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Poor Construction of Buildings
Major Cause for Haiti Tragedy

Poor Construction of Buildings Major Cause for Haiti Tragedy

By Kevin Caruso

January 27, 2010

The poor construction of buildings in Haiti is the cause for the countless deaths after the earthquake, says Eduardo Fierro, an expert in post-earthquake fieldwork and president of BPF engineers, a consulting firm in Berkley, California.

Fierro traveled to Haiti two days after the earthquake and spent a week researching the construction issue. He released his preliminary findings on Tuesday, January 27, and they indicate several serious construction problems.

“My God, this was not an earthquake disaster -- it was a disaster caused by the construction industry in Haiti who didn't know anything about building codes," Fierro said. "These were the people who caused the loss of human life. We have to design things and assume our children and mothers are going to be in the building when the earthquake hits."

“But if Haiti's construction industry is to blame," he continued, "an equal amount is shared by a government which offers no building code and no enforcement of building design.

"Most of the buildings that collapsed and buried people were made of heavy substandard concrete or cinder blocks with no lateral supports and supporting columns that were too small in diameter. Those columns were formed by substandard steel, or rebar, that also was too small and smooth so that it slipped when the earth moved.

"Much of Haiti's construction concrete is made with beach sand that caused steel reinforcements to rust. The columns supporting most buildings were too small to be able to compact the wet concrete from the top.

His solution to the construction problem is simple: distribute cartoon-type instructional booklets to construction companies. The booklets could illustrate proper construction techniques, including how to put the rebar in and where to where to place reinforcements.

Without this type of guidance, Fierro contends, new buildings constructed after the earthquake will possess the same flaws as old ones and will thus topple in another earthquake.

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