UT students, professors evaluate Hatian soil behavior

Christina Noriega

Two years ago, a national team of engineers, including UT civil engineering professor Ellen Rathje and civil engineering graduate student Oscar Suncar, traveled to Haiti in a reconnaissance mission after the Jan. 12, 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

The Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association sent the group of engineers and scientists to map damage and collect data on soil behavior during the earthquake.

Suncar said the research team’s information could facilitate the reconstruction of Haiti’s infrastructure.

“We used remote sensing and satellite images that are taken at the moment of the earthquake,” Suncar said. “We try to identify wherever we think the soil may have [collapsed]. We evaluate what kind of soil it was and we run some tests to measure the consistency.”

The research team also informed Haitian authorities on how to prepare for future earthquakes and how to implement good regulations and building codes. Suncar said the magnitude of the disaster resulted from a combination of poor soil conditions and a lack of strong regulatory building codes.

“The soil was very soft and relatively, geologically new,” Suncar said. “Most of the construction was made on top of these deposits in Port-au-Prince including the national palace.”

Due to great poverty and poor regulation, infrastructure in Haiti was poorly made previous to the earthquake, Suncar said.

“People construct however they can,” Suncar said. “We saw a lot of the steel reinforcement was very old that could not withstand the earthquake.”

However, two years after the earthquake and the research mission, Suncar said there are still many problems with the infrastructure in Haiti.

“There is still a lot of rubble,” Suncar said. “I would hope to see a reconstruction plan so that Haiti can go from the position they are in right now, to a country that can grow by itself.”

Wendy Womack, sophomore radio-television-film major and secretary of the Lespwa Means Hope Texas Chapter traveled to Port-au-Prince in March 2010, and said the buildings in were still destroyed.

“They need people who will go down and help it be rebuilt,” Womack said.

Civil engineering senior Amber McCullough said she hopes to be part of the reconstruction of Haiti in the future.

“These are the projects that as a civil engineer I hope to one day donate my efforts, talents and knowledge to,” McCullough said.

However, she said she acknowledges the huge task ahead for civil engineers.

“If the rebuilding does actually take place, this could be a monumental project for engineers because of the limitations such as resources, and will take efforts of pro bono workers,” McCullough said.