Thoughts about buildings, evoked by earthquake

By Huamama de Bulaoge
0 CommentsPrintE-mail, May 16, 2008
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The TV reports about this earthquake are deeply distressing. Children have lost their parents and become orphans overnight. Tiny bodies lie covered on the ground. Huababa, my husband, went to make a donation on behalf of my whole family. No-one would argue with his words: Let us be grateful for life and good health!

That's true. Any family with life and health can consider itself blessed.

Maybe I'm a little talkative. I think school buildings must be earthquake-proof. So many children have met their deaths in the earthquake. This suggests that building materials like reinforced concrete and cement were not sufficiently earthquake-proof. Although earthquakes are not frequent, once is more than enough. In the school where my daughter studies building alterations to guard against earthquake are currently in progress. The School Authority requires that there should be no roof-beams over the classrooms. All roofs are to be made of wood, without reinforced concrete or cement. There are to be at most two floors in a teaching building. Moreover, walls on the second floor are to be specially built to ensure that they won't collapse onto the ground floor.

Of course, everyone will have their point of view. Some people will have thought themselves lucky to have schools in the mountain areas. The challenge of making them earthquake-proof takes us a step further.

But since cement is more expensive than wood, high-rise apartments built with reinforced concrete are 50 percent more expensive than those made of wood in Canada. I don't know whether the land in the earthquake areas is scarce and wood is more expensive than cement. If not, this may be worthy of discussion during reconstruction.

Deaths caused by collapsing buildings would be significantly reduced if they only had two storeys, and certainly rescue work would be easier. Time means lives.

Anyhow, no matter whether there are funds or not to rebuild a school, there is one thing that can be done: emergency exits should be clearly marked (and so that they can be seen even if power is cut off). Fire escape drills should be carried out at intervals all over the school so that students are taught how to deal with an emergency and how the escape routes can be accessed. I don't know if this would really help, given that an earthquake happens within seconds, but let's look at it this way: In the case of fire, such systematic training would help to save lives.

There is a revolutionary saying that goes: Since we don't know what disasters we might face, we should always keep our guns at the ready and our hands by the alarm signal. In other words, always be well prepared.

Some ask: Is there any point in discussing these things after the disaster has already happened? I say yes. For people like us who are living thousands of miles away, what else can we do?

We can try our best to make our donations, with a heavy heart and tears in our eyes. But let's not pretend that no disaster will ever again happen in the future. We have to learn lessons from every mortal tragedy and act to put in place preventive measures, so that casualties will be reduced to the minimum if something similar happens again.

This blog was first published in Chinese on May 14, 2008 and translated by Wang Wei



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