Earthquakes occur often in Japan and for most of us the Chuetsu earthquakes near Niigata were probably not very surprising. But for seismologists, this earthquake followed closely by many aftershocks of almost the same intensity happened in an area were they did not expect any major earthquake.
No major fault was known in the area and there were no historical records of strong earthquakes near Niigata. According to some preliminary studies, after a first fault broke the stress was redistributed among the neighbouring faults, resulting in the strong aftershocks in the minutes and hours that followed.
In a country like Japan where buildings are built to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 6.8, this earthquake should not caused so much damage. Unfortunately the typhoons that struck Japan in the previous weeks had left the soil weakened and the strong aftershocks amplified the effects of the initial earthquake.
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