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Dire Prospects Seen When the Full Nepal Earthquake Death Toll is Tallied

NEW YORK TIMES OPINON PAGE by Andrew Revkin                                       April 29, 2015

Yesterday, I received word of a chillingly high projection of the eventual death count in the Nepal earthquake, made by a longtime and respected analyst of seismic hazards, Max Wyss, who was on the faculties of the Universities of Colorado and Alaska and is now affiliated with the International Center for Earth Simulationin Geneva, Switzerland.

Many seismologists and disaster response experts have stressed that initial counts are always low, particularly in a disaster zone like this one — spread over hundreds of square miles of vertiginous terrain, with many communities unreachable by road at the best of times. (I wrote about this issue here.)

But Wyss’s is the first hard estimate for a death total I’ve seen from a seasoned geophysicist whose work centers on the intersection of seismic activity and social vulnerability. He ran the calculation on Monday after seeing the persistent gap between official death counts, now around 5,000, and what had been predicted by emergency response groups (tens of thousands).

A resident of the village of Sindhupalchowk in Nepal tries to clear debris following Saturday's earthquake.Credit Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

His calculation, 57,700 deaths, is 10 times the official count, which is around 5,000. Using another method, he calculated 45,000.

Such estimates are not just academic or morbid exercises. They can help focus emergency responses on areas where the greatest probability of destruction is calculated....

Read complete article.

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/29/dire-prospects-seen-when-the-full-nepal-earthquake-death-toll-is-tallied/

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