Reverberations of 1999 earthquake still being felt

Six years ago yesterday, a 5.9 Richter earthquake struck below Mt Parnitha, on the outskirts of Athens, taking 143 lives and causing over 2 billion euros in damage. Despite the valuable lessons learned at the time, seismologists feel that the state has since forgotten them. Kathimerini spoke to three people directly involved in the post-earthquake investigation – Vassilis Andrianakis, president of the Organization for Anti-Seismic Planning and Protection (OASP), Giorgos Stavrakakis, director of Athens’s Geodynamic Institute, and Constantine Makropoulos, head of Athens University’s seismology laboratory. «Right after the quake, OASP funded more than 70 research programs, with an emphasis on both studying the earthquake itself and boosting safety,» said Andrianakis. «Since 2000, the building code and specification code for reinforced concrete have been revised, while work is almost complete on the Building Repair and Support Regulation. Attica’s substrata have been been documented and an initial testing of public buildings undertaken. No new research programs have begun on a similar scale, pending an evaluation of those undertaken in previous years.» Stavrakakis said the 1999 quake taught the experts a great deal, both on the practical and psychological levels. «Even today, when there is an earthquake in Attica, the telephones at the Geodynamic Institute ring off the hook. People haven’t overcome their fear,» he said. On the practical level, the Parnitha quake has been studied in great detail and many of the conclusions have already been made use of, he added. «All the same, efforts have relaxed. What is missing in Greece is a systematic, permanent organized management of the earthquake problem. In Japan, for example, they have earthquake drills in schools every month, in Greece just once a year. The Athens experience showed that even a moderate-sized quake can cause massive destruction; that is why we must not relax our vigilance,» said Stavrakakis. Makropoulos referred to serious, scientific efforts in years gone by, although he said some of this work has not yet been paid for. «The ball is now in the state’s court. The earthquake showed us that we should focus our efforts on the major residential areas that are the most vulnerable. What also emerged was the part played by the type of substratum, so we need to carry out more micro-zonal studies. We must not forget, and we should not remain in wishful-thinking mode.»