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In Haiti, Structural Engineers Begin to Survey Devastation

January 21, 2010

By Nadine M. Post
This article first appeared on Engineering News-Record

Damage from landslides is common in Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, there is widespread destruction of nonductile concrete structures. Many rubble or unreinforced masonry walls failed. The E-in-plan Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince still has much of the first floor intact, with windows unbroken, but there is total collapse above the first floor. There is very light reinforcing evident in failed columns near the entry. At the port, there is a collapsed pier and cranes, and several buildings are under water. Extensive lateral spreading and liquefaction is evident.

These and numerous other on-site observations on damage from Haiti’s magnitude 7 earthqauke are from Eduardo Fierro, a principal of forensic and seismic engineer Bertero Fierro Perry Engineers Inc., Van Nuys, Calif.  Fierro is on the ground in Haiti surveying damage to bridges, industrial buildings, the port and more. His photos of structures with major and minor damage, along with his assessments, are available at http://www.eqclearinghouse.org/20100112-haiti/general-information/fierro-photos-part-2 (the Haiti Earthquake Clearinghouse). The Website is managed by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.

Fierro notes odd failures in buildings with minor damage. For example, in one building, there is a single broken window but the concrete and glass block appears undamaged. In another area, there is a concrete structure that collapsed but dilapidated wood structures adjacent show little sign of earthquake damage.

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More engineers are leaving to do reconnaissance work. Seismic engineer, Kit Miyamoto, left Jan. 18 for Haiti with the nonprofit Pan American Development Foundation of the Organization of American States. Miyamoto will provide structural engineering expertise to support PADF disaster relief efforts. Miyamoto, CEO of Miyamoto International, will assess structural stability of damaged structures; identify safe access for PADF personnel; and assess the overall structural damage conditions and how these lessons may apply to other countries. Miyamoto's reports from Haiti will be posted at www.miyamotointernational.com.

PADF, a natural disaster relief arm of the OAS, is sending emergency relief supplies including food, tools, telecommunications equipment and more. PADF will be working with civil protection authorities, the private sector and community organizations to provide immediate and long-term assistance.

The National Council of Structural Engineers Associations is reminding public and private-sector personnel that they should not self-deploy to affected areas. “The U. S. Dept. is coordinating foreign disaster assistance, and U.S. assets should deploy only if tasked to do so by the State Dept.,” says NCSEA, in a Jan. 18 press release. “The most urgent need at the present time is supporting ongoing disaster relief fundraising efforts. When requests for technical support are received through the proper authorities, NCSEA will look to its member organizations to provide trained volunteers,” says the release.

According to NCSEA, its structural engineers emergency response (SEER) committee, which consists of volunteer structural engineers  trained in the structural engineering aspects of emergency response to earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters, is currently communicating with the government and the private sector to identify ways in which the structural engineering community can lend its talents, skills and experience.

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