These are the areas in Spain most vulnerable to an earthquake

by Lorraine Williamson

MADRID – Searches about earthquakes in Spain skyrocketed after last week’s disaster in Morocco. Especially in Andalucia, residents were looking for answers. Because there is a fault line between Spain and Morocco, fear is also spreading in Spain. 

A week after the devastating earthquake in the Marrakech region that claimed some 3,000 lives and left countless towns and villages in ruins, seismographs are pinpointing vulnerable areas in Spain. They try to answer the question of whether an earthquake of such proportions can also happen in Spain. Experts call a similar earthquake in Spain “unlikely”, but concerns remain. 

Most vulnerable areas in the south and southeast of the country 

Luis Cabañas, a seismologist at the National Institute of Geography (ING), sheds light on the situation. “The most vulnerable areas are in the south and southeast of Spain, from Málaga to Valencia,” he says. 

The Spanish government has guidelines for earthquake-resistant buildings. These rules are especially strict in the regions of the Alborán Sea between Spain and Morocco and the coast of southeastern Spain. This is where the tectonic plates are most active. The Lorca earthquake on May 11, 2011, proved this point. This had a magnitude of 5.2 on the Richter scale. 9 people were killed and more than 300 people were injured. 

Geographically speaking, Spain is an interesting place. The southern part of the Iberian Peninsula borders the African tectonic plate. This makes the south of Spain in particular, but also countries such as Italy and Turkey, more sensitive to earthquakes. 

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However, the overall chance of a major earthquake in Spain remains low. “The seismic activity on the Iberian Peninsula is low,” assures Cabañas. He adds that “the average movement speed is low.” In comparison: in Turkey this speed is 25 millimetres per year, making major earthquakes much more common there. 

Building regulations 

As for Spanish building regulations, since 2007 it has been prohibited to build houses with certain fragile materials such as dry masonry, adobe or tapial. This follows several incidents showing that these materials are very sensitive to earthquakes. 

Spanish government reports show that Granada is the most vulnerable. Several villages in this province, such as Escúzar and Alhendín, have high seismic acceleration values. In these regions, building regulations are stricter, to make buildings more resistant to possible earthquakes. 

Although the chance of a major earthquake in Spain seems small, it is important to be prepared. Because as the Moroccan tragedy showed, the unexpected can always happen. And with climate change and increasing seismic activity worldwide, vigilance is required. Experts emphasise that it is important to always have an emergency plan and know what to do in the event of seismic activity. Because even if the chances are small, they are never zero. 

Risk of tsunami 

Earlier this year, an Emergency Plan for Tsunami Risks in Andalusia was approved by the regional government. Due to the fault line in the Alboran Sea, there is a chance that a tsunami will form after an earthquake. This makes the coastal areas, especially those of the provinces of Granada (Costa Tropical), vulnerable. Municipalities must also draw up local action plans based on the Emergency Plan. 

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