by Christopher Joyce
Haiti’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck a country whose buildings were barely built to engineering standards and were hopelessly fragile in the grip of such a strong quake.
That’s the assessment of Pierre Fouche, an earthquake engineer from Haiti — in fact, the country’s only earthquake engineer, to his knowledge.
Fouche says when he was studying engineering in Haiti his professors told him that at least one building there would survive an earthquake — the presidential residence known as the National Palace.
The palace now lies in ruins.
Fouche is now getting his doctorate in earthquake engineering at the University of Buffalo. He says his family has survived Tuesday’s quake, but he’s saddened by the fact that so many who didn’t were killed because buildings in Haiti are so poorly constructed.
“Many people are doing whatever they want; they can build whatever they want,” Fouche says. “One of the biggest problems too is that in the country we do not even have a national building code, which is very sad.”
Fouche says people with money can build reinforced concrete buildings with steel rods to strengthen walls and floors. But he says even these may not meet engineering standards to support a load vertically, and they definitely cannot handle the side-to-side forces of an earthquake.
“The earthquake, it’s much more of a type of lateral loading, [and] for lateral loading you need special construction, but in many cases they are not designed, not even for current daily loading.”
But many people in Haiti live and work in unreinforced buildings — brick, block or concrete. He says some of these buildings use stacked bricks instead of solid vertical columns to support ceilings.