Although most of the pictures of earthquake devastation show the ruins of houses and buildings of less five stories, dozens of newer high-rise condominium buildings may have been irreparable damaged by the April 16 coastal quake.
“It’s a little deceptive when you see the larger buildings still standing,” said Pablo Salazar, retired architect in Bahia de Caraquez. “When you are close to the buildings, you see the damage. Large areas of the walls have fallen away and there are large cracks running from top to bottom in some cases. Most of the windows are broken out of course, but the window and door frames have been twisted and probably cannot be repaired,” he says.
It is unclear how many larger buildings will need to be demolished. So far, the government has focused on clearing rubble and demolishing smaller structures that pose safety risks. Dozens of condominium buildings in Bahia, Manta and Pedernales have been taped off with only emergency personnel allowed access.
Salazar says many of the condo units are owned by foreigners. “The Venezuelan and Colombians who own them, and a few gringos too, want to go in and remove their belongings, but it is too dangerous,” he said.
According to government officials, determining the safety of larger buildings will be complicated. “These are expensive buildings with many owners,” said Emergency Operations officer Vicente Leon. “There are insurance and real estate interests to be settled so there will be pressure from many directions. Much of this could go to the courts to resolve.”
Most of the damaged buildings are in Bahia de Caraquez, where there are 75 buildings ranging between 6 and 10 floors. Most show large exterior cracks and early indications suggest serious structural damage to some.
Salazar worries for his son who is a developer in Salinas and Punta Blanca in Santa Elena Province to the south. “This will hurt his business, there is no doubt,” he says. “They did not have much damage down there this time but now people know what can happen anywhere on the coast.”