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India quake rebuild faces height restriction

QUAKE DEVASTATED Indian city of Bhuj will be rebuilt with a three storey height limit, engineers in the Indian state of Gujarat told NCE this week.

According to city engineers, the new rules will be imposed as it is becoming clear that the most common structural failure in the earthquake was the collapse of overloaded lower floor supports.

The combination of open plan basements with poorly reinforced columns, plus the frequent addition of new floors on old buildings with poorly reinforced concrete supports, has prompted local engineers to reassess design practices.

Bhuj took the brunt of the multiple quake (see box) which struck north west India two weeks ago with a force of up to 7.9 on the Richter scale. Some 30,000 people are thought to have been killed with hundreds of thousands left homeless.

A worldwide appeal has been launched to get aid to the region.

Temporary accommodation is being assembled from supplies brought in by the army and all over the wrecked city local families are erecting makeshift shelters outside the remains of their homes.

But so far mass disinfecting in the city and the rapid re-establishment of fresh water supplies looks to have stemmed immediate fears of epidemic and disease.

And after a slow start, the clear up operation is now in full swing, particularly as the possibility of finding any further survivors in the wreckage is now slim. The government has committed resources to the recovery and logistics problems are being tackled.

However, a preliminary survey by city engineers, completed this week, has found that a tough job awaits. Up to 85% of buildings in the city of 150,000 people have either collapsed or are unsafe to live in.

And according to a report being prepared by Heman Twala, a prominent architect and structural engineer in the nearby town of Ahmedebad, Bhuj will have to be completely replanned. It could take two to three years to plan and rebuild the damaged areas.

'The overall planning of the new city needs to change, ' said Twala, who has designed many of the structures still standing in Bhuj. He reflected that another earthquake was inevitable and that the lack of access along narrow streets led to fatal delays in reaching the injured. 'It needs to be much more open plan so that in future it is easier to clear the debris and get to casualties.'

City engineer in the nearby region of Surat, BM Desai agreed, and added: 'Let us forget the old city. We have ample land here around Bhuj, let us spread out.'

But national government official S Jagadeenan, who has been seconded to Gujarat to lead the relief operation, told NCE this week that a detailed assessment of severely damaged buildings was still weeks away.

An estimated 25,000 buildings have collapsed in Bhuj and 150,000 in total following the quake. The assessment may involve an international team of structural engineers. 'We are open to experts coming in from outside to do this, ' he said.

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