The Malta Independent 18 May 2022, Wednesday

Editorial: We weep for the victims but prevention would have been better

Friday, 26 August 2016, 09:52 Last update: about 7 years ago

The people of Malta stand in sorrow and solidarity with the people of Italy after the terrible earthquake in Amatrice and surrounding hills.

The television coverage of the scenes in the town after the first most terrible shock followed by hundreds of aftershocks that have reduced most of the town to rubble reduce a viewer to silence and a feeling of impotence faced with nature's fury.

It is strange but nobody seems to have remembered: 24 August is also the date of the terrible eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 which drowned Pompeii under tons of lava.

Solidarity seems to have worked quite well this time and help has been arriving at the beleaguered town with quite a degree of efficiency. Maltese rescue workers have also gone to help their comrades.

The earthquake happened at the worst time for the town. Normally, it is half-deserted but many families who do not live there love to spend some days there along with their families and children. A consequence of this was that it was somewhat difficult at first to find out who was missing - because this was more like a holiday town.

Possibly another consequence may have had more devastating results. Maybe people who treated their homes in the town as just for 'villeggiatura' may have skimped on ensuring the worthiness of the buildings themselves.

In fact, one could note some disconcerting facts: the church, which dates from the 16th Century, remained intact. As did the clock tower. There were buildings and apartment blocks which survived intact. But other buildings, some quite modern, collapsed like a pack of cards.

The tragedy is not just the death of so many persons, nor the collapse of so many houses, but that everyone knew that the area, the confluence of the provinces of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Abruzzo is of high seismic risk, and yet many did not take precautions to reinforce their buildings against seismic risk. Hence the luxury hotel crumbled as did the local hospital but the local school stood firm.

In nearby Norcia, which suffered from an earthquake in 1979, where the remaining buildings have been strengthened, hardly a house was affected this time round.

The leaders in this are of course the Japanese, a country that is of very high seismic risk. After suffering from so many tragedies, buildings are now built according to a very high anti-seismic regulation and when an earthquake happens, people stop but then resume their lives as before.

So, yes, do weep for the dead, but meanwhile use the lessons of science and technology to ward off such disasters.

In this regard, this paper did a small study yesterday of the situation in Malta. Now Malta is not in such a risky seismic area as Abruzzo but we do have quakes from time to time.

We asked and we were told there are no specific anti-seismic regulations in place, but anyone who is building can ask the architects to include anti-seismic safeguards.

It would seem, especially now that we are building higher and higher that we must study how to introduce anti-seismic measures on all new buildings.

It would be better than to mourn the victims later.

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