March 14: Recently, a severe earthquake shook the city of Seattle in the United States of America (USA). It was the regions strongest earthquake in 50 years. It measured 6.8 on the Richter scale.
On January 26, 2001, an earthquake that measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, 10 times stronger than the earthquake in Seattle, struck Gujarat, in India. Thousands of people had died and property worth millions of rupees was destroyed. But the Seattle quake saw only one death, and that too from a heart attack. There was not much property damage, either.
Now, it is widely known that earthquakes do not kill people, it is the falling buildings that do. Most of the new buildings in Seattle are built in a quake-resistant manner, while the older ones too have undergone renovation. The growing needs of the city, especially the need for office space, led to massive renovations in old buildings.
The renovations are in accordance to Seattles regularly updated building code. The building code has a provision for seismic retro-fitting, which implies that the buildings have to be constructed in an earthquake-resistant manner.
A The Wall Street Journal report, carried in The Indian Express recently, stated that it was this seismic retro-fitting that limited the extent of the citys overall damage and ensured that the buildings kept standing.
This earthquake was the first major test of Seattles building code. By most accounts, it passed marvellously.
Seattles building code was drafted over 20 years ago. William Justen, a former building official, helped to draft it. Justen has a firm that owns and leases out buildings in one of the oldest sections of the city. Eight recently-renovated buildings, including a 42-storey office high rise built over 85 years ago, were virtually unscathed after the quake.
The high rise, known as the Smith Tower, was once the second tallest building in America.
“I’ve been a big believer in seismic upgrades, and even more so now, because I’ve seen it work,” Justen is quoted as saying in the report.
This is in contrast with the situation in Gujarat, where hastily made high-rises collapsed like a packs of cards. A news report Building a Giant Lie, which we carried in the India News section, observed that very poor construction standards are the reason for the collapse of the buildings.
And the supreme irony of the situation is: unlike Seattle, the structures to have survived the quake in cities like Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, are the old buildings.
Wonder of wonders, the one Indian town that withstood the earthquake while new cities and villages collapsed around it, is Dholavira. Dholavira flourished 5000 years ago during the Harappan civilisation.