These schools survived quake

150704 Kanya Mandir Higher Secondary School

Six schools stood strong while the buildings crashed down around them, during Nepal’s recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

The schools in and around the capital Kathmandu were retrofitted by a Singapore team under a project which started in 2012 and proved sturdy enough to bear the brunt of the tremors which killed more than 8,000 people.

Their columns, beams and walls had been wrapped in wire mesh and canvas and they ended up as shelters for quake victims.

The relatively cheap and easy changes were developed by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and put in place through an ongoing project between the university, Nepal’s Department of Education, non-governmental organisation National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) and Singapore’s Temasek Foundation.

The NTU team has also worked with the foundation to retrofit 40 schools in other earthquake-prone Asian countries including India, China and the Philippines, and there are plans to extend the project to Thailand.

Associate Professor Li Bing of NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who is part of the three-year effort, said that the project focuses on public schools as they set right examples of what can be done in the community.

“Public schools are places of congregation for children, who are the future of the society,” he added.

Prof Li said that wrapping the walls with canvas or wire mesh holds the bricks in place and stops them from being dislodged when the ground shakes.

He added: “This is crucial because the sudden collapse of brick walls will cause many casualties and obstructions in the paths of occupants and rescue workers.”

In Nepal, retrofitting an average-sized school building three or four storeys high costs $90,000 to $150,000 – 30 per cent cheaper than constructing a new building.

Nepal is appealing for US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) to help rebuild the country.

The quake which struck on April 25 is said to be the country’s worst in 80 years. It left more than 17,800 people injured.

Dr Ramesh Guragain, deputy executive director of NSET, which helps communities in Nepal protect themselves against earthquake damage, said the schools were undamaged and did not even have cracks. They were later used as shelters for about 150 people who lost their homes.

“The industry materials that were supplied to us to retrofit the schools were very reliable,” added Dr Ramesh, whose organisation is trying to get more funding from the country’s department of education to retrofit schools in other areas.

“An earthquake can happen at any time, any place.”

As part of the project, the team, together with universities in Nepal, trains local builders on how to strengthen buildings. So far, more than 100 have been trained.

For Prof Li, there is no better feeling than seeing his research save lives: “Stepping out of the campus, and applying the findings in appropriate areas can directly impact the lives of people.”

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

Source:  The Sunday Times, June 14, 2015

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