There have been more significant earthquakes this year than usual, but fewer of the most devastating sort -- those measuring 7 or higher on the Richter scale -- according to the government. Waverly Person, a geophysicist at the Geological Survey's Earthquake Information Center in Colorado, said a quake is considered "significant if it is a magnitude 6.5 or greater on the Richter scale, or if it causes extensive damage, fatalities or injuries." The quake that hit Italy Nov. 23 officially registered 6.8 on the open-ended, logarithmic scale and is considered significant on all counts. So far this year, there have been 65 significant quakes, compared to 58 last year and a long-term yearly average of 50 to 60, Person said. However, there have been only 12 readings of 7 or greater on the Richter scale -- the threshold for a major quake. That compares to a long-term yearly average of about 19 major quakes and an even dozen recorded last year, he said. The year's biggest quake -- reading 7.3 with a 6.2 aftershock -- struck Algeria Oct. 19, killing more than 3,000 persons and devastating a city. The quake in southern Italy has killed at least 3,000 persons, with 2,000 more missing and presumed dead. This year's earthquake toll thus is well ahead of 1979 when 1,479 persons died, Person said. But the long-term quake toll has been about 10,000 deaths a year.