Life Complexities / Quakes

Nikos Raptis





has been in the news in Greece all day long yesterday


today (August 17, 1999):


1943 as the Nazis were rounding up the Jews of Salonica in a part of the city, a

16-year-old girl (not a Jew) stood by in the street watching with curiosity (and

I hope with horror) as the Nazis were loading them on trucks. Suddenly a Nazi

soldier grabbed the 16-year-old and threw her on the truck.. >From the truck

the girl was loaded on a train and finally found herself at Dachau, the Nazi

concentration camp close to Munich.


Dachau, being young and healthy, she was put to work as slave labor in a

factory. There she met a young Italian soldier, Valentino, also a prisoner, as

he was a deserter from the Italian army. She was driven three or four times

"to the ovens where they were taking the Jews, but Valentino using his wits

managed to sneak me off the line of the condemned" (her words).


1945 the US army entered Dachau and freed the prisoners. The policy of the

liberators was to separate the prisoners and send them back to their respective

countries. The Greek girl tried, in vain, to persuade them to let her go to

Italy with her Italian friend. So, she returned to her home in a village in

northern Greece. Her family had already written her off as dead. Her father left

her to sleep only one night at the parental home and then threw her out of the

house. Not a very odd thing, could have happened any place, even today,

especially in deeply Christian societies. The girl, then 18 years old, had told

her people about Valentino and announced that she was pregnant. Valentino did

not know she was pregnant and all she had was his name and a photograph.


uneducated, without any experience in life (save that at Dachau), homeless and

pregnant, after living awhile in parks and sleeping on park benches, she ended

as a domestic in a family in Athens. She gave birth to a baby girl, which was

taken away from her and given for adoption. That was 1945, so the baby stayed in

Greece. As, from that year on for almost a decade, most babies of Greek single

mothers (or communist women in prisons or concentration camps) were sold mostly

to American couples for a couple of thousand dollars apiece. The sellers most of

the time were officials of the Greek government, a US puppet. She was lucky to

know who were the people that had adopted the baby and where they lived, but she

promised to never give any trouble. For decades she visited the town secretly

and watched her child from afar, not bothering anyone.


adopted girl learned about her adoption when she was around 16. As she grew up

she started searching for her natural mother. She found her two years ago. Now,

both are trying to find Valentino. The only clues they have are Dachau, the name

Valentino and a photo.


the Dachau woman,. now 72, looked at the TV reporter interviewing her and said:

"It was not Dachau where I suffered it was in the society that I lived

after Dachau that I really suffered."




places on earth that are quake-prone are known. History has taken care of that.

(the theory of plates can help also, but it cannot explain why the biggest quake

ever, in 1811 in New Madrid, Missouri, took place at the middle of a plate and

not at the edges). Therefore, people at quake-prone areas know that they are in

trouble. This trouble has a single parameter: the building. All other talk about

faults, Richter scale, etc. is rather academic.


the turn of the 20th century the multi-story steel-reinforced concrete building

has become the most prevalent structure in all countries. For almost one century

there have been thousands of pictures, identical to those in Turkey today, of

this kind of buildings that have collapsed during a quake. The dead number in

the millions. In a single quake in China, in Tangshan in 1976, there were

750,000 dead. Few people are aware of that and even fewer remember.


basic aspects of the problem:


The damage caused by a quake to a building is SITE SPECIFIC, that is a building

can be destroyed while another one a few feet away remains intact. There is not

much that citizens can do.


Concrete is an intrinsically BRITTLE material, even if reinforced with steel,

especially vertical elements; columns, etc. This is the most important aspect of

the problem. It is a political problem First,. the state has exploited to the

hilt the ease with which a building can be constructed with reinforced concrete.

Second, the cement industry does not care if people are crushed to a pulp

between two concrete slabs of a collapsed building during a quake. They will

fight to the end not to lose their profits . Citizens in quake-prone areas,

especially radicals, can do a lot.. However, it will take many decades to

educate the people, find alternative solutions, etc.


A MULTI-STORY concrete building, in a quake-prone area, is definitely a death

trap. The state has the greatest responsibility for the quake carnage, as it is

the one that determines the zoning regulations and allows the erection of

multi-story buildings. Citizens can do a lot to protect themselves. They are the

ones that buy or rent the apartments in these buildings.


LIQUEFACTION, the turning of a sandy soil submerged in water into a virtual

liquid (for a few seconds) during a quake, is a very serious problem, because

one cannot predict if a soil is liquefaction-prone, when choosing the site to

erect a building. In this case a multi-story building tilts or is overturned en

bloc. (Of what I have seen in the news my estimate is that there were many cases

of liquefaction yesterday in Turkey.) The only thing citizens can do is press

for the prohibition of the construction of multi-story buildings in areas that

are suspect for liquefaction, especially by the sea.


although the quake problem in quake-prone areas seems to be purely technical, if

studied in depth, it proves to be mainly political. The solution rests with the

peoples of these areas. The engineers, as members of the community, if they

decide to be honest, can do a lot..


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