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Earthquake Will Destroy Poor Quality
Constructions in Nicoya Peninsula

• The Comisión Nacional de Emergencias accepts that most homes don’t meet Seismic Building Code standards

By Arianna McKinney

 
 
 

Ramon Araya Araya, Liaison Official for the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias (National Emergencies Commission) for Guanacaste, agreed that many houses don’t meet the Seismic Building Code standards. Chapter 17 of the Seismic Code, the Housing Section, outlines and describes five systems of construction as a guide that builders should use. The Code can be accessed online at www.codigosismico.or.cr.

The Cinchona earthquake in January 2009, with its epicenter in northern Heredia and with a magnitude of 6.2, is a good indicator of what might happen if a strong earthquake shakes the Nicoya Peninsula. From a total of 2,387 affected houses, some had no problems, including the older ones, while 781 collapsed. Acuña said that, in general, wooden homes hold up well. About half of the houses made of concrete block fell because they were poorly built, he explained. The majority of houses made of prefabricated walls of horizontal tiles were fine, whereas prefabricated walls of vertical panels fell because they were poorly made and didn’t have crowning beams.

For a while now, scientists have been studying seismic activity and its potential in the Nicoya Peninsula, and the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica (OVSICORI) has estimated that the next earthquake along the fault here could be between a magnitude of 7.7 and 7.9. But what would such a strong earthquake mean for people with homes in the Nicoya, Samara and Nosara areas?

According to engineer Roy Acuña Prado, President of the Seismic Code Commission of the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos (CFIA), serious damages can be expected. “Many houses will fall or at least partially collapse. Some will have repairable damages but many people will end up without a home,” he warned.

In the past 10 to 15 years, Acuña said, there has been a lot of construction but little control. Apartments and other buildings were made simply to be sold and weren’t made of good quality.

A formal study of area buildings has not been performed.. However, as in the rest of the country, many small homes have been built without proper permits and plans, and without professional oversight, leaving the quality of construction in doubt.

The biggest error, Acuña continued, is making the house without a professional telling you how to do it well. He warned that there are many builders with a lot of experience but little knowledge and that, although they’ve been building for many years, they’ve been doing it badly.

Another big mistake is trying to economize by lowering construction costs, for example, by using a cheaper system of walls or by using less cement. Later, Acuña pointed out, people buy expensive tiles, doors and other items to make the house look nice, but they will lose all of those nice items if the structure doesn’t function or hold up well.

Frequently, Araya confirmed, problems arise with concrete houses that don’t have adequate metal rods to reinforce the structure or that used less concrete in order to save money. He also mentioned that wood structures whose foundations have deteriorated and houses built on grounds that aren’t apt for construction are likely to have problems. It’s a good idea to perform a soil test before breaking ground to confirm the quality of the ground and to design an appropriate foundation system.

Finally, Araya mentioned that each person is responsible for taking action and being prepared for a potential disaster. However, he concluded that a house with a good structure that has been built on ground that is apt for construction should not have problems when Nicoya’s famous earthquake finally occurs.

 

   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 


 

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