March 1977 is known as a dark month in Romanian history, when a 7.2 earthquake, lasting 56 seconds, took the lives of 1,570 people, injured over 11,300, and destroyed over 35,000 houses and 33 large apartment buildings (most of the damage was suffered by the capital city, Bucharest).
Being located in a highly active seismic area (with at least one small earthquake taking place per day), and after such a catastrophic event you might think Romania learned its lesson, and building consciously and consolidating the existing buildings became our number one priority. If only this was the case…
The Harsh Reality – Corruption vs Well being
After 1977, every new construction was checked, double checked and tripled checked, to make sure such a disaster will never repeat itself. When communism was replaced by democracy, in 1989, the country developed its own version of democracy, in which corruption ‘solves’ any problem. As building cheaper and faster is one of the dreams, surely the right people, paid other right people, to ‘not notice’ the lack of materials, which were stolen or not brought at all, used for building the modern constructions, which look good on paper, but structurally you never know what you deal with.
To make matters worse, the entire old city, and not only, is at risk, as the buildings are very old, some are lacking a foundation, while others are not safe for living, as it is. Pretty much all the buildings in the old city are at risk of demolition, according to the latest inspections (estimated 190 buildings from with 113 are risk one buildings, which means they will for sure not make it through an earthquake 7 and up). To make matters even worse (yes, it is possible), some of the buildings weren’t even inspected, so for some of them we have no idea what’s the risk factor.
Why things don’t get done
Bucharest used to be called the Small Paris. The old city is a rich historical area, reminding us of the glorious past of the city. Glorious in the past… but not anymore.
Quickly turned into the location of the city where all the pubs, bars and restaurants are situated, the severity of the problem was masked by a few buckets on paint, which distract people from the huge structural issues of the buildings. Also, the warning signs placed by the authorities were either taken down, or masked behind various ‘Eat and drink here’ banners. So, the majority of the population has no idea about the issue in first place.
As it all comes down to money (the area is a paradise for foreigners and foreigners means a lot of cash, and a lot of cash means we need to stay in business), the restaurants and bars owners don’t want to shut down their business in order to consolidate the buildings, and the apartment owners (most of them elderly) don’t want to be moved anywhere else while such an operation takes place. Because according to the law, they all have to be in agreement in order for the construction to start, if one person says no, it can’t be done. So, obviously, it doesn’t get done.
Now let’s pretend that’s not a problem, and they could start the consolidation process. Then a new problem arises: Romania doesn’t have the money for such a project (up to 600 euro/sqm). And even if it did, with the well known Romanian speed of making things happening, the estimated time of the project is … 150 years! Yes, 150. Who hoo… Now, if you want to believe you will be lucky for so long, that’s great, but what if you are not in luck?
So the authorities blame the people and the people blame the authorities, and nobody does anything, so we hope a miracle will happen, and as hope dies last, the miracle is called “Let’s hope the earthquake won’t come”. But it will, eventually. Until then we place warning signs with: “Caution, falling plaster!” (sometimes, even bricks – darn gravity, turning plaster into bricks…).
Capital city without utilities – apocalypse loading in T minus…
So, we’re passed the hoping and doing nothing stage, which worked ‘lovely’, as you can see. The earthquake happened, almost 200 buildings came to the ground, a lot of victims, deaths, chaos and so on.
If you are lucky to have someone arrive to remove you from under the debris, you face an even worse problem: how do you survive in a city which will be shut down? And by shut down I mean, you own nothing, except the clothes you wear (in case you weren’t caught during your evening shower 🙂 ) there is no place from which you can get food, there’s no electricity, gas, water, mobile phone networks.
As authorities, you can’t turn on the electricity as long as you don’t dig under the ruins to fix the gas pipes leaks. And no electricity means water pumps don’t work, and apartment buildings have no water (yes, that also means no toilet). No water means no life, as you can’t cook, drink, or take care of any urgent body hygiene. As the estimated time to restart the normal life flow is over 1 month, and most people care about themselves only, I wouldn’t be surprised to witness an increase in criminal rate, as stealing and killing for resources might be the way to ensure personal survival. Oops!
After the last press conference, the city mayor declared they’re already working on a plan to turn local schools into temporary shelters in case of such a disaster happening anytime soon. So, the solutions are: taking the law back into the Parliament, and force the people to move out/shut down their business, and start working on the buildings (with the legal system in Romania this might take 15 years or so, and also, we don’t have the funds for such a project, and it’s taking too long as it is, according to the estimation), or we just get ready for the inevitable. For now, we do the latter and also consider the first (as in, maybe…).
What we’re losing
According to the authorities, we can rebuild in around 160 years… Again, we’re talking in terms of centuries here. How can we work and live between ruins? I remember a building coming to the ground about 1-2 years ago, and it took them almost one year to clear the derbies. What if we multiply that by 200?
Either way, it will never be the Small Paris again, no matter what they do. Metal and glass giants, will replace the gorgeous constructions from our past. Our history, as a city, will be erased, because there’s no interest into keeping it alive. To make it even worse, the interest is inclined towards bringing them down, and build new metal giants, which will bring even more money to the ‘right people’, as the cost of rent/buy in the old city is ridiculously high.
Every time I see the old city, I wonder if this is the last time I see the beautiful historical constructions. It might just be …