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Fatality, danger and awareness
A 7.4-degree earthquake on the Richer scale occurred in eastern Romania's Vrancea seismic area on March 4, 1977, at 21:21 hrs local time, at a depth of 94 kilometres. The seismic movement was strongly felt across the country, mainly in the south and east. The tremor was also felt in neighbouring countries, Serbia, Bulgaria and Hungary, but also in other countries in central and southern Europe, as well as Russia, in an area north of Sankt Petersburg.
In the '77 quake, just as Romanians label it when they reminisce the catastrophe, from memories or by hearsay, of the country's 40 counties, 23 were seriously hit. The tremor claimed the lives of 1,578 people. Over 11, 300 people were injured, of whom 1,424 eventually lost their lives, that is 90% of the total number of the deceased. Almost 7,600 people were injured in Bucharest alone! Back then, icons of Romanian cultural and artistic life were among the dead: actor Toma Caragiu, television director Alexandru Bocăneț, vocalist Doina Badea, literary historian Mihai Gafița and prose writer Alexandru Ivasiuc.
In Romania's capital city, most of the deaths occurred in the wake of the total or partial collapse of more than 30 buildings, medium or high-level block of flats, some of them iconic for the city's architecture. Also, a hotel and a wing of the Chemistry Faculty collapsed, as well as the Transport Ministry's IT Centre. The Bucharest West thermal power plant was a whisker away from exploding, because a ceiling collapsed and a fire broke out. Many other buildings in Bucharest were severely or moderately hit.
The devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria in early February and their dismal aftermath, but also the tremor that hit Romania in early March 1977 prompted the Romanians to reach the worrying conclusion that no lesson has been learned as regards the impending necessity to consolidate the buildings assessed according to various degrees of seismic risk!
Here is architect Ştefan Dumitraşcu, speaking about the present-day situation in Bucharest.
"When I held the position of chief architect at the Municipality, for two and a half years, these buildings were identified and more than 180 of them had been going through a technical expertise so that solution could be found, for their safeguarding or consolidation. Moreover, two and a half years ago, through the Municipal Administration of the Seismic Risk Consolidation Works Administration, as part of the General Council in Bucharest municipal city there were 81 construction sites, especially created for such works. Unfortunately, because of changes in administration and because of a different mindset, as we speak, we have zero consolidation building sites. "
Mostly in the capital city's central area, a great number of old constructions, built before 1977, are very fragile, because decades have passed and no renovation works have carried whatsoever, let alone anti-seismic consolidation. That is why, according to Stefan Dumitraşcu, we're running out of time.
"We are, however, in the eleventh hour, maybe in the twelfth hour, if we want to make sense of what we must do. A consolidation operation cannot be completed overnight, it is a building site that lasts for a year, a year and a half, for a building erected in 1940, let's say, an eight or ten-story building "located on the Magheru Boulevard or Voctoria Road, two of the capital city's most significant thoroughfares. As I was saying, on one hand, we can educate the people, in a bid to find the right alternative solutions for regrouping, helping and intervening, in the case of an earthquake. Everybody is unanimous in admitting that a major tremor in the Capital city will occur, and it will occur, that's for sure, and it's out of the question, with us, like, on a fine spring afternoon, going out in the park and waiting for the army to show up, carrying products from the State reserve and giving us a bottle of water each, and a can of meat. No way! Something like that must be very seriously organized and we also need to have a competent management at the Municipality, so that consolidation works can be resumed as soon as possible."
The prefect of the Capital city, Toni Greblă, also cautioned that it was not the lack of funding that hindered the buildings anti-seismic rehabilitation, but
"...The carelessness of some of the administration officials who do not have a proper preparation of the projects enabling the start of the buildings' rehabilitation and their anti-seismic consolidation. In the last 15 years, no municipal city can complain, and at that, especially Bucharest municipal city, that they did not have money earmarked for the rehabilitation of buildings. Year after year, funds provided by the Development Ministry remain unspent, and that, because we are unable to work in order to develop projects for the anti-seismic consolidation, and implement them."
The consolidation of the buildings assessed for seismic risk can be fully financed from the budget but also through the Recovery and Resilience Plan for Romania, after registration is made for a dedicated digital platform. Waiting for their buildings to be consolidated, could the Romanians know, at least, what the country's safest cities are, in the case of a strong earthquake? Attempting an answer to the question is a seismologist with the National Research-Development Institute for Earth Physics, Mihail Diaconescu.
"Of course we can know that, but I'm not so sure how sound that would be. What are we going to do, migrate to those cities, all of us, and depopulate part of the country? ʺ The thing is, construction and consolidation works should be carried, for all that has been affected in time. The moment we set about building something, not us, as natural persons, but as the State, as construction companies, we need to comply with the construction code. If that construction code is complied with, the danger does not exist anymore, that of the house crumbling on us. "
So, as we speak, how would Bucharest look like, in the case of a major earthquake? Far worse than 46 years ago, possibly. According to data provided by the Development Ministry, in Romania, there are 2,687 buildings assessed according to various degrees of seismic risk. Most of them a rein Bucharest, of which several hundred are 1st and 2nd-degree buildings according to their seismic risk potential.
However, the situation is far worse. According to a survey carried by the Bucharest Municipal City's Emergency Situations Committee, should an earthquake happen, having the same intensity as that in 1977, in Bucharest, 23,000 buildings could suffer serious damage. Of those, 1,000 could collapse, partially or totally. (EN)
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