The 1988 Armenian earthquake, also known as the Spitak earthquake, occurred on December 7 at 11:41 local time with a surface wave magnitude of 6.8 and a maximum MSK intensity of X (Devastating).
Between 25,000 and 50,000 people were killed and up to 130,000 were injured, with thousands more left homeless. The earthquake devastated Spitak, Gyumri, Vanadzor, Stepanavan and surrounding villages.
Many buildings did not hold up to the shaking of the earthquake and those that did collapse often lacked any survival space, but lack of effective medical care and poor planning also contributed to the substantial scope of the disaster. Buildings that didn’t collapse featured well maintained masonry and skeletal components that were joined together adequately in a way that allowed for the building to resist seismic waves. Most bridges and tunnels and other public infrastructure withstood the earthquake but hospitals did not fare well. Most collapsed, killing two thirds of their doctors, destroying equipment and medicine, and reducing the capacity to handle the critical medical needs in the region.
The world responded rapidly to the disaster in Leninakan (Gyumri) and Spitak, with much of Europe sending cargo aircraft loaded with medical supplies, rescue equipment, and trained personnel to assist in the recovery, and even more reinforcement coming in from Latin America and the Far East. Mikhail Gorbachev was in New York on his first day of visits with Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush at the time of the earthquake, and once the scale of the disaster was realised, a quick departure was made back to Armenia, with the Kremlin formally asking for American help. Washington immediately responded with offers of doctors, medical equipment, and rescue teams, and by the first weekend the first US plane arrived in Yerevan with search and rescue teams and detection dogs.
The French arrived in Armenia in the late evening on Friday, December 9, and relieved the exhausted Armenian workers who then returned to Yerevan. Japan sent a monetary gift of $9 million while Italy had plans to build a prefabricated village for the victims, and West Germany offered to send more than a dozen heavy cranes. The Americans donated generously as well, with Washington dispatching eight official planeloads of official relief aid plus a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter from Italy.
As of July 1989, about $500 million in donations had been delivered to the Armenians from 113 countries (including Australia). Most of those funds went into the initial relief work and medical care plus the beginning portion of the rebuilding phase. Yuri S. Mkhitarian, an Armenian State Building Committee official, gave an updated damage report that included some of the outlying communities away from the population centers stating that 342 villages were damaged and another 58 were destroyed. The negative effect the earthquake had on the economy of Armenia was apparent. Mkhitarian said that 130 factories were destroyed and 170,000 people were out of work.
As winter closed in, some 150,000 survivors were left homeless in the mountainous north of Armenia. Soon afterward, as the Soviet Union collapsed, aid and rebuilding efforts stalled.
Very soon, within a month after the quake, Domiks, or metal containers, were shipped from all over the world to provide temporary relief for people who had lost their homes at the earthquake. The harsh reality is that after more than 30 years, some impoverished families are still living in those rusted tin shacks with no insulation and with limited amenities.