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Located in the seismic region of Vrancea, Romania’s capital city, Bucharest, stands good chances to be hit by two major earthquakes a century as it happened back in 1940 and 1977, when the city was devastated by two powerful earthquakes of 7.4 degrees on
42 years on from the latest seismic disaster, through a project entitled Antiseismic District, two NGOs - the Romanian Association for Culture, Education and Normality (ARCEN) and Re:Rise - are trying to provide an answer to the question, 'how is Bucharest and its residents prepared to cope with another major earthquake'. The project aims at training 20,000 Bucharesters to deal with seismic vulnerabilities in the event of another devastating earthquake which cannot be predicted beforehand. Under the Romanian legislation, buildings in Bucharest have been included in seismic risk categories ranking from 1 to 4. According to ARCEN director Edmond Niculusca, to most Bucharesters the legislation is ambiguous, difficult to understand and people are by no means ready for another event of this kind.
Edmond Niculusca: "According to the city hall, Bucharest currently has 300 buildings in the first category of seismic risk. But there are also more than 16 hundred buildings which have been included in emergency categories. Under the legislation, these emergency categories are used for prioritizing the buildings with the highest seismic risk that must be consolidated first. So, officially Bucharest has over 2,000 buildings of high seismic risk, which could collapse in the event of a major earthquake. In reality this number is much lower and the real number of these buildings in urgent need of consolidation is pretty much unknown."
According to experts with the Technical University of Construction, a 7.5 Richter earthquake at a depth of 90 kilometers would cause significant damage to 42% of Bucharest's buildings. Some of these, especially those built before 1963, are expected to be razed to the ground, while others will become unusable. But what can people do in order to diminish the effects of such a devastating earthquake. Here is again at the microphone Edmond Niculusca.
Edmond Niculusca: "We encourage people to do the things they, as individuals, can do and assume this responsibility, which enables them to make the difference between life and death, between major financial damage and moderate damage."
One of the things people can do is to have a survival kit, which should include reserves of water and food supplies, a first aid kit, a portable radio, a whistle and several clothes. Residents whose blocks of flats were built before 1977, can ask for their reinforcement as the law provides for a free technical expertise as well as for loans to fund the works. Only owners associations may benefit the aforementioned facilities, which aren't available to individual owners. Here is construction engineer Matei Sumbasacu with more on this issue.
Matei Sumbasacu: "We imagine that reinforcing these buildings is the only measure meant to reduce seismic risks, but that's a false assumption. There are also other ways to get prepared for a disastrous event of this kind. The first thing is a dialogue with the neighbors on the probability of such an event. This is how Re:Rise came into being. I remember when I was living in a vulnerable block of flat I used to hold talks with my neighbors on Saturdays about the probability of a big earthquake to hit Bucharest. And those proved to be very useful discussions from which we learnt a lot and which eventually led to the gradual involvement of my neighbors in these anti-earthquake preparations."
The involvement of citizens in this process may lead to an increased information level and the setting up of some communities, which could help each other out and reduce the effects of the disaster. However, as Edmond Niculusca recalls, bringing people together in this process is no easy task.
Edmond Niculusca: "In fact this is very difficult. Our first meetings as part of the Antiseismic District project were being attended by no more than 8 persons. It is very important though difficult to speak about a city, the city you live in, which is actually endangering your life. But it is wrong to not do it as well and leave things unchanged. This is another challenge for us, namely to convince people to have their buildings technically investigated by experts. Few buildings have been reinforced in the past 30 years and things aren't likely to improve in this respect. I am not sure there is enough money for reinforcing all the buildings that need to be reinforced. Unfortunately the situation is the same at community level; there is too much red-tape and people don't trust the authorities very much. But we want to encourage people to start considering the seismic risks they are presently facing and get involved in order to reduce these risks."
(translated by bill)
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