The collapse that shouldn’t have been

Oops?

One of the most dramatic images from the Feb. 27 Chilean earthquake is that of the Alto Río building in Concepción, split in half, lying on its side. Eight people died in that building, and the broken structure served as an emblem to the world of the earthquake’s incredible power.

Except, Alto Río was a glaring exception. Amazingly, almost nothing else straight-up collapsed from the 8.8 earthquake, and certainly nothing else that had been built in just the last few years.

People immediately sensed this was odd. So did the company that built the building – Constructora Socovil – which stealthy transferred its assets to three other corporations to avoid losing them in a civil trial. The sneakiness caused a scandal that culminated in the resignation of the regional head of the Chilean Construction Chamber.

Now with a report out from the Chamber saying that the building could have been damaged, but shouldn’t have fallen, the civil complaints have begun in earnest, with 72 apartment owners suing the company for fraud. At least five families are bringing murder charges against Socovil as well.

The collapse of Alto Río was bad. But it’s a stark reminder that absent Chile’s generally effective building codes and enforcement, the earthquake would have been much, much worse.

(Image courtesy nazgulhead.)

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