UBC Civil Engineering Assoc. Prof. Kenneth Elwood just happened to be attending a seminar on building seismic assessments in Christchurch, New Zealand when the 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit on February 21.
“I was on the third story of a downtown hotel and was just about to sit down for the start of the seminar when the shaking started,” recalls Elwood. “As I looked out the window, I saw the unreinforced masonry buildings across the street collapse. A shocking image that will stay with me forever. “
Claiming the lives of 159 people, the earthquake caused considerable damage in the centre of Christchurch and surrounding suburbs.
The Christchurch rescue effort was extremely well organized, reports Elwood. “Right away we were ushered out of the city centre, closed to all except emergency personnel. There were supplies, food and equipment for volunteers to assist.”
Elwood was scheduled to leave New Zealand, but decided to stay a few extra days to help with the immediate structural assessment of buildings. His observations note evidence of foundation rocking for medium to high rise buildings and flooding due to liquefaction – water, sand, and silt bubbling up from within the earth. Damage has been concentrated in unreinforced and reinforced masonry and reinforced concrete building.
Elwood says the Christchurch quake will provide lessons for Victoria, B.C., where the city core was constructed in a similar era, with similar construction techniques.
“The population of Christchurch is only slightly more than the metro population of Victoria,” says Elwood. “ By carefully documenting the damage in Christchurch, we will be able to learn about which types of buildings need immediate attention to reduce seismic risk in Victoria.”