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How Long Can a Person Survive Under Earthquake Debris?

Rubble from 2006 Java quake
The remains of a house after the 2006 Java earthquake. (Image credit: USGS)

On Oct. 23, 2011, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook Eastern Turkey. The quake knocked down some 2,000 structures and killed at least 461 people, but hundreds — if not thousands — of people may still be in danger, trapped under earthquake rubble with nowhere to go.

Rescue workers are still pulling survivors from their would-be tombs, but time is running out for those still waiting to be saved. Assuming that a person hasn't suffered head trauma or other injuries, and has enough clear air to breathe and room to move around, how long can he or she survive under earthquake rubble?

It all comes down to food and water.

How long a person can survive on water alone depends on a variety of factors, such as the person's metabolism, the amount of extra fat a person has stored in his or her body and the temperature. As time goes on, a person’s organs will start to shut down one by one until the body can no longer properly function, but a healthy human can live without food for up to eight weeks.

Surviving without water is a bit more difficult. A healthy person can go three to five days without water, though some have survived for eight to 10 days. Without water, a person cannot digest or absorb food.

Last year during the devastating Haiti earthquake, a man survived under rubble for 14 days by rationing a 2-gallon jug of water he found amidst the debris. The previous reliable rubble-survival record was also 14 days, set by a man who was trapped in the ruins of a hotel after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Philippines in 1990.

This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Joseph Castro on Twitter @JosephBCastro. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.

Joseph Castro
Joseph Castro
Joseph Bennington-Castro is a Hawaii-based contributing writer for Live Science and He holds a master's degree in science journalism from New York University, and a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Hawaii. His work covers all areas of science, from the quirky mating behaviors of different animals, to the drug and alcohol habits of ancient cultures, to new advances in solar cell technology. On a more personal note, Joseph has had a near-obsession with video games for as long as he can remember, and is probably playing a game at this very moment.