The 1988 earthquake in Soviet Armenia: a case study

Ann Emerg Med. 1990 Aug;19(8):891-7. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(05)81563-x.


A major earthquake devastated the Armenian Republic of the Soviet Union on December 7, 1988, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries. In a postearthquake investigation of three towns seriously affected by the earthquake, we studied earthquake-related injury patterns, made observations on rescue and medical efforts, and postulated certain factors associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Information was obtained from official Soviet documents, interviews with survivors of the earthquake, and interviews with local, regional, and national government officials. Figures were based on assessments made by these officials in the field in the immediate postearthquake period. Out of a population of 8,500, there were 4,202 (49.4%) deaths and 1,244 (14.6%) injured (casualty rate, 64.0%). Deaths and injuries were 67 and 11 times higher, respectively, among trapped than nontrapped victims. Being outside at the time of the earthquake or having escaped to the outside from the collapsing structure was crucial for survival. Among persons found alive, 89% were rescued during the first 24 hours, mostly without the use of heavy equipment. This observation underscores the importance of swift rescuer response. As with all field surveys after disasters, there were methodological limitations to this study due to chaotic postearthquake conditions. Accordingly, results must be approached with caution. Nonetheless, these preliminary observations are striking and have generated several new hypotheses for further investigations using more sophisticated analytic methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Armenia
  • Disasters / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergencies
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality