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Dust has hampered rescue and clean-up operations by causing eye and respiratory-tract irritation. Anecdotal accounts from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake indicate that rescue workers finally resorted to full-face respirators, equipment that will probably be in short supply after most major earthquakes (45). Many commercial and school buildings in the United States are heavily laden with asbestos, which will likely pulverize if the buildings collapse. Asbestos and other particulate matter in the dust could pose both subacute and chronic respiratory hazards to entrapped victims as well as to rescue and clean-up personnel, depending on the characteristics and toxicity of the dust (48).

Burns and smoke inhalation from fires used to be major hazards after an earthquake. For example, following the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo, more than 140,000 people perished, principally because of fires that broke out in a city where most buildings were constructed from highly flammable paper (shoji) and wood material. Since 1950, however, the incidence of burns in the aftermath of earthquakes has decreased considerably (5).