U.S. Engineers Blame Shoddy High-Rises for Armenia’s Quake Toll
Engineers back from the Armenian earthquake zone today blamed the poor quality of newly constructed high-rise apartment buildings for the tremendous loss of life in the Soviet disaster area.
Entire blocks of the buildings, most about nine stories tall, were leveled by the 6.7 quake. The engineers said widespread use of concrete columns and beams, as well as poor workmanship, led to the massive death and destruction Dec. 7.
“If that type of construction were found on a private job, or even a government job, in the United States, the inspector would make the contractor take it down and do it over,” Loring Wyllie, a structural engineer and chairman of the board of H. J. Degenkolb Associates of San Francisco, told a news conference.
Wyllie was one of 18 American engineers and seismologists assembled by the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Geological Survey who traveled to Leninakan, Spitak and other cities in Armenia to help Soviet authorities.
He told of the inadequate finishing of critical joints in the fallen buildings, poorly laid concrete and creative but crude attempts by builders to fix design flaws.
“This was a disaster of new buildings,” said Fred Krimgold, an associate dean at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
Krimgold said most of the high-rises were weakened by the quake’s initial jolt and flattened by a shock about three minutes later. Many of the victims, alarmed by the first jolt, were found in stairwells, Krimgold said.
After studying earthquakes in Mexico City and other places, Krimgold said, “We thought we had written the book on search and rescue. What we learned in Armenia is that we had only written Chapter 1.”
He said concrete floors in the collapsed buildings, most of which used concrete support columns and beams, fell like pancakes--leaving no sanctuary for people caught in their path.
“Most of the buildings in Leninakan came straight down in compact levels of rubble,” Krimgold said. “Usually there are voids.”
He noted, however, many older buildings of only one or two stories were left standing by the quake, and Wyllie said high-rises that used a combination of concrete floors and inner walls for support suffered less damage.