Preparing for B.C.’s ‘big one’: What Mexico’s earthquake is telling experts

Preparing for B.C.’s ‘big one’: What Mexico’s earthquake is telling experts

With the death toll of Mexico’s earthquake at 225 and counting and rescue efforts continuing, UBC researchers are weighing in on how a similar quake would affect the Vancouver area.

Carlos Ventura is a professor in civil engineering and the director of the earthquake engineering research facility at UBC. Ventura’s work studies the behaviour of structures under the influence of seismic activity. When asked if the Lower Mainland would see similar destruction to Mexico City, Ventura said not necessarily.

“Mexico City was built on a lake — a dry lake,” he said. “That is like gelatin. Every time there is an earthquake the shaking is always enhanced.”

In Vancouver, the soil conditions are different. Even Richmond, which has softer soil than other areas in the Lower Mainland, doesn’t have the same type of clay that Mexico has.

Even so, Ventura said Mexico’s 7.0 magnitude quake is still a reminder that Vancouver is in “earthquake country.”

“Everybody is always concerned about the ‘big one,’ the subduction earthquake, magnitude nine, etcetera, but the probability of having an earthquake like the one today near Vancouver is very real,” he said. “And that, to us, is the message right now.”

Vancouver resident Jaime Stein is currently in Mexico and felt the earthquake from the 14th floor of an office building. For him, experiencing the shaking first-hand was unlike what he imagined it would be, even though Vancouver’s “big one” is often on his mind.

“I’ve never been in anything like that,” he told CTV News over Skype. “As a Vancouver native you always think about a potential earthquake coming, but when it started moving it was like being on a really rocky boat and your legs aren’t as strong as you think they are. You’re just trying to move as quick as you can and you just hope that it ends quickly.”

Here in Vancouver, Ventura said the quality of construction is a significant factor in how much damage the city would see. Currently, the building code allows buildings to take some damage without collapsing. The philosophy of the building code, he explained, is to ensure people can evacuate safely. Instead, Ventura said some residential homes including mega-homes from the 1980s and quickly constructed mid-rise buildings could be at a greater risk.

“There are some old buildings that have been there for centuries, being subjected to very strong earthquakes and they’re still standing,” he said. “So being old doesn’t mean being bad. It’s just good construction and that makes a difference.”


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