Last update: 10-Dec-2013 1:42 am
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Seismic expert on Couva Children’s Hospital: Design can’t withstand major earthquake
A senior academic at the University of the West Indies has echoed fears that the design of the $1.5 billion Couva Children’s Hospital may be inadequate to withstand a major earthquake along the Central Range Fault (CRF) which is mere kilometres from the Preysal site. Lloyd Lynch, a senior research fellow in instrumentation at the UWI Seismic Research Centre (SRC), says seismic hazard maps used in the geotechnical report on the site did not include new information about the active fault line.
Lynch is one of the authors of the seismic hazard maps. He made the statement after reviewing the geotechnical report on the site by Earth Investigations Systems Ltd (EISL). The hospital is being constructed by Shanghai Construction Ltd through a loan from the Chinese government. Speaking with the T&T Guardian via Skype last Thursday from Antigua, Lynch said this is a matter of grave concern for seismologists because the CRF, a shallow strike slip fault, has the potential to create a major earthquake when it ruptures.
He explained that since 2010, the date of the last seismic map, research on the Central Range fault had continued, and based on new information, “we are more confident that it is a major threat to T&T.” Lynch explained that the new information on the CRF was not included in the current maps because it was not available while they were being prepared. He is recommending that a site-specific hazard assessment should be carried out on the site.
He said because of lack of funding, SRC has not been able to update its seismic maps. Additionally, he said, a project funded by Caribbean Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality to revise the hazard maps in the region, including T&T, did not materialise. Lynch said that project was also to develop to regional building standards for participating countries such as T&T, Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean States.
“Unfortunately, that project is still pending, so the opportunity to at least look at or use the new information on the Central Range Fault has not yet presented itself,” Lynch said. Lynch said there is documented evidence that shallow strike slip fault segments along the Caribbean Plate, similar to the CRF, have ruptured causing mass destruction and deaths. “It is foolhardy to stick your head in the sand and say the Central Range is aseismic (free of earthquakes),” he said.
He pointed out examples such as the rupture on the secondary branch of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault in Haiti in 2010 that killed over 220,000 people and caused over US$12 billion in damage. He added that the San Sebastian/Bocono Venezuela faults ruptured in 1812, killing over 40,000. In Guatemala in 1976, he said, 26,000 deaths were recorded and in Port Royal, Jamaica (1692), 2,000 died. “The list goes on,” he said. “They do not rupture frequently, but they are killers.”
When an earthquake strikes, Lynch said, “It is going to affect everyone. We need to start discussing that in a broader way.” He said a major issue with the present site for the Couva Hospital is the fact that it will attract more development near the fault and is creating a sixth growth pole in a highly exposed area. This, he said, is raising the stakes in a gamble with nature.
“The evidence is clear. T&T is a small island, a developing state, so we do not have a lot of land and we have to make judicious use of the land. T&T has a lot of professionals and they should all sit down and debate this thing before we start to build in an area that may be very dangerous because you are creating new risk,” he said.
“The danger mightn’t be clear and present but ten to 20 years down the road when you have increased the population around that particular area and you have a rupture, thousands of people are going to get killed, and we need to avert this,” he said. He said when the SRC met with government ministers last month, experts explained this situation.
Last Tuesday, the report was released by the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) after concerns were raised about the location of the hospital being constructed close to the active earthquake zone. Dr Derek Gay, Udecott’s consultant on the hospital project, released a commentary together with the geotechnical report, disagreeing with the SRC’s assessment of the fault’s risk.
However, Lynch argued that there is evidence of a prehistoric earthquake on the fault system. The south-eastern Caribbean, including T&T, is “statistically due for a major earthquake.” He said earthquakes cannot be predicted, but “we should still be prepared.”
Building code needed
Lynch lamented that T&T does not have a national building code and said this needs to change as soon as possible. He said citizens need to lobby the government to bring legislation to improve public safety, fund the building code, establish an observatory on the CRF and strengthen local government resources. Lynch said elected officials need to be on board to assist citizens in getting earthquake-ready. “They have the resources to make things happen and we need a champion or two in the Cabinet, in the Parliament,” he said.
Lynch pointed to California, where legislators have enacted more than 32 pieces of legislation to promote earthquake safety. The legislation, he said, is broken into a number of codes, including executive order, government codes, education codes and resource codes.
He said in the education codes in particular, mandatory earthquake drills are done at schools.
Lynch pointed to the approach used by the city of Seattle when an active fault was discovered running through the heart of the city. He said they gathered their professionals to develop a plan of action to deal with the eventuality of an earthquake. Lynch suggested the same approach should be adopted in T&T.
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