Why did some buildings withstand the 7.1 earthquake that struck Central Mexico on Sept. 19 while others fell? Anne Lemnitzer, UCI assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering, traveled there within a week to find out.
She was part of a joint geotechnical engineering reconnaissance effort organized by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the U.S. National Science Foundation-sponsored Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association. She spent three days in Mexico City and three days south of it in the epicenter region around Puebla.
“We investigated failure and success stories,” says Lemnitzer, whose research focus is geotechnical and structural earthquake engineering. The GEER team assessed buildings, landslides, soil settlement, infrastructure damage, slope instabilities, and dam and embankment performance. “This knowledge will help us further develop design guidelines and analysis procedures that we can use in the U.S.,” she says.
The team observed thousands of collapsed dwellings, particularly in areas nearest the epicenter, including the town of Tlayacapan (above) in the state of Morelos. “This was expected, as many residential structures are built with extremely simplified construction techniques, with no compliance to building codes or design standards,” Lemnitzer notes.
But she came away impressed with how resilient the people in Mexico were: “We saw neighborhoods coming together to help each other and witnessed thousands of volunteers helping to evacuate and clean up rubble around damaged and destroyed buildings.”