Has Huaraz Learned From Its Mistakes?

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huaraz buildingsHuaraz, Peru was flattened in 1970 by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Over 1 million people were homeless and it’s estimated that at least 60,000 people died in the region. The catastrophic event was the largest loss of life in the Western Hemisphere until the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which claimed well over 100,000 lives. These great losses were not necessarily because the earthquakes were so intense, but the buildings were heavy and weak – death traps.

Learning from Mistakes

Has Huaraz learned from its mistakes? Or, is it a ‘repeat’ offender? Most of the new buildings are now using rebar to secure the pillars and beams between brick walls. However, there are still many buildings using the unfired mud brick construction like the one in the foreground of the photo. In many places that were rapidly rebuilt it was the only materials available.

I would not enter those buildings during my time in Huaraz. It is difficult to recognize them from the front because of thick layers of paint (cover up). I estimate that more than half the buildings in the region are just as vulnerable as before, and the population has increased dramatically since 1970.

I also recognized geological evidence for recent movement along the massive Cordillera Blanca fault that is underneath Huaraz. it is unknown when the last major earthquake happened along this fault or even the rate that it is accumulating pressure. It may be a great risk to the inhabitants of the region. The earthquake in 1970 was on the Nazca plate that is subduction under the edge of South America and did not release any of the pressure at the plate boundary or on the Cordillera Blanca fault.

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Ronald Harris, the founder of In Harm's Way is passionate about helping to saves lives through disaster mitigation.

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