Unfortunately, earthquakes are a relatively common phenomenon, especially for areas with high seismicity such as Bulgaria and the region. Recent events in Albania and Croatia have confirmed this. Although not very strong, they caused great material damage, destroyed buildings and even casualties. In the Bulgarian team sent to Albania Dr. Eng. Teodor Todorov from "Renovate", author of the article, also took part in assessing the damage from the earthquake. The main part of the presented photo material is a personal archive from the cities of Tirana and Duras.
What distinguishes earthquakes from other natural disasters is their sudden, unpredictable nature.
The unexpected and destructive nature of earthquakes puts us in a position of entirely preventive measures. Prevention measures can be of two main types. The first concerns the security of the building. The second, the knowledge with which we will meet the moment of the earthquake. And while structural reinforcement is an expensive and complex process, knowledge of buildings and the hazards associated with them is significantly more accessible and just as important.
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What are the preventive measures we need to take?
First, it is important to have a clear awareness that the occurrence of stronger earthquakes in Bulgaria is not a matter of "whether", but rather of "when". There have been such earthquakes and there will certainly be again. The consequences can be very severe, even catastrophic. That is why it is important to enter such a future situation as prepared as possible.
- Choice of neighborhood and building to live in
Presumably, the newer a building, the safer it is. Of course, there are many exceptions. Mostly as a result of unscrupulous builders. However, scientific and technological progress also has a positive effect on building construction. It is high time that the myths of old and quality construction remain in the past.
Read more: New or old construction
The main disadvantage of the newest buildings built in the last 20 years is the weak strengthening of the partition walls. Combined with the lack of free evacuation space between buildings in the new neighborhoods, falling facades and windows became the main danger for people who managed to leave the buildings. The experience of Albania, as well as other countries, shows the effect of well-designed and implemented structural systems, but poorly reinforced partition walls.
An additional reference point when choosing a home could be the geological map of Sofia or another city in the country. These maps indicate the approximate locations of the faults with the expected greatest damage to buildings.
In addition to knowing how to react in such a situation, it is necessary to organize a few simple but vital things in advance.
Reliable attachment to the walls of all heavier objects such as wardrobes, refrigerator, showcases. Also, each prepared household must collect in advance all important documents, electronic media and spare keys for cars and real estate in a separate box. For some people, the box may also contain stocks of vital medicines such as insulin and inhalers. Important documents are, for example, deeds of ownership, passports, health books and cards, company documents and other papers. The crisis box must be left in an easily accessible place, ready to be picked up within seconds before the evacuation.
During the evacuation
The reaction time is extremely short. If you feel that you are not able to leave the building within ten seconds, you better not try. It is mandatory to have previously identified the safest possible place in the home. And no - it's not under the door frame! Even less on the balcony! Stay away from windows, cabinets, glass cabinets and power panels. Proximity to the facade walls should also be avoided at all costs. Relatively safe places are close to the load-bearing washers of the building, under reinforced concrete girders and near the center of the building.
In old buildings, the attic space and the top floor are the most vulnerable places. If you are there, move to a lower floor immediately. The consultation with a specialist she could guide you to where the safest places are, specifically for your home. Standing under solid tables and desks can also protect you from falling plasters and cabinets. Which is not small. The correct waiting position is to squeeze the ball with a hand protecting the head and nape. With the other hand, hold the moving table or desk.
It's good to always have easy-to-wear shoes on hand. Broken glass is especially dangerous in such situations. If it's cold, be sure to grab warm clothes or blankets. If you stay longer in the building, try covering your nose and mouth with a thick cloth. Strong earthquakes inevitably cause the fall of plasters and walls, generating a lot of dust. Physical damage from debris and suffocation are the main factors causing fatalities for residents.
Nearly 10% of earthquake victims were caused by subsequent fires. If you feel a primary quake, it is advisable to stop the gas supply and turn off the main fuse in the apartment. This takes a few seconds, but can be crucial to your property and the lives of others in the building.
Critical points during the evacuation are the stairs and exits of the building. Needless to say, the use of an elevator is highly undesirable. However, in an earthquake, the stairs also become places with an increased risk of slipping and injury from cutting objects. Fallen plaster and broken glass are a prerequisite for unexpected slips in the commotion during evacuation. Running on them, especially in the dark, carries a huge risk of severe and even fatal injuries. If possible, hold on to the guardrails throughout the descent to the exit. Gathering many people further complicates the situation. It is important to avoid creating panic as much as possible!
This is what the stairs of new buildings look like after the 2019 earthquake in Albania.
The photos clearly show the many pieces of plaster on the floor, which make it extremely slippery. There are also broken windows in the areas around the windows. Large amounts of dust greatly reduce visibility during evacuation. In such a situation, do not panic, do not rush too much and be careful how you step!
The exits of the buildings, in turn, also turn out to be high-risk places. It is advisable to cover your head with your hand when leaving the building. This can protect you at least in part from falling smaller objects and pieces of glass. It is important to move away as quickly as possible from the surrounding buildings and power lines. The photo shows the pouring of several partition walls at the exit on the side of the building.
Sometimes a relatively light tremor is able to separate poorly attached large, facade elements.
Actions after successful evacuation and stopping of the first earthquake
Once you have successfully left the building, check for injuries yourself and the people around you. High adrenaline greatly dulls the pain. Cuts may not be felt in the first few minutes and cause severe blood loss. Give first aid or help if there are victims.
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict whether the perceived earthquake will be followed by other, stronger ones. Even seismologists can only make uncertain suggestions. Before returning the occupants to the building, however, it is mandatory to make a few vital, subjective observations. The first is a subjective assessment by the owners of the condition of the building. The presence of cracks, sloping walls, jammed doors and windows is a clear sign of serious damage.
The building suffered damage that most likely made it significantly more vulnerable to a aftershock. There are many cases in which subsequent weaker earthquakes destroy buildings that survived the main quake. If the building has an underground floor, it must also be at least subjectively inspected. Beware of damage to load-bearing elements such as columns and walls. The underground and ground floors are the busiest in the construction. Bottom-up destruction is extremely dangerous and sudden.
In the event of any signs of damage, the building must not be inhabited before being inspected by a specialist design engineer.
The second important thing that must be paid special attention to is the condition of the buildings in the immediate vicinity. Destruction in them can cause a domino effect. Contact between buildings causes huge, sometimes even fatal damage to structures.
The third element of the minimum measures that can be taken by the occupants is the central shutdown of the gas supply and the electricity in the building. If you notice cracks on the facade and inside the premises, it is possible that these displacements have caused damage to the gasification and electrical installations. Gas leaks can be small or in places where you will not immediately smell. Over time, however, the concentration of gas in the room may become sufficient for ignition and fire. Contact specialists as soon as possible before restoring gas supply. Leave windows open for ventilation.
In case of already established damage to the building, the next mandatory step is inspection and consultation with a construction engineer. He must visit the building on site and make a detailed inspection of the damage. Its initial assessment will clarify whether the building is habitable and whether measures are needed for its subsequent inspection and strengthening.
If you still stay in the building and you do not have the opportunity to leave it, keep your composure and save your energy. If you have access to your phone, turn off internet data and GPS tracking. Save battery and use the phone only when necessary!