AIDG Haiti Update: Structural Assessments and Masons Trainings

School Collapse at the Petite Ecole Francaise in Cap Haitien, Haiti
School Collapse at the Petite Ecole Francaise in Cap Haitien, Haiti

I got the call in the morning on Feb 16. Edline Estimable, our bookkeeper in Haiti, was in shock, utterly distraught. An elementary school down the street from our office in Cap Hatien had just collapsed just days after schools reopened. Several of her friends’ children attended the Petite Ecole Francaise. Already wrung out by the events of Jan 12, she couldn’t bare to say it or even think it, but she knew deep down that some of her friends’ kids had been hurt if not killed. But what happened? There had been a lot of rain in Cap that was for sure, but there hadn’t a new earthquake, not even the mildest tremor in Haiti’s 2nd largest city (100+ km away from the capital Port-au-Prince). It turns out it was a mud and rockslide. The school abutted too close to a rocky hillside. The rains had softened the earth; boulders and mud slipped and slalomed down, crashing through the school’s roof. Four 8-10 year old children died — 3 girls and a boy. Edline knew 2 of them. 8 others were wounded.

Jessica Lozier, our interim Haiti Program Manager, had just picked up our 3rd team of structural engineers from the Cap airport when the accident happened. This had been a week of horrors for Jess. A few days before she had been in Port-au-Prince and had witnessed a horrific hit-and-run. She and our colleagues at SOIL helped bring the injured pedestrians to the nearest hospital. Now in Cap, she was helping pull out some of the hurt children as well as translate for foreign doctors who had been volunteering in country.

<a href="
“>From the Miami Herald:

“It was madness,” said Jess Lozier, coordinator for Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, who arrived at the scene an hour after the accident. Lozier’s group works to provide sanitation, electricity and clean water to developing countries.
Haitian National Police officers and doctors from the group Help Haiti Heal scrambled to dig surviving children from the rubble, as did U.S. Army troops. It was not known how many other children were in the classroom at the time.
“The director of the school said all the other kids were accounted for,” Lozier said.

In the aftermath of this accident, schools reclosed. The 7.0 earthquake in Pap had shown that schools were some of the least seismically resistant buildings in the city. Parents all over the country were already very much afraid and now this.

What’s wrong with the current building techniques used in Haiti?

While the school tragedy in Cap was not related the earthquakes per se, it further underscored the shoddy construction of buildings all over the country, not just in the metro Port-au-Prince area.

Andre Filiatrault, director of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) who led our 1st team of earthquake engineers in January, lists the following issues as primary problems:

  • Unreinforced masonry structures
  • Lack of symmetry
  • Lack of transverse reinforcement
  • Poor quality of concrete
  • Reinforcing bars without ribs
  • Quality of construction
  • Lack of building codes

In an interview with NPR, Craig Totten from KPFF who we have been working closely with, had this to say:

[W]hat he and [Darlene] Clovis have seen, in building after building, is soft mortar, poorly mixed concrete and rickety columns. The cinderblocks are made from material so grainy that it peels away with your fingernails.

In Haiti, Many Buildings Left Standing Shouldn’t Be [NPR]

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What is AIDG doing?

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we’ve been working with groups like MCEER, KPFF Consulting Engineers and the Association of Haitian American Engineers of New York to perform structural assessments of standing and partially collapsed buildings for the government, the UN, NGOs and the community.

Marc-Henri Gateau, Anne Monnier, and Mike Suomi in Cite Soleil
Marc-Henri Gateau, Anne Monnier, and Mike Suomi inspecting structures in Cite Soleil

Ron Kernan and Sophia Tassy
Ron Kernan and Sophia Tassy finish off an inspection

To date we’ve reviewed over 1250 structures. For our small staff, this has been a monumental undertaking. The team on the ground now in Haiti hasn’t had much of a break timewise or emotionally.

In the weeks after the earthquake, it was clear that homeowners, business owners, private citizens, and masons needed more than just reviews. If they were going to prevent the countless needless tragedies, they needed information on how to build back better. We know that most of the damaged and destroyed homes will be rebuilt by private citizens and local contractors out of masonry, concrete and steel. Without access to information on better building techniques, the same deadly mistakes that brought down houses in the quake will be made. So in partnership with Architecture for Humanity and KPFF, we’ve begun to retrain masons in Port-au-Prince, Léogâne and Jacmel in confined masonry techniques. The same techniques have been used in Chile to make buildings there resistant to earthquakes 700 times stronger than the one seen in Port-au-Prince. Here I must commend the leadership of Craig Totten, a principal at KPFF who got the partners at his firm to commit to sending a rotating roster of their engineers to Haiti to continue doing assessments. He’s also recruited masons in the Portland area to work with us to perform trainings of masons.

Craig McMurtrie from ABC Australia accompanied the team (Craig Totten, Shawn Anderson, Darlene Clovis, Clem Fleck and Robert Miller from Portland based Fleck Masonry and AIDG’s Adajah Codio) on a mason’s training in Jacmel and filed this story:

Duration: 5 minutes 58 seconds

To date we have trained approximately 560 masons. Our initial goal with this project is 3000 over 10 months. At the rate that we’re going now, we think we can bump that number up to 10,000, but it all depends on funding. We need $190,000 – $250,000 to hit that goal.

Masons training at Matthew 25 House (Delmas 33)

Masons training in Delmas 33

In terms of curriculum we’re using a translated version of “Construction and maintenance of masonry houses” by Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and SENCICO, originally edited by Marcial Blondet. The translation was crowdsourced by volunteers from Haiti Rewired, a project of The April 12, 2010 Kreyol version can be found here. Graphics are currently being upgraded to better reflect the building styles in Haiti.