A killer earthquake could hit London at any time, claiming untold numbers of lives and causing billions of pounds worth of damage, an expert has warned.
Such a quake is long overdue after the last one occurred on April 6 1580, said seismologist Dr Roger Musson.
Centred on the Dover Straits, the magnitude 5.5 tremor shook the south-east of England, damaging property and killing two people in London.
A similar “moderate” event would now be far more destructive, with towns and cities connected by complex infrastructure and a London population 50 times what it was in the 16th century.
The reason we should be aware of the danger is that earthquakes have a habit of repeating themselves, said Musson, from the British Geological Survey.
Speaking at the British Science Festival at Aston University, Birmingham, he said: “The quake in 1580 was a repeat of a previous one that occurred in 1382, with almost the same epicentre, size and results.”
An idea of the kind of financial impact of such an event could be seen from a tremor that struck the city of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, in 1999.
“The damage caused by that earthquake, which was smaller than the 1580 earthquake, amounted to about £4bn at today’s prices,” said Musson.
He said Britain sat in the middle of one of the tectonic plates that divide up the Earth’s crust.
The country is being squeezed between an expanding plate boundary slicing through the Atlantic and another running through north Africa.