Taiwan earthquake: Destruction a grim reminder of dangers for California, experts say
A firefighter rests near a collapsed building in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan.
(Anthony Wallace / AFP/Getty Images)
A rescue worker brings a victim down from the collapsed Wei Kuan complex in Tainan, southern Taiwan.
(Sam Yeh / AFP/Getty Images)
People rest near the site of a building collapse in the southern city of Tainan, Taiwan, early Feb. 7 after a 6.4 earthquake.(Anthony Wallace / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers search early Feb. 7 for survivors in a collapsed building in Tainan, southern Taiwan.(Ritchie B. Tongo / European Pressphoto Agency)
A rescue worker crawls out of a collapsed building in Tainan.(Anthony Wallace / AFP/Getty Images)
A woman prays outside a room set up for families and friends of the missing at the site of a collapsed building in Tainan.(Anthony Wallace / AFP/Getty Images)
A woman is rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building after the Taiwan earthquake.(Wally Santana / Associated Press)
Survivors pray as rescuers search for survivors in a collapsed building after a 6.4 quake in Tainan City, south Taiwan.
(Ritchie B. Tongo / European Pressphoto Agency)
Rescue personnel search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan.(Johnson Liu / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue personnel search through debris at the site of a collapsed building in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan following a 6.4 magnitude quake early Feb. 6.(AFP/Getty Images)
Soldiers prepare to rescue people trapped in a collapsed building in Tainan City, south Taiwan, after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the area Feb. 6.(Johnson Liu / European Pressphoto Agency)
Rescue personnel search through debris at the site of a collapsed building in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck the island early Feb. 6.(AFP/Getty Images)
A woman is led by a rescue worker from the site of a toppled building after a 6.4 earthquake(Associated Press)
Rescue personnel carry a survivor at the site of a collapsed building in Tainan, one of the island’s oldest cities.(Johnson Liu / AFP/Getty Images)
In Tainan, rescue workers transport a person injured in the earthquake that struck at 3:57 a.m. local time Saturday.(Johnson Liu / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers enter a building that collapsed after a 6.4 temblor hit Tainan, southern Taiwan. Several buildings were known to have collapsed.(Associated Press)
Rescuers enter a collapsed building in Tainan. The quake hit a day before the eve of the Lunar New Year, a time of family celebrations.(Associated Press)
When a magnitude-6.4 earthquake rocked southern Taiwan on Saturday, images of building collapses quickly surfaced on social media and in local media reports. The damage, structural engineers said, was a sober reminder that these collapses would also probably occur in California should a massive temblor strike.
“What you’re seeing in Taiwan in this recent earthquake is a microcosm of what could happen in a large earthquake occurring in a city like Los Angeles, where there are thousands more older susceptible buildings,” said Saif M. Hussain, who heads Seismic Structures International, a California-based structural engineering firm that specializes in earthquake resilience and safety.
Taiwan generally has been following the same international building standards as California, Hussain said. In Los Angeles, non-ductile concrete buildings have collapsed in the 1971 Sylmar and 1994 Northridge earthquakes.
A recent city law, spearheaded by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, ordered property owners to retrofit older concrete buildings as well as wood-frame apartment complexes with weak first floors. The action will save lives, Garcetti said, when he signed the ordinance into law in October.
The law capped decades of efforts to strengthen these buildings. Past efforts to require retrofitting — or simply identify the most vulnerable buildings — died at City Hall over the question of cost. Landlords have long been concerned with the financial burden of retrofitting, which could cost as much as $130,000 for a wooden apartment and millions for a larger concrete building.
But some have questioned whether the law’s deadlines should be accelerated, given the unpredictable nature of massive earthquakes. Under current law, property owners have seven years, upon notification, to fix wood apartments and 25 years to fix concrete buildings.
Hussain said he hopes the Taiwan earthquake might spur owners and officials to consider accelerating the retrofit deadlines. And other major cities in California have yet to pass retrofit laws on concrete buildings, which engineers say pose the greatest risk to loss of life in a major quake.
The Taiwan earthquake, which hit at 3:57 a.m. Saturday local time, or 11:57 a.m. Pacific time Friday, was particularly severe because it was very shallow — about 6 miles underground — and the epicenter was on the island, instead of offshore, said U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Paul Caruso. People felt the earthquake as far away as mainland China.
“The type of ground shaking in Taiwan is going to be very similar to what we have experienced, and what we will experience in the future,” Hussain said. “The source of the earthquake, the type of faulting, the depth of the earthquake — this is very similar to what we can expect in coastal California.”
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