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December 7, 2023
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Bucharest: One of the Most Vulnerable Cities to Earthquakes in Europe

The capital of Romania, Bucharest, would face a dark scenario if a big earthquake occurs. Because there are still old blocks of flats, not consolidated, there will be thousands, even tens of thousands of victims, reveals the data presented in the documentary “The Vrancea Earthquake of March 4, 1977”, made by the National Research-Development Institute for Earth Physics (INCDFP).

The INCDFP, in collaboration with the Romanian Academy of Scientists (AOSR), the Urban Resistance, and the Association of Design Engineers (AICPS), hosted an online event entitled “45 years since the 1977 earthquake.” The seminar covered 1977 earthquake records, damage in Bucharest and the rest of Romania, seismic design codes, hazard and seismic risk, and ways to reduce seismic risk.

In 1977 Bucharest faced an earthquake of magnitude of 7,2, resulting in 1,424 deaths and wounding more than 11,300 people. Thirty-two high or medium-height buildings collapsed in the capital, and 32,900 homes were severely damaged nationwide, with about 200,000 people directly affected.

 The March 4, 1977 earthquake was considered the second most powerful earthquake recorded in Romania in the 20th century.

Source: TVR Youtube Channel

Analyzing the history of the earthquakes in Romania, the well-known Romanian seismologist Gheorghe Marmureanu identified that between a surface earthquake such as the one on March 4, 1977, and a deep one, 100 years pass.

Regarding the evolution of earthquakes in Romania, the statistics show that there are intervals of 32 and 37 years, respectively, at the end of which there are significant earthquakes. Between these intervals, there is a period of 70 or 90 years of low-intensity earthquakes.

The last big earthquake in Romania with an intensity of 7.1 degrees on the Richter scale was in 1986, and the time difference until 2022 is 36 years. If the recurrence of past earthquakes remains valid, Romania can expect a high-intensity earthquake in 2022-2023.

Many buildings in Bucharest are not consolidated (be aware of the red signs above the entrance)

Romanian blocks built during communism

Therefore, Bucharest is considered the most vulnerable capital to earthquakes in southern Europe. Its vulnerability in the event of an earthquake is due to the “old built blocks, in the central area,” but also to the “local terrain conditions” according to specialists.

In the 2022 capital of Romania, there are 963 buildings classified in seismic risk classes, of which 363 are in the riskiest seismic class. 157 of them are in the category highlighted as very vulnerable in 1977, facilities with at least five levels built before 1941. However, the authorities didn’t take any measures to consolidate and rehabilitate the capital’s old buildings.

The authorities’ excuse is that the owners living in the buildings refuse to contribute with money for the building to be consolidated. The law also asks the owners to contribute to a certain extent to the renovation and consolidation of the building.

According to the scientific researchers at INCDFP, it is enough to see the condition of old buildings in Bucharest, but also in other Romanian cities such as Buzau, Focsani, Iasi, Braila, Constanta, and Craiova, to understand how big the problem of seismic vulnerability is.

While not all buildings in the vulnerable categories will completely collapse in a major earthquake, which could be even more substantial than the one in 1977, with up to 8.1 MW, the direct damage will be higher, at least in Bucharest, according to recent estimates, than in 1977, for a similar earthquake in terms of parameters, with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of victims.

If no action is taken in this regard, Bucharest will face a much more worrying scenario than in 1977 in the event of an earthquake. The current situation in the Romanian capital, concerning the seismic risk, is much worse than in the communist regime.

How to prepare for an Earthquake?

Earthquake backpack from Red Cross Romania

Bucharest Community Foundation has launched a project regarding the measures that a person should know about preparing for an earthquake called ”Bucharest is Ready”.

The measures are as follows:

Before the Earthquake:

  • Family Plan: talk to your family about the earthquake matter and set up a safe meeting place. Regularly practice this training with your family.

After an Earthquake, the necessary resources like electricity, gas and water won’t be available, and telecommunications will not work. A good plan to establish a communication meeting with your family is essential in this context.

  • Backpack with supplies for three days: water, cans, medicines, whistle, battery radio, external battery, sleeping bag, flashlight, medical kit, clothes are indispensable for any survival kit. Everyone has the responsibility to have this kit in the house for emergencies. You can find this kind of equipment at Bine boutique, the Romanian Red Cross charity shop;
  • Protection measures inside the house: arrange the place so that furniture or other heavy objects in the house do not fall during the earthquake and injure you;

During an earthquake:

  • Put yourself down to the ground;
  • Protect your head and neck with your hands and try to get under a solid table or under an interior wall;
  • Hold on tight;

Very important is to not run up the stairs, approach the windows and exterior walls and not go out on the balcony.

After an Earthquake:

  • If you are stuck inside, hang a piece of white cloth or use the whistle;
  • Don’t rush to leave the building;
  • Do not call 112 unless absolutely necessary. Leave the lines free for emergencies;
  • Get ready for a reply: Do not light any fire sources and turn off the electricity, gas and water.

However, not all Romanians are prepared for unforeseen events, nor are the Romanian authorities. Being educated in this regard can represent a reason between life and death in certain circumstances.

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