Civil engineer documents poor Haiti infrastructure

January 25, 2010 7:06:47 PM PST
A Bay Area civil engineer who specializes in earthquake construction has just returned from inspecting many of the damaged buildings in Haiti. And what he saw in Haiti, he has never seen before -- not on this scale.

"I wanted to look at the broad spectrum of structures," said Eduardo Fierro.

Fierro toured homes, ports, and factories in Haiti. He had pictures he brought back with him. He says this earthquake tragedy is really an engineering tragedy.

"The reinforcement was completely inadequate, there was 1/2" rebar," Fierro described. "And those little rebar buckle and the building collapses. [I saw it] over and over and over."

Fierro did Skype interviews with ABC7 News while he was on the ground in Haiti. Now that he is back, he says the damage to the port was the most dramatic structurally, with whole piers swallowed by the earth.

"The ground liquefied and it broke. It was like Armageddon with big cracks opening up," said Fierro.

And though he has toured the world in the aftermaths of many of the largest quakes in recent years, Fierro says he has never seen the human disaster that is Haiti.

"The debris was picked up with humans and everything and taken to 30, 40 miles away and dumped next to the road and you could see people there with their arms and legs [sticking out.] That was the most striking thing for me," said Fierro.

Amidst all of the devastation, a few structures actually did defy the odds. Fierro noted fuel tanks that buckled but did not break, and shear walled buildings that were basically unscathed.

Fierro will be speaking to engineers at U.C. Berkeley on Tuesday. The goal now is to get easy to understand earthquake safe building instructions and stronger rebar into the hands of Haitians.