« Christmas - a different perspective? | Main | Happy New Year to one and all »

December 31, 2003

Earthquake victims

What a difference a bit of organisation makes. Recently we have had two widely separated areas hit by quakes. In the one an estimated 30 thousand people have died, in the other, the number is less then a handful. Admittedly, the earthquake in California was on a lower number on the Richter scale, and equally admittedly, the structures involved are a world apart in more than just the geographic sense.

Bam, in Iran, was an almost unique city in that it is a very ancient settlement and that it has been maintained as a heritage site built of mudbrick and is largely medieval. Even the more modern additions, had been built of the same materials and to similar designs so that the whole appeared to be of one period. Very few examples of similar age and style exist elsewhere, the majority being in North Africa or other remote parts of the Near East. This type of structure is not a good performer when the earth turns nasty. Similar structures built of less "Eco-friendly" cement brick or fired clay bricks would, in all probability have fallen as well, but those caught inside, might have survived in the spaces these harder materials leave when they fall over. Not so with mud bricks. They disintegrate very swiftly into their original component - dust.

Ergo, most of those caught indoors when this quake hit, have been suffocated in the dust of the crumbling bricks their homes and buildings were made from. This will have been a major contributing factor in the death toll - structures in California are much more capable of withstanding a quake, and if they collapse, tend not to turn almost instantly into dust. A secondary factor is starting to emerge to the anger of the Iranian people. Their Emergency Services have been slow to react and have not had either the training or the equipment to deal with the problem - a sharp contrast with the situation in the US where the quake area has been virtually swamped with equipment and personnel.

Given the difference in the construction and the materials, I seriously doubt if they could have saved any more people than those already saved, but they might have brought relief shelters and foods just a little faster and more efficiently than has been the case.

Spare a thought for those caught up in these disasters, particularly for those left homeless, bereft of friends, family and possessions, and who must now start out afresh to rebuild lives as well as everything else.

Posted by The Gray Monk at December 31, 2003 09:21 AM


Living in California I have a great apperation for well built buildings. We do have a lot of old buildings in the state, but that hasn't stop us from refiting them. The law that was passed mandating the gives cities until 2016 to refit them or tear them down. The deaths happened in buildings that had not been refited yet. There is some talk of moving in the date that all buildings have to have the refit done because of those deaths.

Posted by: Matthew at January 1, 2004 01:12 PM

Sounds like an expensive but necessary task - at least you have the technology.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at January 2, 2004 02:41 PM

Most of the devestation at Bam, Iran, can be laid at the feet of the mullahs who, after saying that no new building would be allowed in the historic district, then let "favored builders" build as they pleased upon payment of the equivalent of Arabic baksheesh. The mullahs were supposed to do great things in Bam, but instead, they simply enriched themselves and then came lately to the scene to weep copious crocodile tears. Most of the population that was left came close to revolting, so the mullahs had to call out the thugs!

Posted by: MommaBear at January 5, 2004 12:45 PM

The tragedy of this is that the fault was known and the late Shah had expressly forbidden the extension of the city - albeit using the argument that it should be "preserved" for the tourist trade. This was quite sufficient for the Mullahs to forcibly resettle anyone they could there - making a pile on awarding contracts on the side of course. They are not unique - avarice rules in many countries today (perhaps it always has!)- but I suppose we do expect better of those who claim to be the representatives of God. A tragedy remains a tragedy, let us hope that those who have lost their all, can be helped to recover some at least of their lives and learn from it that the enemy of my enemy is not always a friend!

Posted by: The Gray Monk at January 6, 2004 12:13 AM


this nails it right on the head as to the differance in the death rates.

Posted by: Matthew at January 8, 2004 09:01 AM