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Britain is overdue for a major earthquake (major for Britain, anyway), which could kill up to 100 people, a geologist has warned.

Dr Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey believes a fracture in the earth's crust beneath the English Channel could 'fail' at any time, sending a tremor rippling across the South-East.

The same fault was to blame for one of the biggest earthquakes to hit Britain in 500 years, when two children were killed by stones falling from the roof of Christ's Church Hospital in London during a magnitude 6 quake in 1580.

The quake was also felt in Flanders and northern France. In Scotland, local report of the quake disturbed the adolescent King James VI, who was informed that it was the work of the Devil.

Other quakes hit the fault in 1382, 1776 and 1950.

In recent years, large tremors causing fairly extensive damage have hit the UK in 2007 and 2008.

But Dr Musson warns that because London's population is 50 times bigger than it was in 1580, the death toll should a similar sized quake hit today could be 50 times as much.

Last week, there was criticism of a decision by police to spend more than £1million on a three-day training exercise - Project Orion - which simulated what would happen if a massive earthquake hit Britain. It was criticised by the TaxPayers' Alliance.

But, in Dr Musson's views, we would be wise to prepare for such an eventuality.

He said: 'This earthquake (the 1580 one)could certainly happen again because even the earthquake of 1580 itself was a repeat of a previous earthquake that occurred in 1382 with almost the same epicentre, almost the same size and almost the same results.'

Britain is overdue a major earthquake which could kill 100, warns geologist

By David Derbyshire
16th September 2010
Daily Mail


Britain is overdue a killer earthquake that could see up to 100 people crushed to death, a leading geologist warned today.

Dr Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey believes a fracture in the earth's crust beneath the English Channel could 'fail' at any time, sending a tremor rippling across the South-East.

The same fault was to blame for one of Britain's biggest earthquakes in the last 500 years - a magnitude 6 quake that killed two people in London in 1580.


Be prepared: A 'casualty' during a simulated earthquake in Merseyside last week. Experts believe Britain is due a large quake which could kill up to 100 people

According to Dr Musson, the same scale of earthquake would be 50 times more serious today because the population has grown so much.

The earthquake could cause billions of pounds worth of damage to buildings and infrastructure, he said.

Last week, there was criticism of a decision by police to spend more than £1million on a three-day training exercise - Project Orion - which simulated what would happen if a massive earthquake hit Britain.

A spokesman for the TaxPayers' Alliance said of the EU-funded exercise: 'Those police should have been out fighting crime, not working on unlikely or imaginary scenarios.'


Shook up: An elderly woman is escorted from her home in Folkestone through chimney rubble after a magnitude 4.3 earthquake hit the Kent coast in April, 2007

The UK is shaken by hundreds of earthquakes every year, although most are too minor to detect.

Although they can occur anywhere, experts are most concerned about faults that have triggered earthquakes before.

The 1580 earthquake was a magnitude of 5.5 to 6 on the Richter Scale and caused 'extensive damage in London', even though its epicentre was in the Dover Straits, Dr Musson told the British Science Festival.



'This earthquake could certainly happen again because even the earthquake of 1580 itself was a repeat of a previous earthquake that occurred in 1382 with almost the same epicentre, almost the same size and almost the same results.'

Since 1580 the population of London has gone up 50 times, he said.

‘If two people were killed in London then, you can imagine yourself what sort of scaling up that would be for a contemporary earthquake of the same size,’ Dr Musson said.

'While that might not be a high death toll in world records, it would certainly be a nasty shock in terms of Britain’s experience of earthquakes.’


Fault line: A damaged road from the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand earlier this month

It is impossible to predict when the next one will hit the UK.

He added: 'In terms of saying when is the next one going to be, all we can say is something that has happened twice can and probably will happen three times.

'But as to whether it happens tomorrow, or in two years' time or in 20 years or 50 years' time, that is something we would love to know but we don’t’.'

A magnitude 5.5 or 6 quake is unlikely to demolish buildings, but will topple chimneys and ornaments on older, poorly repaired homes.

'It may not sound very dramatic compared to buildings collapsing, but if people are walking on the street and a chimney falls on you it's bad news,’ he said.

London and homes in the Thames valley are particularly vulnerable because they are built on soft clay which moves more in a quake than hard rock.

The epicentre of the Dover Straits hotspot is 10 miles below the surface of the sea bed and lies on of the faults in the earth's crust that riddle Europe.

The faults release tension that builds up when Europe's tectonic plate is pushed from the south by the plate under Africa.

The last noticeable earthquake in the UK shook Cumbria in April 2009. It was 3.7 on the Richter Scale.

Geologists expect a magnitude 4.5 quake capable of shaking ornaments at least once a decade.

A moderate 5.5 earthquake – capable of causing major damage to badly constructed buildings - takes place every century on average.

The Dover Straits earthquake of 1580

English writer Thomas Churchyard, then aged 60, was in London when the quake struck and he drafted an immediate account which was published two days later, notwithstanding that it was Good Friday.

According to Churchyeard in the April 8th 1580 pamphlet, the quake could be felt across the city and well into the suburbs, as "a wonderful motion and trembling of the earth shook London and Churches, Pallaces, houses, and other buildings did so quiver and shake, that such as were then present in the same were toosed too and fro as they stoode, and others, as they sate on seates, driven off their places."

On the English coast, sections of wall fell in Dover and a landslip opened a raw new piece of the White Cliffs. At Sandwich a loud noise emanated from the Channel, as church arches cracked and the gable end of a transept fell at St Peter's Church. In Hythe, Kent, Saltwood Castle — made famous as the site where the plot was hatched in December 1170 to assassinate Thomas Becket — was rendered uninhabitable until it was repaired in the nineteenth century.

In London, half a dozen chimney stacks came down and a pinnacle on Westminster Abbey; two children were killed by stones falling from the roof of Christ's Church Hospital. Indeed the many Puritans blamed the emerging theatre scene of the time in London, which was seen as the work of the devil, as a cause of the quake.

There was damage far inland, in Cambridgeshire; stones fell from the Ely Cathedral.

Part of Stratford Castle in Essex collapsed.

In Scotland, local report of the quake disturbed the adolescent James VI, who was informed that it was the work of the Devil.

Further from the coast, furniture danced on the floors and wine casks rolled off their stands. The belfry of Notre Dame de Lorette and several buildings at Lille collapsed. Stones fell from buildings in Arras, Douai, Béthune and Rouen. Windows cracked in the cathedral of Notre Dame at Pontoise, and blocks of stone dropped ominously from the vaulting. At Beauvais the bells rang as though sounding the tocsin.

In Flanders chimneys fell and cracks opened in the walls of Ghent and Oudenarde. Peasants in the fields reported a low rumble and saw the ground roll in waves.

There were aftershocks. Before dawn the next morning, between 4 and 5 o'clock further houses collapsed near Dover due to aftershocks, and spate of further aftershocks were noticed in east Kent on 1-2 May.

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