The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Seattle vs. El Salvador, India, Turkey:
Imperialism Makes the Odds of Dying in an Earthquake Quite Different

Mar 5, 2001

The recent earthquake near Seattle was a large one–6.8 on the Richter scale (a measure of the quake’s destructive power). This large a quake can cause a huge amount of damage and death.

Yet no major building in Seattle or nearby Olympia collapsed, and there were at most only one or two deaths that could be blamed on the quake, and only about 350 people who suffered injuries. Some of this, of course, is a matter of luck–were you standing in the right or wrong place when the quake hit. But luck doesn’t explain everything.

Compare Seattle to what usually happens when there is a large quake in a poor country:


Turkey, 1999

7.4 and 7.2 on the Richter scale (2 quakes)

About 18,000 dead (both quakes combined)


El Salvador, January 2001

7.6 on the Richter scale

About 850 dead


India, January 2001

7.7 on the Richter scale

About 19,000 dead, 167,000 injured


El Salvador, February 2001

6.6 on the Richter scale

About 300 dead.

The low casualty toll in Seattle was due in part to that quake’s location–about 30 miles underground. This was deeper than the level where most quakes occur. The Seattle quake was also of a type that is less destructive than some other types. But in addition to this, many buildings in Seattle have either been built to withstand earthquakes, or have been retro-fitted to make them more quake resistant.

Certainly, there could have been much more protection in Seattle. There were still many buildings which were partially destroyed. But this at least gives a hint of what can be done.

The protection which existed in Seattle, as incomplete as it was, doesn’t even begin to exist in El Salvador, India, Turkey or any other poor countries in the world. The robbery of the poor countries by imperialism centered here in the U.S. means that most people in the poor countries not only eat less, suffer from more diseases and die younger than most people here. It also means that they die in earthquakes by the thousands, because investment is not made to make buildings resistant in earthquake zones.