Toward safer churches

Experts will use an electronic database to record earthquake damage to churches, following a request by the Holy Synod. «International experience, and the knowledge we have garnered from earthquakes in Greece, has led us to the conclusion that prevention and preparedness must be given priority,» Archbishop Christodoulos told a recent seminar. «We plan to create an electronic archive of all churches, and of churches that have suffered earthquake damage.» Churches are major victims of earthquakes for many reasons, as Tessi Salli, professor of museology at the Ionian University, explained. To start with, churches contain many potential fire hazards, such as candles and oil lamps. Complications can arise if there is a short circuit causes a fire due to the many light bulbs and electrical fittings. Churches also store considerable amounts of combustible materials (wax, wood, paper, alcohol and even gasoline). A large number of people who are frail or have special needs frequent churches which have outdated infrastructure, poor maintenance and little in the way of earthquake protection. A lot of church fittings and equipment are not firmly supported and represent a real source of danger in an earthquake. Salli recommended some practical preparatory steps: – Churches should have at least three entrances and exits, which should remain open during services and ceremonies; – All entrances and exits should lead by means of special external passageways to a safe and spacious area; – Entrances should have a strong shell; – There should not be stairs but only ramps with a very low gradient; – Fire extinguishers must be placed in appropriate parts of churches; – Oil lamps, candelabra and unfixed light fittings should be firmly secured on horizontal surfaces at three points; – Candle stands, lecterns, pews, and unstable furniture must be firmly fixed to the building. Paradoxically, the risk of damage from earthquakes has risen due to the spread of building into areas with poorer soil, said Salli.

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