Earthquake in the vulnerable city

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A massive earthquake will hit Bucharest. It is only a matter of time and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. Neither, however, is much being done to lessen its impact.

By Georgiana Ilie, translation by Craig Turp.

Originally published in June 2017 in issue #28 of DoR, a journal of Romanian nonfiction.

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Bucharest is the largest urban agglomeration in Romania and is situated in the Vrâncea fault’s area of impact. During previous earthquakes it is where the most people have died and where the most destruction has taken place. The city has more than two million inhabitants, thousands of old or tall buildings, an underground railway, a reservoir complete with an old dam that could break and flood a quarter of the city, Romania’s largest gas distribution network and is home — let us not forget — to just about every institution key to the functioning of the Romanian state. Also here are the authorities who prevaricate over the issue of consolidating at-risk buildings, the poorly resourced emergency services who refuse to share responsibility with Bucharest’s citizens, and the public at large which has no idea about what to do in case of a calamity. And, over the past year, it has become home to a number of activists who are trying to begin a public debate about earthquakes, looking for alternative ways to protect as many people as possible, studying how other countries deal with emergencies.

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This article is based on simulations made by specialists at the National Institute of Research and Development in Construction, Urbanism and Sustainable Territorial Development (URBAN INCERC) and the University of Construction Technology, on intervention plans drawn up by the Department for Emergencies and on the conclusions of the SEISM 2016 exercise, corroborated with data from similar, real situations, both local and international (Turkey, Italy and Japan). The scenario deals with a mid-range earthquake, and its purpose is not to scare or to provoke fear, but to raise both public and personal awareness of the need to make preparations for disaster.

The subject of earthquakes is omnipresent. Events of the past year — an earthquake in Italy last August killed almost 300 people (including 11 Romanians), a tremor was felt in Bucharest in September and a technical error caused a popular Romanian news app (Biziday) to issue an earthquake warning — have only made the subject more relevant. History suggests that an earthquake is inevitable, even it we cannot predict when it will strike.

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