Quake in India
(Jan. 31, '01) the number of dead from the earthquake that hit India six days
ago is estimated "by officials and aid workers to be from 15,000 to
100,000." The higher estimate came from the Indian Defence Minister, George
Fernandes, as his "personal assessment". Haren Pandya, the Indian Home
Minister, said : "According to our assessment (the figure of dead ) could
be between 15,000 and 20,000" and emphasized that Fernandes's figure was a
Turkey the official figure from the earthquake that hit the country two years
ago was around 16,000. Independent estimates raise the figure to double the
official one. That the state , any state, tends to minimize the figure of dead
from a quake can be expected. The state is taken to be responsible for the
building (seismic) codes, the zoning regulations, the control of the quality of
the building materials, etc. Therefore, the fewer dead the better the
"performance" of the state. In addition fewer dead means less panic
for the population in general.
the state will try to lie about the number of the dead in a quake can be clearly
seen in the case of the 1976 quake in Tangshan, in China. The official figure
was 255,000 dead. A group of American civil engineers, that investigated the
case, estimated the number of dead to 750,000, three times the official number.
one sees in the destroyed cities of India are collapsed multi-story concrete
buildings. Also, what one sees is the rescue of a dozen people (out of the
20,000 or 100,000) lucky enough to survive in the rubble, some of them moved out
of the rubble after having their trapped limbs amputated, in situ. Of course
this makes an "impressive" story for CNN etc. However, to understand
the enormous forces involved one has only to know that a 33 by 33 feet and 5
inches thick concrete slab (without the adjacent beams) weighs 25 metric tons
(or 55,000 pounds). To raise a a 25 ton piece of concrete you need a rather
monstrous crane. And it seems that in India there are hundreds if not thousands
of collapsed concrete buildings most of them multi-story.
the turn of the 20th century the multi-story steel-reinforced concrete building
has become the most prevalent structure in all countries. For one hundred years
the newspapers have repeatedly carried photos (ad nauseam) of collapsed concrete
buildings after an earthquake, but no state ever questioned the role of the
concrete as a material in the carnage. The number of dead from quakes during the
20th century, on the basis of the official figures, is around 2 million.
is a BRITTLE material, even when reinforced with steel, that cannot withstand
the forces and the deformations due to a quake. The engineers that design the
concrete frames of buildings are the civil engineers. Not all civil engineers
have the training that would help them understand the behaviour of a multi-story
concrete building during a quake. But, what is more important is that of the few
that understand there are even fewer that are radicalized enough politically to
come out and tell the truth about concrete in relation to earthquakes.
in the twentieth century the collapse of concrete buildings has been the cause
of almost all the deaths from quakes, is a fact. That after a quake, people
rebuild the destroyed buildings with the same materials, steel reinforced
concrete, and in the same manner is also a fact. (The claim of the various
states, after a quake catastrophe, that they will deal effectively with the next
quake by "improving" the code for the design of quake-resistant
structures is a joke).
quake problem is a political problem. The political significance of the question
of housing the population of a country cannot be overemphasized. For the
governing elite, say in Moscow in the '30s, or in (the US occupied) Athens in
the '50s, or of the post-colonial India, the easiest solution was (and is) the
multi-story concrete frame building. That is a death trap, in quake-prone areas.
universities have never faced the earthquake and the deaths from the repeated
failure of concrete buildings as a social problem. All that is done in the
schools of engineering is a desperate effort to marginally improve the behaviour
of a concrete structure, an INTRINSICALLY brittle structure, especially the
vertical elements, columns,etc, of the structure. Universities at quake prone
areas should start facing the problem in an HONEST way.
the last 50 years the engineering societies (especially the American Society of
Civil Engineers and the American Concrete Institute, two very important
institutions) have produced thousands of pages on the problem, pages that simply
present the efforts for "marginal improvements' carried out in the
is to be done? First, the civil engineers should find the courage (and the
honesty) to really SEE the problem with concrete in relation to an earthquake.
Second the technical universities should do the same. Finally, the populations
themselves should take the problem in their own hands and start shying away from
the market of the multi-story concrete frame buildings in quake-prone areas.
solution seems to be lightweight one-story buildings. To the argument that if we
eliminate the multi-story building we shall cover the entire surface of the
earth with one-story ones does not hold. Fifty years ago the population of
Athens was around 8% of the entire population, today it is around 45 % ! Fifty
years ago 92 % of the population lived in one-story houses in small towns and
villages covering a minuscule part of the surface of the country. The same holds
for most countries. Who piled more than half of the human population in
multi-story concrete buildings in monstrous cities?
people face earthquakes in a similar manner to that of facing war; in a not
rational way. The maxim is: "That's part of life." Tabriz, in Iran,
was razed by quakes and rebuilt on the same foundation and with the same
materials 7 (seven) times, since 634 AD. Today, the ease with which concrete
buildings are built and the barbarity of the (global) elite have added new
terrible dimensions to that old problem of humanity in quake-prone areas.
is time that the people in the schools of civil engineering in the universities
(especially in MIT and in Caltech) review the history of concrete in relation to