitude 10 points in Spitak, 9 points – in Gyumri, and Stepanavan, 8-9 points – in Vanadzor and 6 points – in Yerevan. The total zone of the disaster covered 3k sq. meters, hitting a total of 21 towns and districts, 343 villages.
According to official data, the quake claimed 25,000 lives, leaving some 20,000 people wounded and 514,000 others homeless, while the value of material losses were estimated at $10 billion.
The devastating earthquake destroyed 17% of the country’s housing area, while 170 industrial enterprises quitted their activity. Major damage was caused to architectural, historic, cultural monuments as well as to 917 educational institutions.
Thanks to the efforts of ordinary citizens and rescuers, about 45,000 alive and dead people were recovered from the ruins; 12,500 were hospitalized.
Expert conclusions later revealed that the main reason for such extensive damage was that the seismic risks across the country had been underestimated. The special government-assigned commission to look into the earthquake aftermath identified that seismic resistance norms for construction had been violated, as was its quality and technology, construction materials failed to meet state standards.
Most human casualties were the result of poor construction, delay of the rescue efforts, lack of knowledge and skills necessary to implement disaster risk reduction activities and awareness of the population during emergency situations.