tectonic plates

•Tectonic plates, which carry the continents and the oceans, are in constant motion, rubbing and colliding with one another and causing earthquakes, volcanoes and oceanic rifts and valleys.

• Faults such as the San Andreas are the result of two plates colliding with each other. The rock bends and reshapes up to a point and then must give way. Small tremors relieve some strain, but the major quakes occur when the rock finally does break. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake it was discovered that the surface of the earth had been displaced by more than 20 feet. Consequently, the city and its surrounding areas were totally devastated. A quake of such intensity creates a chain reaction of events that cause further destruction: fires from broken gas lines, floods from ruptured mains, and dry landslides. Seven hundred people were killed in the San Francisco quake, which registered 8.25 on the Richter scale.

• On September 1, a day of premonition in Japanese folklore, three shocks of great magnitude shook Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923. Both cities were reduced to mere rubble in minutes. Fire broke out, and a 34-foot-high tsunami swept in from across Sagami Bay. One hundred seventy-one aftershocks were counted within the next six hours. When the smoke cleared and the earth had quieted down, 143,000 were dead, and countless more were left homeless.

• Italy, split by a thumb of the African Plate—which includes the eastern half of the Italian peninsula and the western coasts of Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece—is the site of many major earthquakes. Most recently, a large part of Naples was leveled on November 23,1980. In 1976, northern Italy was flattened by a series of tremb-lors. Four months later, two more earthquakes hit the region, knocking down what was being repaired.

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