Bay Area cities not quite quake safe

April 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The strongest aftershock of 4.9 struck Italy late Monday night. The initial 6.3 quake struck around 3:30 a.m. Monday morning in the mountains of central Italy, near the town of L'Aquila, northeast of Rome. At last count more than 150 people are confirmed dead, at least 1,500 are injured, and tens of thousands have been left homeless since whole blocks of buildings have crumbled.

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And it's raising new concerns about the seismic safety of buildings both in Italy, and here at home. Some buildings in the North Beach area in San Francisco need work.

There are many old buildings in North Beach, in San Francisco, and all over the Bay Area. One example is the St. Peter and Paul Church, but the arch dioceses says its retrofitted to the best of its knowledge because there is no requirement to do so after it was inspected following the 1989 Loma Pieta quake. Still, some seismic experts are worried about the old concrete buildings.

Parishioners prayed for the quake victims at a morning mass at St. Peter and Paul Church in North Beach. Professor Mary Comerio says we are better prepared than most cities in quake zones. She heads the Department of Architecture at U.C. Berkeley.

In 1997, she went to Assisi after a big temblor roared through the city. She says even modern concrete buildings collapsed in both quakes. It's the same concern she has here in the Bay Area.

"We are concerned about the concrete buildings that are built from the 20's to the 1960's really before our contemporary codes allowed for seismic bracings," says Mary Comerio, Ph.D., from U.C. Berkeley.

And the Bay Area has many of those old concrete buildings, like St. Peter and Paul Church which was built in 1924. Most of the damage in today's quake was to buildings made of unenforced masonry and stone. San Francisco building officials say that's not much of a concern here anymore. The city says a program to repair unreinforced masonry structures has been a success.

"Out of 2,200 buildings, I think there are about 100 not yet finished with all the paperwork," says Bill Strawn, from the San Francisco Building Inspection Department.

The city's main concern now is the vulnerability of what's called soft story buildings.

"These are the type of buildings where you have large open garages or commercial space and not necessarily the kind of reinforcement you'd like to have," says Strawn.

Also of concern are hospitals. The state has told them to come up with an earthquake retrofit plan by 2013. Almost all of the major Bay Area hospitals are going to repair or replace existing inpatient buildings.

For example San Francisco General will build a new hospital, thanks to the passage of a bond measure, but if a big quake happened now many hospitals could be at risk.

The San Francisco Building Department tells ABC7 there are fewer permit requests and that may be because of the recession. They hope it's not affecting homeowners who need to spend money on retrofit work.

Former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto's interview: click here

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