Friday, May 12, 2017

Guam is built to withstand disaster

I arrived on Guam from the East Coast and had never experienced an earthquake tremor. The first was in the barracks. I was on the top rack and had a clear view of the ceiling from end to end. The tremor was jarring. The two opposite ends of the barracks appeared to twist in different directions. A few things fell off the shelves. It quickly ended and it hardly got a mention from the people who had been there a while.

Low-level tremors are common on Guam. If you stay on Guam for any length of time you'll experience one. Bigger earthquakes are possible. An earthquake on August 8, 1993, reached 8.1 magnitude. It damaged some hotels and but the disruption to the island was short-lived. Much smaller earthquakes have caused more damage in the U.S.

Experiences with typhoons -- which destroyed most of the wood-framed housing -- ushered in reinforced concrete construction. Most houses on Guam are of a pillbox design, low to the ground with flat roofs, and intended to resist typhoons. This also improves their capability to withstand earthquakes.

Nearly every building on Guam dates from the 1960s. There is very little construction pre-dating that time period. The 1963 typhoon Karen leveled the island, literally. It destroyed 95 percent of the homes. But Guam was able to rebuild to modern standards.