Living on a Fault Line

The village of Maligi on the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra seems idyllic—two dozen houses strung along a palm- and casuarina-covered strip of land, on one side the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean, on the other a rippling river mouth. When a rare group of visitors appears in the bright mid-morning sunlight, a dozen children chase after the car, laughing and waving.

"So many kids," American geologist Charles Rubin mutters gloomily as he waves back. "They don't have a chance."

"Nope," agrees fellow geologist Kerry Sieh, also waving and smiling. "They'd...

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