“Earthquakes in One Place After Another”
LAST August 15 the severest earthquake of the twentieth century, the “biggest of the present generation”, the “most drastic natural upheaval in a populated place that the world ever has known”, was centered in northeastern India, Assam, Nepal and southern Tibet. So violent was that quake that all seismographs throughout the world joined the rhythm in a wild and dizzy dance. Many were completely knocked out. The one at Istanbul, Turkey, was broken, and at Boston College, on the opposite side of the globe, the seismograph ran right off the recording paper. When the shock-wave reached Milwaukee, Wis., 11,000 miles away, the water in a deep well set a new record by jumping 54 inches. Radio and press services flashed out the news, and the people instinctively knew that once again a catastrophe of great magnitude had struck.
Somewhere beneath The Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range, there was a slipping of the subterranean rock, which in turn threw 30,000 square miles of earth’s surface into convulsions. Some of the rivers of the region disappeared; others changed their courses. The Brahmaputra, one of the greatest rivers in the world, put on a strange and terrible act, as the tilting and rocking of the land caused it first to recede and then to rush down in mad fury. At places it overflowed its banks and swept across open country like an ocean. Its tributary, the Subansiri, spread ruin through 1,500 villages. Whole mountains tumbled down, burying villages and stopping up rivers in the valleys below. Then when the artificial lakes that were thus formed burst through the earthen dams they roared down the valleys, taking everything with them: massive trees, mighty jungles and all creatures in them. What a frightful sight—the bodies of dead elephants, tigers, monkeys and other wildlife, as well as human victims—all borne on the crest of the raging waters!
At other places great chasms opened up and subterranean waters were added to the peril. Granaries were destroyed, leaving many areas threatened with starvation. Fish by the thousands in the streams were either buried in landslides of mud or suffocated by sulphurous gases from the earth’s fiery internal regions. Spouting volcanoes reddened the skies for days as they joined in this rebellion of nature, which was rated as “one of the greatest natural catastrophes” in Assam’s history. It is almost unbelievable, but majestic Mt. Everest, the highest peak in the world, was literally raised up another 198 feet in altitude!
All communications were completely cut off. Roads and streams literally vanished and large sections of railways were left dangling in the air. Telephone and power lines over a great area were knocked out. Panic broke out throughout northern India and Burma, including Calcutta, and thousands either ran screaming through the streets in their terror or huddled together in prayer to their demon gods. And as nearly 200 tremors and aftershocks continued daily to rock the country for more than a month, the lives and activity of the already fear-stricken people were further numbed.
Counting some of the cost, damage to the tea plantations alone amounted to $4,000,000. Thousands of houses were destroyed, 50,000 head of cattle were killed, about 5,000 people lost their lives, and 5,000,000 others suffered from the month-long series of quakes. But the tabulation of such cold figures tells very little of the pain and misery and woe wrought by these superhuman earthshaking forces.
IS THERE AN EARTHQUAKE EPIDEMIC?
As the story continued to trickle out bit by bit from the remote regions of The Himalayas, reports of earthquakes from other quarters of the world were heard. On August 17 a sharp quake rocked islands in the Philippines. Then on August 23 a moderate shock was registered in lower California, and on September 9 a strong shock hit the northern part of Chile. Just the year before, on August 5, 1949, Ecuador suffered a tragedy similar to Assam’s, in which it is estimated 9,000 were killed and 20,000 were made homeless. Four of Ecuador’s cities were demolished and the staggering damage ran into millions of dollars. The year before that other quakes killed 5,000 persons.
Earthquakes are not a modern scientific invention or discovery, for ancient records show that such events have occurred since earliest times. Man’s oldest book, the Bible, tells of several quakes, in both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures. (Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5; Isa. 29:1, 6; 1 Ki. 19:11; Matt. 27:54; 28:2; Acts 16:26) The profane writings of Aristotle, Pliny, Seneca, and others, likewise mention such catastrophic events, and since their days many, many others have occurred. To list the major ones:
Year Location Killed Year Location Killed
1703 Japan 200,000 1875 Venezuela 16,000
1737 India 300,000 1896 Japan 22,000
1755 Lisbon 50,000 1908 Italy 75,000
1783 Italy 50,000 1915 Italy 39,000
1797 Ecuador 41,000 1920 China 200,000
1822 Turkey 22,000 1923 Japan 143,000
1828 Japan 30,000 1927 China 100,000
1868 Peru 25,000
These figures reveal some startling facts. For example, it is very noticeable how few and far between major quakes were prior to World War I compared with the timetable since. This point is corroborated by the Jesuit Father Joseph Lynch of Fordham University in his book Our Trembling Earth (1940), for in showing how there has been an “alternation of storm and calm” he lists (pp. 151, 152) only eleven major quakes as occurring in 3,358 years of Italian history, ending in 1908.
The relative number killed is amazing too. The Encyclopædia Britannica (vol. 7, p. 852, 1940 edition), after giving the death toll of major quakes prior to 1914, observes: “Figures such as these may be exaggerated [especially the 18th century figures], but there can be no mistaking those for the Japanese earthquake of 1923.” Even then, if the exaggerated figures of past centuries are accepted at full value, the above figures show the average annual death rate was greatly accelerated from and after 1914—from 4,000 killed per year it leaped to 40,000! Death and horror in concentrated form is mankind’s portion since 1914.
AN IMPORTANT PART OF “THE SIGN”
By now you want to know what this accelerated trend in earthquake frequency has to do with 1914 and World War I? Well, the association of the two is not just a coincidence. The timing of these momentous events was both foreseen and foretold nearly 2,000 years ago. “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the consummation of the system of things?” (Matt. 24:3, NW) This was the question the disciples asked Jesus; and it was an important one, too. Daniel the prophet had already given a chronological timetable showing that the consummation or the “ending together” of all that pertained to this present world would begin 2,520 years after Jerusalem’s last king was dethroned in 607 B.C., namely, in the fall of 1914.a Consequently, in answering the question, Jesus enlarged on that prophecy by telling what events would happen as a visible “sign” for all to see during that consummation.
You can read the whole account in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, and as you do take special note of what it says about earthquakes. “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom [global wars have occurred only since 1914], and there will be food shortages [history’s worst shortages have come since then] and EARTHQUAKES in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.” (Matt. 24:7, 8, NW) Thus it was prophetically foretold that earthquakes, not alone or independently, but together with the other events mentioned, would constitute a visible sign marking the consummation of the old world and the nearness of the new.—2 Pet. 3:6, 7, 13.
So much for the prophecy. What are the actual facts? No one can deny that 1914 ushered in a dreadful and crucial period and one which continues to the present. Global wars more ghastly in their magnitude and consequence than all the previous wars of history put together! Unsurpassed food shortages! Pestilences and diseases that even modern medicine cannot cope with! World-wide moral and social delinquency, and on every hand, on every level of society, in every nation, fear, distress and perplexity fill the minds and hearts of the people with woe and sorrow! Lumped together, Jesus declared, they would constitute an undeniable sign provided earthquakes were also present in one place after another. So what are the facts in this regard?
“IN ONE PLACE AFTER ANOTHER”
The accompanying tabulation of earthquakes since 1914 was taken from the World Almanacs and the annual yearbooks of the Americana, Britannica and Collier’s encyclopedias, and include only those figures actually reported. They are by no means complete, yet are sufficient to reveal an indescribable picture of horror and suffering. Just think of it, in this short period of time more than 848,450 persons were slaughtered, more than 577,876 were injured, and 4,636,169 were made homeless. Hundreds of cities were destroyed, thousands of buildings were wrecked, and billions of dollars were lost in property damage!
Compare this period with former times and you will see there is nothing in man’s previous miserable history to equal it. “In 2,000 years of recorded history, earthquakes have probably taken 10,000,000 lives,” so declared Robert K. Plumb in the New York Times (August 20, 1950), under the featured section, “Science in Review.” This means the average annual death toll for 1,965 years was less than 4,700, to compare with an average of more than 24,200 killed annually for the last 35 years, since 1914. Or draw a comparison between the last and any other 35-year period. Pick out the previous worst period, the years including the quakes in 1703 and 1737, their exaggerated figures notwithstanding. For that period the total of 500,000 killed is completely eclipsed by the nearly 70 per cent greater total dead heaped up since 1914. And when it comes to property damage, disrupted communications, suffering on a global scale, etc., due to quakes since World War I, there is likewise nothing in past history to match this period.
Do you know that these quakes here listed since 1914 are only a very small fraction of those that have occurred? “On the average, there are probably about 150 large earthquakes a year.” (Our Trembling Earth, p. 3) “At the present time, instrumental records are being used to locate an average of from 600 to 700 earthquakes a year. Of these, from 50 to 100 may be literally world shakers capable of causing catastrophe if the luck of location places a large center of population near at hand.” (Cause of Catastrophe, by L. Don Leet, 1948, pp. 34, 36) Counting the smallest tremors some scientists estimate there are 1,000,000 quakes per year.
Science does observe a strange change in the behavior of earthquakes since World War I. Says the magazine Scientific American, September 1950: “Major quakes used to occur in clusters, each period of activity being followed by a rest period. Thus there was violent activity between 1904 and 1907 and then quiescence for 10 years, except for two quakes in 1911 and 1912. Four more active periods, separated by quiet intervals, occurred between 1917 and 1948. But the periods of activity became progressively shorter and closer together. Since 1948 the pattern has entered a new phase, with approximately one great quake a year.”—Italics added.
The foretold SIGN is here, every part of it, earthquakes included. It is a warning that we are in the “last days”. There is no question that Jehovah God can carry out his declared purpose to shake the Devil’s present system of things until it is completely destroyed. Just think of the power at Jehovah’s command! A Hiroshima-type atom bomb is equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT, but “what”, asks the New York Times, “is an atomic bomb compared with the earth’s crust when it twitches like a cow or a horse that wrinkles its skin to rid itself of flies?” Why, do you know, the Assam quake last summer equaled the power of 1,100,000 atom bombs or 1,100 theoretical hydrogen bombs! Yet, that eruption is nothing in power to compare with that which the Maker of the atom will release at Armageddon when He shakes terribly this whole earth.—Ps. 46; Isa. 2:19; Nah. 1:3-6; Hab. 3:6.
35 YEARS OF EARTHQUAKE SORROW
Year Killed Injuredb Property Damage
1915 39,000 6 large cities razed
1918 300 1,000 $34,125,000 loss
1919 5,372 400
1920 203,624 200 110 cities razed, 500
1921 14 300 10,000 homeless
1922 900 500 buildings destroyed
1923 149,912 2,000 2,030,000 homeless
1924 952 47 $15,000,000 loss
1925 1,021 1,586 20,000, homeless
1926 1,171 thousands 6,238 buildings destroyed
1927 105,370 202 13,465 buildings destroyed
1928 2,169 2,528 35,247 buildings destroyed
1929 3,183 100 10,000 homeless
1930 11,782 228 7,941 buildings destroyed
1931 2,912 2,580 4,610 buildings destroyed
1932 70,994 681 3,800 buildings destroyed
1933 1,942 815 14 villages, 7,930
buildings and 1,570
small boats destroyed
1934 20,049 225 200,000 homeless
1935 66,771 $33,000,000 loss
1936 537 116 $500,000 loss
1937 38 hundreds
1938 484 200,000 homeless
1939 80,350 100,000 50,000 buildings destroyed
1941 84 263
1942 11,009 2,000 $2,500,000 loss
1943 4,850 29 villages destroyed
1944 35,000 3,000 70,000 homeless
1945 4,000 40,000 homeless
1946 5,000 94,669 homeless
1947 639 1,500 buildings destroyed
1948 5,172 16,000 55,000 buildings destroyed
1949 9,611 20,605 106,000 homeless
Total 848,450 577,876 4,636,169 homeless loss
in billions of dollars
a For a detailed discussion see “Let God Be True”, pages 243-246.
b An additional 423,000 injured casualties were reported during this period of time. They are in the total.