Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Hualien Earthquake: Engineers urge new buildings laws

IRREGULAR FACADE:The Marshal Hotel had already undergone reinforcements, but was still unable to withstand a strong quake, an association head said

By William Hetherington  /  Staff writer, with CNA

The earthquake-damaged road surface of Cisingtan Bridge in Hualien County is pictured yesterday.

Photo: CNA

The National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering yesterday called for new laws to encourage the reconstruction of weaker structures, following the partial collapse of four buildings during Tuesday’s earthquake in Hualien.

The magnitude 6 earthquake, which occurred at 11:50pm on Tuesday, 18.3km northeast of Hualien County Hall, had an output level of 7 on the Modified Mercalli Intensity at its strongest point and caused damage to several structures, including two bridges and multiples buildings.

The Marshal Hotel suffered the most damage and was left leaning to one side after its bottom three floors crumpled.

At yesterday’s Lunar New Year-end news conference held by the Ministry of Science and Technology, center director-general Huang Shih-chien (黃世建) said the hotel, like structures that collapsed in previous earthquakes, was built before 1999 when stricter building code regulations were introduced.

This, combined with its proximity to the closest fault line, led to its collapse, Huang said.

Often these buildings have large open spaces in their ground floors, making them more prone to collapse, he said.

This is further exacerbated by the occupation of upper floors by residents, he said, adding that pillars or additional walls should be used to provide better structural support.

One of the issues stalling the reinforcement or reconstruction of older buildings is the large number of people who have property rights in the buildings.

Legal regulations governing the reconstruction process should be simplified, he added.

“If a consensus cannot be reached to move forward with reconstruction, I suggest property owners start with incremental, structural reinforcement,” he said, adding that owners of buildings with combined commercial and residential occupation be prohibited from making upper floors of their buildings publicly available until passing earthquake-resilience assessments.

Building Safety Certification Association director-general Tai Yun-fa (戴雲發) said reinforcements would not be enough and that older buildings must be reconstructed.

The Marshal Hotel had already undergone reinforcements, but was still unable to withstand a strong earthquake, he said, adding that the problem lay with its irregular facade and arcade-style architectural design.

Comparing the hotel with the collapse of the Weiguan Jinlong complex in Tainan during the earthquake on Feb. 6, 2016, Tai said that the latter differed in that its layout was not well designed.

The U-shaped design of that building, along with the use of poor-quality building materials, led to its collapse, he said.

Meanwhile, Huang said the center is capable of predicting an earthquake between five and 10 seconds in advance.

High-tech industry operators, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and United Microelectronics Corp, should network their systems with the center to allow shutdown of equipment in the event of an earthquake, he said, adding this could prevent sensitive systems from damage.

The Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp is already networked with the center, he said.

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