Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Survey shows many collapsed buildings in Padang were poorly constructed

Source (click to view): Channel NewsAsia/Tan Yew Guan

A recent survey by the University of Indonesia has shown that most of the buildings that collapsed in Padang in the recent earthquake were poorly constructed.

Experts said that if the buildings were built according to construction codes, many lives would have been saved.

Driving through central Padang, it is not hard to spot buildings, still standing, right next to those brought down by the quake.

For example, the Ambacang Hotel, a Dutch colonial-era building, has become a symbol of the disaster in more ways than one. Its two-storey facade has been left standing, but the extension has collapsed.

Four floors were added to the two-storey structure when it was converted to an hotel. But while the facade stood the test, it is believed the additional load from the extension brought down the rest of the building during the tremblor.

Some 200 people lost their lives at this site alone. That accounts for nearly a quarter of the official death toll, which some said could have been avoided.

Professor Kerry Sieh, earthquake expert, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, said: "There are very specific things that communities can do on a local level, on the national level - to make it so we survive these events, so we do not see a whole classroom of students crushed under a building in Padang.

"None of that has to happen if people have enough foresight and vision, and if people have enough scientific information and engineering information. And if they have the economic wherewithal to do something about it."

Something was done seven years ago to prevent this when rules dictating quake-proof buildings were passed. Under those regulations, buildings in Padang are supposed to withstand three times the shock felt on September 30.

The Governor of West Sumatra Gumawan Fauzi admitted that enforcement has been lacking.

He said: "In the future, the government hopes to be more vigilant in handling the reconstruction of these damaged houses. The government would make sure that these houses meet the "Construction Code" guidelines and are strong enough to meet the impact of future earthquakes."

Experts have warned that a tremor far bigger than the last one is in the pipeline. They said that for West Sumatra, it is not a question of "if", but "when".