“Everything that humanity lives, in all probability it has lived before.”
With this quote from the Spanish humanist Ramón Gener, the architect Luis Badillo Lozano made a parallel between the Covid-19 pandemic and the earthquakes – which are still active in the country – with the events recorded in 1918, when citizens were affected for the earthquake on San Fermin’s day and for the Spanish flu pandemic.
Badillo Lozano explained the importance of learning from these events in order to make the necessary adjustments and implement measures that make the country more resilient. This recommendation emerged during the panel presented yesterday by the Puerto Rico Bar Association, entitled Seismic activity in Puerto Rico: present and structural future.
“It has failed to enforce building codes. For years we have seen houses on the slopes of mountains, houses in columns, that we know that at some point they will fail if an earthquake hits ”, explained Badillo Lozano.
He noted that two important points that sustain the integrity of a structure in the event of an earthquake are the quality of construction and the quality of the soil where the work is built.
“We have become a willful country. It should be built not where you want it, but where it should be. You have to learn from the rules of nature; if we go against them, we will lose. We have to bind ourselves to good construction practices, ”he explained.
The architect added that the problem of location of structures in unstable soils is not limited to the mountains, but also to construction in coastal areas, which have also contributed to the erosion of the land.
“In the case of a hurricane, secondary elements of a home are affected, such as doors, skylights and windows. If the wind manages to penetrate the structure, we lose control of everything. So you have to go to a shelter ”, she added.
He said that in the case of an earthquake there is no wind, as in a hurricane, but there are specific details to guarantee the integrity of a structure in an earthquake. “The problem is that in Puerto Rico there are many structures that are built informally. We knew that all those houses that are on columns and the schools with short columns were going to fail in an earthquake, ”said Badillo Lozano.
It is urgent to solve the short column
For his part, the civil engineer Samuel Rosario Solís stated that currently the government does not have an accurate inventory of short column schools in the country. As an example, he used the collapse of the Agripina Seda school, in Guánica, after the January 7 earthquake caused by the short column.
“It is not difficult to fix the short column of these schools. It can be done at each school, and the framework used to reinforce schools ranges from $ 7,000 to $ 10,000. It is not expensive and it is something that must be done urgently, ”Rosario Solís pointed out.
In 2000 the government commissioned the College of Engineers to identify the short column schools that deserved to be strengthened. As a result of the inspection, around 1,000 structures were identified that needed to be fixed. For these purposes, the government allocated funds and reinforced 500 schools, leaving the project unfinished and with another 500 without being able to be reinforced.
Rosario Solís stressed the importance of providing continuous education and training to the entire industry component to guarantee good construction practices.
Family response plan
Meanwhile, Víctor Huérfano, director of the Seismic Network, urged citizens to be prepared for a seismic event.
“When the scientist addresses the public, sometimes they do not understand it and that must be changed. We have to emphasize a lot in the community, because it will never stop shaking, the important thing is that each person is prepared, “he said.
He referred to the line of earthquakes that has shaken the southwest area since last January and urged the country to learn from the experience.
“We don’t know when it’s going to shake, but we can learn from these lessons the shaking has left us. We must emphasize having well-made structures and that each home has an emergency plan, ”said the director of the Seismic Network.
The panel of experts agreed that it is imperative to identify problems that have been seen during the past tremors and that corrective actions are implemented to avoid the loss of life and the destruction of homes in the future.