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Earthquake toll renews call for safer construction methods

NEWS

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES must educate their people in safer construction methods if they are to avoid a repeat of the devastation caused by last month's south Asia earthquake, engineers have warned.

They fear many buildings will be reconstructed as they were before, with no account taken of future earthquake risks.

'Educating villagers and politicians on how to make buildings more resistant is key, ' said Society for Earthquake Civil Engineering Dynamics chairman Ziggy Lubkowski.

The earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck near Muzaffarabad in the Pakistan controlled region of Kashmir at 8.50am on 8 October. More than 40,000 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds of villages were destroyed. At least three million are now thought to be homeless.

Other engineers expressed frustration that lessons had not been learned from similar events.

'The situation here is depressingly familiar to the situations we saw in [previous earthquakes in] Turkey and India, ' said Jacobs Babtie director Alan Stewart.

'Once people get over the shock of the event, the danger is that unless more information is made available, they will just rebuild their houses as they did before, ' he said.

Stewart is a past chairman of the Institution of Structural Engineer's (IStructE) Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT).

The primitive construction techniques without design codes used in the rural communities contributed to the high death toll. Here, houses are built of random stone masonry bound with cement or mud, with roofs simply sat on top. When the earthquake shook the ground, the roofs just fell in on top of the families inside.

Movement of the Indian tectonic plate northward at 40mm per year causes most earthquakes in the region struck last month, Lubkowski said.

'The Indian plate is moving north and creating a compressional plate boundary [between it and the Eurasian plate]. Along here there are a series of thrust faults where this pressure literally creates steps in the ground, typically of 2m to 3m, ' he said.

'Colleagues at Imperial College have estimated that in this case the fault line was approximately 100km long running from north to south which explains why such a large area has been affected.' The earthquake's epicentre was 10km below ground and was considered a relatively shallow event.

This means damage was potentially greater as more energy is transferred to the surface.

'The acceleration in a shallow event is much higher and the separation time between the horizontal pressure wave and the slower moving surface wave is much less, making the impact much more destructive, ' explained chairman of EEFIT Gopal Madabhushi.

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