Morocco Earthquake Devastation Worsened by Age-old Construction Methods

CEE Professor Mehrdad Sasani says that the traditional methods of construction used in rural and remote regions of Morocco are not earthquake-resistant and will continue to cause devastation during earthquakes due to limited resources.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Cyrus Moulton. Main photo: The minaret of the village mosque in Moulay Brahim was damaged by the earthquake that struck Morocco Friday night. Photo by Fernando Sánchez / Europa Press

Traditional construction methods were no match for the earthquake that rocked Morocco on Friday night, an engineering expert says, and the area will continue to see such devastation unless updated building techniques are adopted.

“The most important problem here is that in that region, mud-brick construction and unreinforced masonry construction seems to be prevalent, and they fail when earthquakes come,” Mehrdad Sasani, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University says. Sasani is an expert in building collapse, and community and building resilience.

“We have seen that (failure) in the past, over and over again,” Sasani said. “It’s unfortunate — it’s a societal, economic and technical problem — and we will see repetitive problems where earthquakes will cause such damage.”

But Sasani said updated building techniques would be hard to implement in the rural, mountainous and largely undeveloped area of Morocco where the quake struck.

“In that area, I’m sure they have many other needs,” Sasani says. “I’m sure they would love to live in buildings that are earthquake resistant, but the resources they have don’t lend themselves to that development.”

Headshot of professor Mehrdad Sasani

Northeastern civil and environmental engineering professor Mehrdad Sasani. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

An earthquake struck in the High Atlas Mountains of western Morocco shortly after 11 p.m. on Friday, and had a magnitude of at least 6.8, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was the strongest to hit the area in more than a century. Authorities said at least 2,000 people were killed and several hundred were injured in the quake. The deadliest and most destructive earthquake in Morocco’s recent history had a magnitude of 5.8 and killed roughly 12,000 people in 1960, the New York Times reported.

Sasani says that the region where the quake struck predominantly relies on two types of building.

The first is buildings constructed using sun-dried bricks — square-shaped mixture of clay and mud and other materials. The construction method is thousands of years old.

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Mehrdad Sasani

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering