Local earthquake panel returns from China

August 18, 2008 11:48:01 PM PDT
It's been three months since a 7.9 earthquake devastated central China. Now, a group of academic and professional experts who traveled to see the destruction firsthand, are back and are sharing their observations.

The earthquake that rocked central China in May killed an estimated 70,000 people. It also brought down hillsides, leveled buildings, and destroyed major roads. A panel traveled to the quake zone, and they say based on what they saw, the Chinese emergency response was textbook.

"The army as I understood was mobilized within 30 minutes," said Marshal Lew.

Lew is a geotechnical engineer who was part of the group that traveled to China. He says all levels of government were quick to respond and help from volunteers was overwhelming.

"I don't think we're ready for the big one. The response that the Chinese did was one that was magnificent and you can compare that to the response that we had with Hurricane Katrina," said Lew.

Still, as good as the response may have been, the panel of experts said the devastation wouldn't have been nearly as bad had it not been for the old, unsafe, poorly-constructed buildings throughout central China. They did find a middle school, however, that sustained little damage. It even stood next to a fault line.

"So this gives us hope, that a proper design and constructive structure can endure earthquakes, even with magnitude up to eight," said Zifa Wang, with the China Earthquake Administration.

San Francisco officials say what happened in China is a sign that aggressive action must be taken to address vulnerabilities here at home?namely, soft-story buildings. These wood frame, residential buildings with a wide-opening on the ground floor are everywhere in San Francisco and are highly susceptible to failing in the event of a big earthquake.

"We're looking at policies on whether that should be retrofitted, needs to be retrofitted, what level of retrofit, what types of buildings, how many residential units, how big of a building should be retrofitted," said Raymond Lui, with the San Francisco Plan Review Services.

As for China, the central government announced I it plans to spend $145 billion dollars to rebuild the earthquake zone over the next three years. They emphasize they will require higher standards of construction.


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