‘Voices under the rubble’ after quake hits Italy; at least 73 dead


A powerful earthquake devastated a string of mountain towns in central Italy on Wednesday, trapping residents under rubble, killing at least 73 people and leaving thousands homeless.

The quake struck in the early hours of the morning when most residents were asleep, razing homes and buckling roads in a cluster of communities some 140 km (85 miles) east of Rome. It was powerful enough to be felt in Bologna to the north and Naples to the south, each more than 220 km from the epicenter.

A family of four, including two boys aged 8 months and 9 years, were buried when their house in Accumoli imploded.

As rescue workers carried away the body of the infant, carefully covered by a small blanket, the children's grandmother blamed God: “He took them all at once,” she wailed.

The army was mobilized to help with special heavy equipment and the treasury released 235 million euros ($265 million) of emergency funds. At the Vatican, Pope Francis canceled part of his general audience to pray for the victims.

Rescue workers used helicopters to pluck trapped survivors to safety in the more isolated villages, which had been cut off by landslides and rubble.

Aerial photographs showed whole areas of Amatrice, voted last year as one of Italy's most beautiful historic towns, flattened by the 6.2 magnitude quake. Many of those killed or missing were visitors.

“It's all young people here, it's holiday season, the town festival was to have been held the day after tomorrow so lots of people came for that,” said Amatrice resident Giancarlo, sitting in the road wearing just his underwear.

“It's terrible, I'm 65-years-old and I have never experienced anything like this, small tremors, yes, but nothing this big. This is a catastrophe,” he said.

The national Civil Protection Department gave the official death toll of 73 at about 12 hours after the pre-dawn quake struck. Scores more will still believed unaccounted for, with the presence of the summer holidaymakers making it difficult to tally.

DISAPPEARING INTO DUST

Patients at the badly damaged hospital in Amatrice were moved into the streets.

“Three quarters of the town is not there anymore,” Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi told state broadcaster RAI. “The aim now is to save as many lives as possible. There are voices under the rubble, we have to save the people there.”

Stefano Petrucci, mayor of nearby Accumoli, said some 2,500 people were left homeless in the local community, made up of 17 hamlets.

Residents responding to wails muffled by tonnes of bricks and mortar sifted through the rubble with their bare hands before emergency services arrived with earth-moving equipment and sniffer dogs. Wide cracks had appeared like open wounds on the buildings that were still standing.

The national Civil Protection Department said some survivors would be put up elsewhere in central Italy, while others would be housed in tents that were being dispatched to the area.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he would visit the disaster area later in the day: “No one will be left alone, no family, no community, no neighborhood. We must get down to work .. to restore hope to this area which has been so badly hit,” he said in a brief televised address.

A spokeswoman for the civil protection department, Immacolata Postiglione, said the dead were in Amatrice, Accumoli and other villages including Pescara del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto.

Most of the damage was in the Lazio and Marche regions. Neighboring Umbria was also affected.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which measured the quake at 6.2 magnitude, said it struck near the Umbrian city of Norcia, while Italy's earthquake institute INGV registered it at 6.0 and put the epicenter further south, closer to Accumoli and Amatrice.

INGV reported 150 aftershocks in the 12 hours following the initial quake, the strongest measuring 5.5.

The damage was made more severe because the epicenter was at a relatively shallow 4 km below the surface of the earth. Residents of Rome were woken by the tremors, which rattled furniture, swayed lights and set off car alarms in most of central Italy.

“It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it,” Lina Mercantini of Ceselli, Umbria, about 75 km away from the hardest hit area, told Reuters.

Italy sits on two fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe.

The last major earthquake to hit the country struck the central city of L'Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

The most deadly since the start of the 20th century came in 1908, when an earthquake followed by a tsunami killed an estimated 80,000 people in the southern regions of Reggio Calabria and Sicily.

Earthquake rattles Eilat


An earthquake rattled the Sinai Peninsula and Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat.

The temblor struck very early Monday morning and measured about 5.0 on the Richter Scale. There were no reports of damage.

The earthquake’s epicenter was in the Red Sea, about 100 miles from Eilat.

It comes a month after a small earthquake was felt in southern Israel, including the Dead Sea.

More than a year ago, in July 2015, an earthquake measuring 4.4 on the Richter Scale and centered in the Dead Sea was felt in Israel. A month earlier, an earthquake reported to be between 5.1 and 5.5 magnitude was felt in southern Israel, with an epicenter in the Sinai Peninsula.

Hundreds of people died and were injured in a 6.2 magnitude quake in 1927 that centered on the Dead Sea.

Ecuador quake toll rises to 350; billions needed to rebuild


Ecuador's earthquake death toll rose to 350 on Monday as traumatized survivors rested amid the rubble of their homes and rescuers dug for survivors in the Andean nation's shattered coastal region.

More than 2,000 were also injured in Saturday's 7.8 magnitude quake, which ripped apart buildings and roads and knocked out power along the Pacific coastline.

Giving the new tally of fatalities from Portoviejo town inside the disaster zone, President Rafael Correa told Reuters he feared the number would rise even further.

“Reconstruction will cost billions of dollars,” he added.

The normally upbeat socialist president looked deeply moved as he chatted with victims during a tour of the shattered town in the South American OPEC nation, which was already suffering from the global slump in crude oil prices.

Further north, in the beach locality of Pedernales, survivors curled up on mattresses or plastic chairs next to flattened homes. Soldiers and police patrolled the hot, dark streets overnight while pockets of rescue workers plowed on.

At one point, firefighters entered a partially destroyed house to search for three children and a man apparently trapped inside, as a crowd of 40 gathered in the darkness to watch.

“My little cousins are inside. Before, there were noises, screams. We must find them,” pleaded Isaac, 18, as the firemen combed the debris.

Tents sprang up in the town's still-intact stadium to store bodies, treat the injured, and distribute water, food, and blankets. Survivors wandered around with bruised limbs and bandaged cuts, while those with more serious injuries were evacuated to hospitals.

GLOOM FOR ECONOMY

The disaster is dreadful news for Ecuador's economy, already forecast for near-zero growth this year due to plunging oil income.

The energy industry appeared largely intact although the main refinery of Esmeraldas was closed as a precaution. However, exports of bananas, flowers, cocoa beans and fish could be slowed by ruined roads and port delays.

Michael Henderson, analyst at risk consultancy Maplecroft, said Ecuador was less well equipped to recover than Chile where a 2010 earthquake caused an estimated $30 billion in damage.

“Whereas Chile's economy was rebounding strongly from the global financial crisis when its own earthquake struck, Ecuador has been slowing sharply recently as lower oil prices depress activity,” he said.

“But total damage to assets in dollar terms may be quite a bit lower than in Chile due to the smaller magnitude of the earthquake and the fact that Ecuador is a much poorer country.”

The quake could also play into political dynamics ahead of next year's presidential election.

The government's response seemed relatively speedy, with Vice President Jorge Glas – a potential candidate in the February 2017 vote – flying into the disaster zone within hours and Correa coming straight back from a trip in Italy.

But some survivors complained about lack of electricity and supplies, and aid had still not reached some areas.

With Ecuadoreans jittery about possible looting, armed men ambushed and robbed two trucks carrying water, clothes and other basics to Pedernales from Guayaquil, authorities said.

PRISONERS ON THE RUN

About 300 aftershocks have rattled survivors, who huddled in the streets, worried tremors could topple already cracked homes.

“We're scared of being in the house,” said Yamil Faran, 47, surrounded by about 30 people in a street in Portoviejo. “When … the aftershocks stop, we're going to see if we can repair it.”

Some 130 inmates in Portoviejo took advantage of the destruction and chaos to climb over the collapsed walls of the low-security El Rodeo prison. More than 35 were recaptured.

On Monday, people swarmed into the middle of Portoviejo in search of materials of value among destroyed buildings, including a social security office. Desks and papers lay strewn around as locals carried off aluminum window frames and cables.

“I have to take some advantage from this horrible tragedy. I need money to buy food. There's no water, no light, and my house was destroyed,” said Jorge Espinel, 40, who works in the recycling business.

About 13,500 security personnel were mobilized to keep order.

Some $600 million in credit from multilateral lenders was immediately activated for the emergency, the government said. Nearly 400 rescue workers flew in from various Latin American neighbors, along with 83 specialists from Switzerland and Spain.

Two Canadians were among the dead. Jennifer Mawn, 38, and her 12-year-old son, Arthur, died when the roof of their coastal residence collapsed.

Residents on the Galapagos islands, far off Ecuador's coast and home to numerous rare species, said they had not been affected by the quake.

The tremor followed two large and deadly quakes that have struck Japan since Thursday. Both countries are on the seismically active “Ring of Fire” that circles the Pacific, but the U.S. Geological Survey says large quakes separated by such distances would probably not be related.

Major quake hits near Japan’s Kumamoto; tsunami advisory lifted


A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck southern Japan early on Saturday, just over 24 hours after a quake killed nine people and injured at least 1,000 in the same area.

The Saturday quake triggered a tsunami advisory, though it was later lifted and no irregularities were reported at three nuclear power plants in the area, Japanese media reported.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the Saturday quake though there were several reports of damage, including some collapsed buildings and cracked roads.

The epicenter of the quake was near the city of Kumamoto and measured at a shallow depth of 10 km, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake on Thursday evening in the same region was of 6.4 magnitude.

“Thursday's quake might have been a foreshock of this one,” Shinji Toda, a professor at Tohoku University, told national broadcaster NHK.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the Saturday quake was 7.1 magnitude and it initially issued a tsunami advisory, which identifies the presence of a marine threat and asks people to leave coastal regions, for the Ariake and Yatsushiro seas.

NHK said the advisory suggested a possible wave of one meter in height. The advisory was later lifted.

Several aftershocks rattled the region later on Saturday, including one of 5.8 magnitude.

NHK quoted an official at a hospital near the epicenter as saying it had lost power after the Saturday quake and had to use its generators.

Most of the casualties in the Thursday quake came in the town of Mashiki, near the epicenter, where several houses collapsed.

A magnitude 9 quake in March 2011, to the north of Tokyo, touched off a massive tsunami and nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima. Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the tsunami.

Nepal Consulate in Los Angeles calls for ongoing post-quake support


The Nepalese Consulate in Los Angeles is facilitating donations and charitable gifts through its networks for humanitarian support for victims of the powerful earthquake that hit Nepal twice, killing more than 8,000 people, and destroying thousands of houses, heritage temples and buildings.

Amanda Daflos, deputy chief of General Consulate of Nepal in Los Angeles told the Jewish Journal, “We've been doing a number of things, including facilitating donations and the collection of supplies from Los Angeles communities and organizations who have reached out.”

“We have been invited to fundraising events to both speak and be a part of their events to provide information about Nepal and the effects of this disaster. We have also continued to direct people to organizations accepting donations,” Daflos said.

For those who live in Los Angeles and want to contribute donations to victims of the earthquake in Nepal, the consulate recommended Seeds Nepal, International Medical Corps, Mountain Fund, dZI Foundation for donations.

Daflos said that there is need in a variety of ways, including financial donations, supplies donations, volunteering to go to Nepal on emergency missions, and organizing fundraisers. There is also much room for creativity and all skills levels; there will be much demand for people who can help rebuild over the years to come with both skills and time, she added.

“There is currently a great need for medical supplies, tents and temporary shelters because thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed and the country is about to enter the monsoon season,” said Daflos.

Many relief organizations, including Seeds Nepal, International Medical Corps, and international governments, including the United States have responded to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and killed more than 8,000 in Nepal. The second quake of 7.3 hit the country on May12.

Daflos, however, emphasized that long-term support is still needed while emergency assistance is being carried out by aid organizations.

“Long-term needs will be significant and we are encouraging people to stay tuned in to the long term needs and volunteer their time or make financial donations over the long term. This is a disaster that will impact the country for decades to come,” Daflos said. 

She, however, said that many affected communities in Nepal have found aid delivery has been delayed due to logistical problems and slow reaction by the Nepalese government.

“The airport [in Nepal] itself is one of the hardest airports in the world for landing,” Daflos said.

Charity organizations got limited access to the disaster-affected regions as roads and paths were destroyed. Nepalese government's slow response to the victims of the earthquake and poor aviation capacities also contributed to delayed aid deliveries, Daflos said.

Geographical inconveniences also make logistics access difficult, as many parts of the country are mountainous regions. Local villagers mostly walk and hike to receive aid. But many paths were destroyed by landfall and haven't built, becoming difficult for everyone to reach out aid supplies.  

Charity groups and international governments should also focus on long term plans in order to rebuild live of affected people and rebuilding the country to normalcy.

Daflos, however, said that it will be a long journey back to where Nepal was before the quake, because of lost of legendary heritage, ancient temples and buildings. “Nepalis continue to focus on rebuilding, and our hope is they will gain the right levels of support from the international community to achieve this over the long term,” Daflos said. Located in the Himalayas and bordering with India and China, agriculture, hydropower and tourism trade are major contributors to the country's economy.

Four Israelis saved from Mount Everest


An Israeli rescue team saved four Israelis from Mount Everest, where they had been trapped by the earthquake that has devastated Nepal.
A rescue team sent to Nepal by Harel, an Israeli insurance company, brought the Israeli hikers, who are in good health, to safety on Monday, the Times of Israel reported.
Approximately 100 Israelis are still missing, and more than 3,800 people are believed to have died in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Saturday morning.
An Israeli army jet bound for Kathmandu carrying 250 medical and rescue personnel and supplies, including a field hospital, departed from Israel on Monday afternoon. Earlier in the day, an army plane brought 90 rescue workers and supplies. A third plane is scheduled to take off on Monday night.

Nepal: How you can help


Jews in Israel and abroad are responding to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 —resulting in the death of more than 4,000 Nepalese people — through action and financial campaigns.

“The people of Nepal are in desperate need right now,” American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) spokesperson Michael Geller said in a phone interview from New York.

The organization (jdc.org) has set up a Nepal Earthquake Relief fund that will provide urgent assistance, with a focus on medical relief and providing aid supplies. JDC is also helping the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with the setting up of an Israeli field hospital in the region, Geller said.

“A lot is happening,” he said. “JDC is partnering with the IDF field hospital, as we have done since the [2010] quake in Haiti. And we are providing them with equipment, such as neonatal incubators, and also partnering with Tevel b’Tzedek, which is an [Israeli] organization operating on the ground, and also with UNICEF.”

Geller was unable to provide an up-to-date total of JDC’s fundraising efforts thus far.

Another organization, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is collecting tax-deductible donations for the Nepalese via its Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund (ajws.org). AJWS representatives were not immediately available for comment.

In addition, Chabad has a full time operation in Kathmandu, and the organization is raising money for the relief effort, working with organizations such as JDC, on the ground. To donate, visit Chabad.org/Nepal.

 Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, a partner organization of the JDC, expressed empathy for the victims of the disaster, saying Angelenos know the consequences of earthquakes all too well.

“Living in Los Angeles we understand earthquakes are something you can’t predict, you can’t control,” he said. “It’s horrible.”

While Federation is not participating in this particular relief effort — Sanderson said the organization has other responsibilities at this time — the Federation leader recommended that people donate to either JDC or IsraAID (israaid.co.il), an Israeli-based agency that provides disaster relief .

“We have so many hot spots in the Jewish world that we have to focus on that we’re recommending people make gifts to other organizations,” he said. “We’re not conducting any kind of campaign. … We’re recommending if people want to make gifts through a Jewish lens, to [give to] either IsraAID or the JDC.”

IsraAID, the IDF, Tevel b’Tzedek, and Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, are among the Israeli-based organizations that are involved with the Jewish State’s wide-ranging relief effort in Nepal. Their work includes dispatching search-and-rescue teams to aid Israelis tourists of the region and to rescue premature babies of Nepalese surrogate mothers who are connected with Israeli adopting couples. (Israel has laws restricting its gay couples from adopting from Israeli surrogate mothers, leading some to look abroad — to places like Nepal — for babies.

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, was among the hardest hit areas of the earthquake. Trekkers at Mount Everest were also affected, as the earthquake triggered an avalanche. Meanwhile, the region has had many aftershocks in the aftermath of the earthquake, prompting Sanderson to describe what’s happening as a great humanitarian crisis.

“There are so many people living out[side] … not even willing to live in any kind of structure because they’re afraid of aftershocks,” he said. “I think it’s a terrible crisis, affecting tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands who live in that country.”

To prepare for major quake, Los Angeles proposes retrofitting older buildings


Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed on Monday that the city retrofit thousands of older buildings and bolster the water and communications systems to prepare for a possible major temblor along the San Andreas Fault.

The proposals marked the first major earthquake-preparation initiative by the country's second largest city since the 1994 Northridge earthquake that killed 16 people and destroyed many structures similar to those now targeted for upgrading.

“We know the 'Big One' is coming, it's a matter of when. If we're unprepared, the effects could be devastating,” Mayor Garcetti told a news conference at City Hall. “These things come with real costs, but we cannot afford not to pay them.”

The recommendations are based on a one-year study headed by the mayor's science adviser, Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey, best known to Southern Californians as “The Earthquake Lady” for her many appearances on television during temblors.

Jones said the proposals were “by far” the most comprehensive step toward earthquake resiliency the city had ever taken. Garcetti estimated the measures would cost billions of dollars, to be shared by the public and private sectors.

The measures, which require City Council approval, target pre-1978 apartment buildings with weak first floors, of the sort constructed over parking garages supported by narrow columns or poles. The proposal would require landlords to upgrade them within five years at an estimated cost of $5,000 a unit.

Pre-1976 concrete buildings with columns and frame connectors that are brittle and can break during an earthquake would also have to be upgraded within 25 years at an estimated cost of $10 to $15 a square foot.

The proposals also include upgrading the city's century-old pipes, developing an alternative water supply for firefighting with reclaimed water and seawater, and fortifying the dozens of aqueducts that cross the San Andreas Fault, including an old city water tunnel built of wood.

The mayor also proposed fortifying the communications system by strengthening cellular phone towers, forging an agreement between cell and Internet providers to share service and bandwidth during an earthquake, and working with utilities to protect power lines that cross the fault.

Money for the water and communications projects would come from a combination of public and private sources, much of it left to be determined, the mayor said.

Lessons in earthquake preparedness


If Los Angeles’ Jewish day schools are prepared for a major earthquake, they have the accreditation requirements of BJE-Builders of Jewish Education, an umbrella organization for local Jewish education, in large part to thank.

BJE helps schools develop earthquake safety measures and gives them accreditation when they demonstrate, among other things, a concern for student safety. 

Determining emergency procedures is part of the schools’ accreditation process, according to Miriam Prum Hess, director of BJE’s centers for excellence in day school education. 

For example, at Sinai Akiba Academy, the school for Sinai Temple in Westwood, which has both a preschool and kindergarten through eighth grade in the day school and is located at the busy intersection of Wilshire and Beverly Glen boulevards, approximately 1,000 students and staff are on campus on any given weekday. Emergency drills for both school and synagogue have to be run with absolute efficiency, synagogue executive director Howard Lesner said. 

“We all have radio contacts, overseeing it, making sure the entire building is completely empty, and people have to report on the radio when they’ve arrived and every student is accounted for,” he said. “I oversee what goes on with the triage, and basically my job is to oversee the entire evacuation process.”

“You’re talking about 480 kids out of the day school, 150 out of the preschool and 300 staff members,” he said.

Ilan Ramon Day School is at the opposite end of the spectrum in many ways. Serving approximately 150 students, the Agoura Hills school is located in a community of mountains, urban sprawl and stables. Despite the school’s smaller size and quieter suburban setting, its students participate in earthquake drills every few weeks. The school also takes part every year in the Great California ShakeOut, a statewide earthquake drill that draws the participation of millions of people from schools, workplaces and elsewhere, according to shakeout.org.

“The basic message if the ground is moving: You drop and cover and you hold on,” said Yuri Hronsky, Ilan Ramon’s head of school. “Cover as much of your body as possible, and hold whatever you can hold onto.”

Lesner referred to these exercises as “drop drills,” in which students protect their heads and necks while crouching underneath their desks. 

Earthquake safety experts agree these drills are best practice. The Earthquake Country Alliance, which works with the Southern California Earthquake Center at USC toward mitigating earthquake damage, refers to them as “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” 

Of course, there is more to earthquake preparation than drills. 

BJE, for instance, recommends that schools have advance communication technology, which can take many forms, such as auto-dial messaging, Hess said. This allows a school to simultaneously contact everybody on a list.

“We record one message, and with the push of one button, it either sends out a text or sends out a call to any number of stakeholders,” Hess said.

This technology is critical, although some places still rely on the old-fashioned buddy system. 

Temple Adat Elohim (TAE), which runs an early childhood center and a religious school in Thousand Oaks, recognizes that phone systems don’t always work the way we want them to: During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, long-distance calls were easier to make than local ones.

Therefore, TAE’s emergency system is to relay messages to a synagogue in Galveston, Texas,  Temple B’nai Israel, which has agreed to convey emergency messages if needed to community members who are not at the shul and are unable to make contact.  

“It was decided that we would establish an out-of-the-area contact point for our temple to call to let them know that everything is OK at TAE,” executive director Aliza Goland said in an e-mail.

Many schools have such relationships with other out-of-state communities, Hess said.

Staying on top of communication is important, but it is not the only concern. Well-stocked earthquake kits offer another preparation tool.

“Water, flashlights, normal things that you’d find in any earthquake kit that even homes and other businesses have,” said Sinai Temple’s Lesner, describing the contents of the kits there. 

“We change it over every few years when it expires. It’s not gourmet, but it certainly, in the event of an emergency, would sustain people,” he said.

Meanwhile, at Ilan Ramon, educators don’t need to worry about alarming their students. They understand that earthquakes are a fact of life in Los Angeles, Hronsky said.

“We live in California, and our kids are pretty in tune to this stuff.

Fifth earthquake in a week strikes Israel


A minor earthquake struck northern Israel, the fifth in a week.

Tuesday morning’s temblor, which measured 3.3 on the Richter scale and was centered just northwest of the Sea of Galilee, was felt from Tiberias up to the Golan Heights.

It came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered earthquake drills in schools on the same day that two earthquakes struck.

All five of the quakes have been centered near the Sea of Galilee, which is located on the Great Syria-African Rift, which has been the center of several earthquakes, large and small.

Netanyahu on Monday also said instructions on earthquake preparedness should be updated and publicized for all citizens. His instructions followed a discussion Monday with government ministers on national preparedness in the event of a major earthquake.

It is unclear what the string of temblors means for future earthquakes.

Hundreds of people died and were injured in a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in 1927 that centered on the Dead Sea.

Minor earthquake rocks Jerusalem


A minor earthquake rocked Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

The temblor measured 3.5 on the Richter scale and was felt in Jerusalem and on the northern edge of the Dead Sea on Thursday morning, according to the Geophysical Institute of Israel.

The epicenter of the quake was located north of the Dead Sea. It also was felt in some areas of central Israel.

An earthquake measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale shook Eilat in June.

Quake hits near Iran’s nuclear city Bushehr, 30 dead


A powerful earthquake struck close to Iran's only nuclear power station on Tuesday, killing 30 people and injuring 800 as it devastated small villages, state media reported.

The 6.3 magnitude quake totally destroyed one village, a Red Crescent official told the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA), but the nearby Bushehr nuclear plant was undamaged, according to a local politician and the Russian company that built it.

“Up until now the earthquake has left behind 30 dead and 800 injured,” said Fereydoun Hassanvand, the governor of Bushehr province, according to ISNA.

Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud brick, which can easily crumble in a quake.

Across the Gulf, offices in Qatar and Bahrain were evacuated after the quake, whose epicenter was 55 miles southeast of the port of Bushehr, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The early afternoon shock was also felt in financial hub Dubai.

Abdulkarim Jomeiri, a member of parliament for Bushehr, told IRNA that “the distance between the earthquake focal point and the Bushehr nuclear power plant was about 80 km and, on the basis of the latest information, there has been no damage to the power plant.”

The Russian company that built the nuclear power station,  11 miles south of Bushehr, said the plant was unaffected.

“The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor. Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm,” Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at Atomstroyexport as saying.

One Bushehr resident said her home and the homes of her neighbors were shaken by the quake but not damaged.

“We could clearly feel the earthquake,” said Nikoo, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “The windows and chandeliers all shook.”

Tuesday's quake was much smaller than the 9.0 magnitude one that hit Japan two years ago, triggering a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled the Fukushima nuclear plant's cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.

Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that does not belong to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated after the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl which contaminated wide areas and forced about 160,000 Ukrainians from their homes.

Western officials and the United Nations have urged Iran to join the safety forum.

REPEATED WARNINGS

Tehran has repeatedly rejected safety concerns about Bushehr – built in a highly seismic area – that began operations in September 2011 after decades of delays.

Iran sits on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which flattened the southeastern city of Bam and killed more than 25,000 people. In August more than 300 people were killed when two quakes struck the north west.

A report published last week by U.S. think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists said that “ominously” the Bushehr reactor sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates.

“Iran's sole nuclear power plant is not at risk of a tsunami similar in size to the one that knocked out the electricity and emergency cooling systems at Fukushima. But, repeated warnings about the threat of earthquakes for the Bushehr nuclear plant appear to have fallen on deaf ears,” the report said.

The quake happened on National Nuclear Technology Day when Iran's leaders celebrate the technological advances they say will reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels, leaving more of its abundant oil for export.

Israel, Gulf Arab states and many Western countries fear Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and the Islamic Republic is under international sanctions aimed at forcing it to curb some of its atomic work.

Iran denies it wants nuclear arms and says its atomic work is for electricity generation and other peaceful uses.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Regan Doherty in Doha, Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Hemming

Rhodes quake shakes Israel


An earthquake that originated in Rhodes was felt throughout Israel.

The 5.7-magnitude earthquake reportedly was felt in both the north and south of Israel, as well as in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In May, Israel felt a 5.3-magnitude temblor that originated near Cyprus.

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Israel in April 2011.

Italian Jewish community to raise money to cover earthquake damage


The Italian Jewish community launched a campaign to raise money for synagogues and other Jewish properties that were damaged in earthquakes that struck northern Italy last month.

“The Jewish communities in the towns, along with their members, were affected by the occurrences,” the Union of Italian Jewish Communities said in a statement. It said several major Jewish properties were “severely damaged” in the quakes.

“The community of Italy is trying to estimate the damages caused by the earthquake and to evaluate the cost,” the union said. “This estimation is difficult since new waves of earthquakes are happening and might be happening more in the future.”

Quakes on May 20 and May 30 killed at least 24 people, left thousands homeless and caused widespread damage to art and architectural heritage.

According to a report released by the union at the end of last week, synagogue buildings in the Italian cities of Ferrara, Modena, Mantova, Sabbioneta and Soragna suffered damage.

In Mantova, roof tiles were displaced, cracks appeared in some walls and plasterwork, and stucco decorations fell away. In Modena, the tympanum over the entrance to the synagogue was damaged as well as the railing in front of the bimah; the floor shifted and was cracked.

At the 18th century synagogue in Soragna, walls, the entrance to the women’s gallery, the ark and other features were damaged. The synagogue is now a Jewish museum.

“UCEI anticipates that the immediate and long-term needs will be profound and is coordinating with its in-country representatives to respond as well,” the community organization said.

Jewish celebration in Rome canceled to honor earthquake victims


Roman Jews canceled an outdoor celebration at Rome’s main synagogue to honor the national day of mourning for the victims of last month’s earthquakes in northern Italy.

Quakes in the Emiglia-Romagna region on May 20 and May 30 killed at least 24 people, left thousands homeless and caused widespread damage to art and architectural heritage.

Monday’s celebration in Rome was to have marked the 68th anniversary of the 1944 reopening of Rome’s main synagogue after the liberation of Rome by allied forces. The ceremony was to have included military representatives from Italy, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Poland, France, India and Israel.

The Italian Jewish community said it was working on plans to aid quake victims possibly by opening Jewish summer camp facilities to children victims and providing counseling and other medical and health care aid.

Israel plans for quake aid to Palestinians


Israel said on Tuesday it had set up a mechanism to get aid to the Palestinians in the event of a major earthquake.

A 5.5-magnitude quake rattled Israel and the occupied West Bank on Friday, reminding residents of their vulnerability to the Syria-African Rift, a northern extension of Africa’s Rift Valley.

“The working assumption is that they (Palestinians) do not have the means to deal with such a disaster on their own,” said Alon Rozen, director-general of Israel’s Civil Defense Ministry.

Given Israel’s control of the West Bank, it would, in the event of a major quake, host a United Nations aid distribution center to receive relief from abroad for Israelis and Palestinians.

The last big quake in the region in 1927 killed hundreds of people. Such events tend to recur every 80 or 90 years.

Rozen said Israel decided last year to devote new attention to earthquake preparedness. “The aspect of international aid for the Palestinians was something we had not dealt with. Last September, we realized this was a shortfall.”

A U.N. official confirmed there was coordination with Israel, but the Palestinians said they had yet to be consulted.

“We asked the United Nations years ago to create safe corridors for receiving foreign aid in case of catastrophes,” Major-General Ahmed Rezek, head of the Palestinian civil emergency services, said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

A senior Israeli military officer said his forces were on standby to provide relief to Jewish settlers in the West Bank but not to the much bigger Palestinian population.

“Were they to request help, I’m sure we would be happy to provide it,” said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said a Palestinian request for Israeli assistance in the West Bank would be standard procedure under such circumstances.

More challenging would be the Gaza Strip, another Palestinian territory whose Islamist Hamas administration is hostile to the Jewish state.

Israel, which keeps the enclave under naval blockade while allowing some commercial traffic across its land border, has held preliminary internal discussions on how to deliver emergency assistance, Rozen said.

Talks on founding an independent Palestinian state are deadlocked.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Tim Pearce and Janet Lawrence

Minor earthquake strikes northern Israel


A 3.8 magnitude earthquake shook northern Israel.

The epicenter of the temblor, which struck late Sunday night, was in Tiberias and the Hula Valley region.

The quake was felt in the Golan Heights, the Galilee and further south, according to reports. No injuries or damage were reported.

It was the third earthquake to strike Israel since April. 

Parts of Israel, including the Hula Valley, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, the Arava Desert and the Red Sea, lie on the north-to-south Syrian-African fault line.

Turkey’s FM: Tension with Israel won’t change over aid


Diplomatic tension between Turkey and Israel will continue despite Israeli earthquake aid to the stricken country, Turkey’s foreign minister said.

Ahmet Davutoglu told the Turkish news service Today’s Zaman that “political conditions remain,” and Ankara will not change its position on Israel despite the assistance.

Relations between the former allies are nearly nonexistent now following an Israeli naval commando raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla ship Mavi Marmara last year that left nine Turkish nationals dead, including one dual Turkish-American citizen.

Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families. Israel has offered its “regret” for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been deteriorating since the 2008-09 Gaza war.

Israel on Wednesday at Turkey’s request sent portable housing units, as well as inflatable mattresses and blankets. There are plans to send more housing units.

More than 450 deaths have been confirmed in Sunday’s 7.3 temblor.

More than 100 dead, hundreds missing after Turkey earthquake [UPDATE]


[UPDATE: 5:22 p.m.]

More than 100 people were confirmed killed and hundreds more feared dead on Sunday when a powerful earthquake hit southeast Turkey, flattening buildings and leaving survivors crying for help from under the rubble.

As a cold night fell, survivors and emergency workers battled to pull hundreds of people believed to be buried under debris in the city of Van and town of Ercis, where a student dormitory collapsed.

Residents in Van joined in a frantic search, using hands and shovels and working under floodlights and flashlights, hearing voices of people buried alive calling from under mounds of broken concrete in pitch darkness and freezing temperatures.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who travelled by helicopter to the area to see firsthand the scale of Turkey’s worst earthquake in a decade, told a nationally televised news conference at least 138 people had been killed—93 in Van city centre and 45 in Ercis. The toll was expected to rise.

“The most important problem now is in the villages close to Van city centre because the buildings are made of adobe. They are more vulnerable to quakes. I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed.”

He said people were still trapped under rubble but gave no figure. An official at the Van provincial crisis centre told Reuters up to 600 people had been injured and 300-400 were missing, feared buried beneath rubble of collapsed buildings.

The quake struck at 1041 GMT.

More accounts of dead bodies and destruction emerged from smaller settlements across the remote area near the Iranian border, most of them left without electricity or phone access.

“The death toll is rising. Rescue teams are taking out dead bodies all the time,” Reuters photographer Osman Orsal said in Ercis, a town of 100,000 some 100 km (60 miles) north of Van where a student dormitory collapsed.

In Van, a bustling and ancient city on a lake ringed by snow-capped mountains and with a population of 1 million, cranes were used to shift rubble of a crumpled six-storey apartment block where bystanders said 70 people were trapped.

“We heard cries and groaning from underneath the debris, we are waiting for the rescue teams to arrive,” Halil Celik told Reuters as he stood beside the ruins of a building that had collapsed before his eyes.

“All of a sudden, a quake tore down the building in front of me. All the bystanders, we all ran to the building and rescued two injured people from the ruins.”

At another site, three teenagers were believed trapped under a collapsed building. People clambered over the masonry, shouting: “Is there anyone there?”

An elderly rescue worker sat sobbing, his exhausted face covered in dust. Police tried to keep onlookers back. Ambulance crews sat waiting to help anyone dragged out of the debris.

There were reports of more bodies being pulled from rubble in hamlets outside Van. One village chief told NTV broadcaster: “Nobody has reached us, we have received no medical aid, the tents they sent are plain canvas. We are freezing.”

No information was available on the fate of a 10th century Armenian church on Akdamar Island—one of the last relics of Armenian culture in Turkey, which was recently reopened by the government as a peace gesture towards Armenia.

Kandilli Observatory general manager Mustafa Erdik told a news conference he estimated hundreds of lives had been lost. “It could be 500 or 1,000,” he added. He said he based his estimate on the 7.2 magnitude of the earthquake, the strongest since 1999, and the quality of construction.

A nurse at a public hospital in Ercis said hospital workers were attending the wounded in the hospital garden because the building was badly damaged.

“We can’t count dead or injured because we’re not inside the hospital. There should be more than 100 dead bodies left next to the hospital. We left them there because it’s dark and we didn’t want to step on bodies,” Eda Ekizoglu told CNN Turk.

The cabinet was expected to discuss the quake on Monday.

“A lot of buildings collapsed, many people were killed, but we don’t know the number. We are waiting for emergency help, it’s very urgent,” Zulfukar Arapoglu, mayor of Ercis, told news broadcaster NTV.

“We need tents urgently and rescue teams. We don’t have any ambulances, and we only have one hospital. We have many killed and injured.”

Turkey’s Red Crescent said one of its teams was helping to rescue people from a student residence in Ercis. It had sent 1,200 tents, more than 4,000 blankets, stoves and food supplies, along with two mobile bakeries.

More than 70 aftershocks rocked the area, further unsettling residents who ran into the streets when the initial quake struck. Television pictures showed rooms shaking and furniture toppling as people ran from one building.

Students gathered around a camp fire in Van’s centre and told journalists bread prices on the black market had more than quadrupled. Dazed survivors wandered past vehicles crushed by falling masonry.

Anatolian news agency reported that 200 prisoners escaped from Van’s prison after the quake, but 50 returned after seeing their families.

The quake’s epicentre was at the village of Tabanli, 20 km north of Van city, Kandilli said.

International offers of aid poured in from NATO, China, Japan, the United States, Azerbaijan, European countries and Israel, whose ties with Ankara have soured since Israeli commandoes killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

Erdogan thanked al the governments who had offered help, but said Turkey could handle the disaster relief efforts without assistance.

Serzh Sarksyan, the president of Turkey’s longtime regional rival Armenia, phoned Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul to offer his condolences.

Major geological fault lines cross Turkey and there are small earthquakes almost daily. Two large quakes in 1999 killed more than 20,000 people in northwest Turkey.

An earthquake struck Van province in November 1976, with 5,291 confirmed dead. Two people were killed and 79 injured in May when an earthquake shook Simav in northwest Turkey.

Additional reporting by Seda Sezer, Ece Toksabay and Seyhmus Cakan, writing by Ibon Villelabeitia and Daren Butler; editing by Andrew Roche and Matthew Jones

Turkey quake kills at least 279, hundreds missing [UPDATE]


[UPDATE: 10:43 a.m.]

Rescuers searched the rubble of collapsed buildings Monday for survivors and victims of a major earthquake that killed at least 279 people and injured more than 1,300 in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey.

Rescue and relief efforts focused on the city of Van and the town of Ercis, 100 km (60 miles) to the north, but hundreds were also feared dead in remote villages of mud-brick houses after Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake, Turkey’s strongest in a decade.

Desperate survivors cried for help beneath heaps of smashed concrete and twisted metal, some using mobile phones to tell friends they were alive, as earth-moving machines and troops raced against time in Van and Ercis.

Thousands of people made homeless by the quake were forced to spend a second night outdoors in the hilly, windswept Van region, enduring near-freezing temperatures. Families huddled round open fires that glowed in the dark. Some stayed in tents put up on soccer pitches, living on handouts from aid agencies.

The U.N. disaster agency said almost 1,000 buildings had collapsed, many of them poorly built. A Red Crescent spokesman said the agency was preparing to provide refuge for as many as 40,000 people, though it was so far impossible to tell how many would need shelter.

Some residents of Van and outlying villages complained of a lack of government assistance, despite the dispatch of troops, mobile kitchens and up to 13,000 tents.

“We have to fit 37 people in one tent,” said Giyasettin Celen, a 29-year-old who lost three family members in Dogonu Koyu, a village beside Lake Van where he said 15 people died.

“Our lost ones were carried like animals, on top of each other, in a transport van. Our main source of income here is livestock breeding, but we don’t have anywhere to keep them. We will have to sell them now,” he said.

Throughout the day, rescue workers pulled people out alive.

“Be patient, be patient,” rescuers in Ercis told a whimpering boy pinned under a concrete slab with the lifeless hand of an adult, a wedding ring on one finger, visible just in front of his face.

A Reuters photographer saw a woman and her daughter being freed from beneath a concrete slab in the wreckage of a six-storey building.

“I’m here, I’m here,” the woman, named Fidan, cried out hoarsely. Talking to her regularly while working for more than two hours to find a way through, rescuers cut through the slab, first sighting the daughter’s foot, before freeing them.

In Van, an ancient city of one million on a lake ringed by snow-capped mountains, cranes shifted rubble from a collapsed six-storey apartment block where 70 people were feared trapped.

One woman, standing beside a wrecked four-storey building, told a rescue worker she had spoken to her friend on her mobile phone six hours after the quake trapped her in the wreckage.

“She’s my friend and she called me to say that she’s alive and she’s stuck in the rubble near the stairs of the building,” said her friend, a fellow teacher. “She told me she was wearing red pajamas,” she said, standing with distraught relatives begging the rescue workers to hurry.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flew to Van to assess the scale of the disaster. It is a quake-prone area that is a hotbed of activity for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Erdogan said he feared for the fate of villages with houses made of mud brick, saying: “Almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the death toll had reached 279, with 1,300 injured, and more were unaccounted for.

The quake brought fresh torment to impoverished southeast Turkey, where PKK militants fighting a decades-long insurgency killed 24 Turkish troops south of Van last week.

The area it struck, near the border with Iran, is remote and mountainous, with long distances between villages and people who live off stock-raising, arable farming and trading.

The hardest-hit town was Ercis, a town of 100,000, where 55 buildings crumpled, including a student dormitory.

At one collapsed four-storey building, firemen from the major southeastern city of Diyarbakir were trying to reach four missing children. Aid workers carried two large black bags, one apparently containing a child’s body, to an ambulance. An old woman wrapped in a headscarf walked alongside sobbing.

A distressed man paced back and forth before running toward the rescue workers on top of the rubble. “That’s my nephew’s house,” he sobbed as workers tried to hold him back.

The Red Crescent has delivered 5,000 tents to Ercis alone and a tent city has been set up at Ercis stadium. But residents said tents were being given only to relatives of police and soldiers, a possible source of tension if confirmed.

“The villages have not received any help yet. Instead of making a show, politicians should be visiting them. The Turkish military says they sent soldiers, where are they?” said a municipality official in Van who did not want to be named.

Ibrahim Baydar, a 40-year-old tradesman from Van, accused the government in Ankara of holding back aid. “All the nylon tents are in the black market now. We cannot find any. People are queuing for them. No tents were given to us whatsoever.”

Rescue efforts were hampered by power outages after the quake toppled electricity lines to towns and villages.

More than 200 aftershocks have jolted the region since the quake, lasting around 25 seconds, struck at 1041 GMT Sunday.

“I just felt the whole earth moving and I was petrified. It went on for ages. And the noise, you could hear this loud, loud noise,” said Hakan Demirtas, 32, a builder who was working on a construction site in Van at the time.

“My house is ruined,” he said, sitting on a low wall after spending the night in the open. “I am still afraid, I’m in shock. I have no future, there is nothing I can do.”

The Red Crescent said about 100 experts had reached the earthquake zone to coordinate rescue and relief operations. Sniffer dogs had joined the quest for survivors.

Major geological fault lines cross Turkey, where small tremors occur almost daily. Two large quakes in 1999 killed more than 20,000 people in the northwest.

The quake had no impact on Turkish financial markets when they opened Monday.

In Van, construction worker Sulhattin Secen, 27, said he had at first mistaken the rumble of the quake for a car crash.

“Then the ground beneath me started moving up and down as if I was standing in water. May God help us. It’s like life has stopped. What are people going to do?”

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia, Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Editing by Tim Pearce

Turkey rejects earthquake aid offers, including Israel’s


Turkey has rejected all international aid, including an Israeli offer, in the wake of a strong earthquake that collapsed buildings and left hundreds dead.

Sunday’s temblor, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and was centered in southeastern Turkey, was felt in central Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported. At least 239 people are confirmed dead, with many others reportedly trapped in collapsed buildings.

“The State of Israel shares in your sorrow following the earthquake that has claimed victims from among your people,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday in a call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul.  “I speak as a man, as a Jew and as an Israeli who remembers, and is well aware of, the depth of the historic relations between our two peoples and thus I send the condolences of the entire nation to the families of those who lost their lives.  At this difficult time, the State of Israel is ready to render any assistance that may be required anywhere in Turkey, at any time.”

Gul thanked Peres for the telephone call, the expression of condolences and the offer of assistance, according to the president’s office, and said that he hoped Turkish search and rescue could handle the emergency alone. Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey are now nearly nonexistent.

Israel’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Minister had been in contact with Turkish officials Sunday in order to offer assistance. An Israel Defense Forces search and rescue delegation is prepared to leave for Turkey if it is called upon, according to reports.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families.

Israel has offered its “regret” for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been going downhill since the 2008-09 Gaza war.

Turkey sent several firefighting airplanes to Israel last December to help battle the massive Carmel Forest fire.

Netanyahu offers quake aid to Turkey


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to offer condolences for those killed in a devastating earthquake and said the Jewish state was ready to help, officials of both countries said.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been frayed since Israeli commandos killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

Sources at Erdogan’s office said Netanyahu reminded Erdogan that Turkey sent fire-fighting planes in December last year to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people and said Israel was now ready to help Turkey.

At least 279 people were killed and more than 1,300 wounded when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey on Sunday.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the call between the two men took place.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the victims of the terrible earthquake and offered Israel’s help in dealing with the tragedy. The Turkish prime minister thanked him for his words and for his offer to help,” the official said.

It was too early to know if the exchange would lead to a rapprochement. Turkey has demanded Israel apologise and pay compensation for the killings and lift the blockade on Gaza as a condition to normalise ties with its former strategic ally.

Tensions between the two U.S. allies rose last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologise and said its marines acted in self-defence in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists on one of the vessels.

Israel has sent rescue teams to quake-prone Turkey in the past after earthquakes struck.

Turkey has received offers of assistance from countries as far as China and Pakistan but so far has accepted aid only from Iran and Azerbaijan.

Earlier on Monday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc denied Turkey had declined an offer of aid from Israel.

“Our ties with Israel may not be at desired levels, but it’s out of the question to refuse humanitarian offers,” Arinc told a news conference.

“Turkey is thankful and respects all countries who offered help,” he said, but cautioned that “if aid from all countries arrived in Van it would be chaos”.

Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Michael Roddy and Roger Atwood

Israel prepares earthquake aid for Turkey


Israel has offered to send aid to Turkey following a strong earthquake that has collapsed buildings and reportedly left hundreds dead.

The scope of the aid in response to the earthquake that hit southeastern Turkey early Sunday will depend on Turkey’s willingness to accept it, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Diplomatic relations between the two countries are now nearly nonexistent.

The temblor, which measured 7.3, was felt in central Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported.

Israel’s Defense Ministry also has been in contact with Turkish officials. An Israel Defense Forces delegation is preparing to leave for Turkey as soon as it receives clearance, according to reports.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families.

Israel has offered its “regret” for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been going downhill since the 2008-09 Gaza war.

Turkey sent several firefighting airplanes to Israel last December to help battle the massive Carmel Forest fire.

Ehud Barak says Turkey declined Israeli aid offer


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday Ankara has declined aid offered by the Jewish state after an earthquake struck southeast Turkey.

“I am under the impression the Turks do not want our help,” Barak told Channel 2 News.

“Right now (their answer) is negative but if they see they need more aid and don’t have it, or if they rethink it, we have made the offer and remain prepared (to help),” he said.

Relations between Israel and Turkey, once close strategic allies, were frayed by a 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in which nine Turks were killed.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Louise Ireland

Turkey: no call yet for foreign aid after quake


Turkey has not yet made any call for international assistance after Sunday’s powerful earthquake in which many people were feared killed, a Foreign Ministry official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Turkey had received offers of assistance from dozens of countries, including Israel, and so far had declined help from all of them.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said earlier that Ankara had declined aid offered by the Jewish state after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey.

Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Tim Pearce

Earthquake-damaged New Zealand shul renting for Rosh Hashanah


The small Jewish community in the earthquake-ravaged New Zealand city of Christchurch will celebrate Rosh Hashanah in a rental property because the city’s only synagogue has not yet been repaired.

The congregation would now be “lucky if repair works can start in 12 months’ time,” the acting president of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation, Bettina Wallace, said in a Sept. 17 report to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The JDC donated $20,000 to the community’s earthquake appeal.

The devastating Feb. 22 tremor claimed the lives of more than 180 people, including three Israelis.

The synagogue building suffered extensive damage. The tower that holds the ark had to be removed. Engineers insisted that the entire front part of the synagogue will need to be demolished and rebuilt, according to Wallace.

Wallace said the congregation rented a house two weeks ago thanks largely to the donation from the JDC.

“The house is small, but has a huge living room which we have converted into a sanctuary,” she wrote.

The lay-led community is organizing for two young Chabad rabbis from Melbourne to lead the services, Wallace added.

The city’s Chabad house, a rented property, suffered severe damage in the earthquake.

Magnitude 4.2 earthquake shakes Los Angeles region


A magnitude 4.2 earthquake shook the Los Angeles region on Thursday, but no damage was reported from the minor temblor, officials said.

The earthquake at 1:47 p.m. local time (4:47 p.m. EDT/2047 GMT) was centered near the suburban community of Newhall, and it was felt in downtown Los Angeles nearly 30 miles (50 km) to the southeast, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

There were no immediate reports of damage in Los Angeles, Los Angeles police spokeswoman Karen Rayner said.

National Cathedral, damaged in quake, will hold services in shul


After their building took a battering from Tuesday’s earthquake, parishioners from Washington National Cathedral will instead worship in a Washington synagogue.

Due to earthquake damage, the church canceled services, including a Saturday dedication event for the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, while the building undergoes assessments. In the meantime, Washington National Cathedral will hold its Sunday services in the Washington Hebrew Congregation buildling.

Washington National Cathedral sustained what it called “significant damage” after the earthquake, losing ornate capstones from the church’s central tower, which at its peak is the highest point in Washington, D.C. There were also cracks in the flying buttresses in the area around the altar, the church said in a statement.

The cathedral’s dean, the Rev. Samuel Lloyd III, noted in a statement “the need to take every measure to ensure safety.” He also thanked the Washington Hebrew Congregation and its rabbi, Bruce Lustig, “for inviting us to hold services there for the next two Sundays.”

5.9 magnitude earthquake rattles U.S. East Coast, no deaths reported


A strong earthquake struck the U.S. East Coast and was felt as far away as Canada on Tuesday, shaking buildings in many cities, delaying flights and trains and sending thousands of frightened workers into the streets.

There were no reports of major damage or injuries from the 5.9 magnitude quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey said was centered in Mineral, Virginia, at a very shallow depth of 0.6 mile (1 km).

The Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol were briefly evacuated in Washington, and thousands of panicked office workers scurried into the streets up and down the East Coast as the lunchtime quake sent items crashing to the floor from store and office shelves.

“We were rocking,” said Larry Beach, who works at the U.S Agency for International Development in downtown Washington, 83 miles (133 km) from the quake’s epicenter. “It was definitely significant.”

Earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 to 6 can cause damage to buildings and other structures, especially if shallow. The U.S. East Coast does not normally feel quakes of this strength.

The shallower a quake is, the more intense it is felt on the surface, and the potential for damage is greater.

Amtrak reduced speed between Washington and Baltimore, track crews inspected East Coast stations and rails for damage and warned passengers to expect delays.

Two nuclear reactors at a power plant in Virginia went off line, while traffic lights were knocked out throughout Washington.

Three pinnacles in the central tower of the Washington National Cathedral, the highest building in the city, broke off in the quake, a spokesman said.

Chandeliers swayed in the U.S. Capitol and the floor of the U.S. Senate shook before staff headed for the doors. The U.S. Congress is in recess.

“I thought at first somebody was shaking my chair and then I thought maybe it was a bomb,” said Senate aide Wendy Oscarson-Kirchner.

Phone service was disrupted throughout the region as network congestion prevented Cellphone users from making calls. A Verizon Wireless spokesman said there were no reports of damage to its network but congestion disrupted service for about 20 minutes after the quake.

NEW YORK PANIC

In New York, the tremors prompted evacuations of courthouses, City Hall and halted work at the World Trade Center construction site.

Control towers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey were also evacuated, and flights were grounded briefly in Washington, Philadelphia and New York while authorities inspected control towers and runways.

Fire department and police officials in Dutchess County, north of New York City, reported structural damage to some buildings.

“We’re getting a lot of calls on buildings shaking but there’s no report of any structural damage at this time. Just panicked people calling about buildings shaking,” a spokesman for the New York City Fire Department said.

Buildings in Boston were evacuated, while the quake was felt as far away as Toronto.

Some people who experienced the swaying at their offices in Boston said they felt their stomachs turn.

“I thought I was dizzy and I needed to drink more water,” said Heather Kennaway, a manager at Sportello, a local restaurant, who was unaware of the earthquake.

The earthquake was felt in Martha’s Vineyard, where President Barack Obama was playing golf on his summer vacation at the time. It was unclear if Obama felt the tremor.

The quake was the largest in Virginia since 1897.

Vacationers at the Hamptons, the upscale resort on eastern Long Island, felt the earth shake. Many grabbed their cell phones to make calls, while several began asking aloud whether a tsunami—a huge wave created by an underwater quake—was headed their way.

Jews shaken by strong East Coast earthquake


Jewish centers and synagogues were evacuated as a result of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that was felt throughout the East Coast, the Forward reports.

Staffers at synagogues in Washington D.C. and Richmond, Va., the city closest to the epicenter, tried to calm one another’s jittered nerves as they checked their buildings for structural damage.

“It felt like a herd of elephants was running back and forth while someone was jackhammering the building,” said Shoshana Danon, an administrator at Kesher Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue 14 blocks from the White House. “I’m going around to make sure the Sefer Torahs didn’t get damaged.”

At Adas Israel, the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, Executive Director Glenn Easton ordered the building evacuated after the quake ended. A lunch for seniors was stopped midway, and 100 people filed out of the building.

No one had yet arrived for a bris scheduled for later in the afternoon. “Fortunately, the bris hadn’t started yet,” said Easton. “That would not have been a good combination. We hope there aren’t any aftershocks,” he added.

Read more at forward.com.