His heart also quakes

A Cal State Fuller­ton en­gi­neer deals with his own dev­as­ta­tion on a re­search trip to his na­tive Nepal.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Amina Khan and Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske

Binod Tiwari leaps out of an SUV onto the busy Araniko High­way and stops in front of a footwide crack in the pave­ment.

As trucks and mo­tor­cy­cles whiz by, Tiwari, wear­ing a flu­o­res­cent yel­low vest over his Cal State Fuller­ton shirt, raises his cam­era to snap pho­to­graphs of the crack. A bridge nearby shows sim­i­lar frac­tures, and Tiwari walks along­side it to check some nearby homes that tip per­ilously for­ward.

“Def­i­nitely has lat­eral spread­ing,” he mut­ters as he snaps pho­tos. At times, he props a yel­low ruler or his cell­phone next to the cracks to mea­sure them.

Tiwari, a civil en­gi­neer at the Fuller­ton uni­ver­sity, has come to Nepal to help lead the Geotech­ni­cal Ex­treme Events Re­con­nais­sance team, which as­sesses the dam­age af­ter mega-earth­quakes such as the mag­ni­tude 7.8 one that ripped through Nepal in April. They want to find out what hap­pened to the rock and soil dur­ing the quake, and which build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture re­sponded well — or didn’t.

The best way to learn how to build safer struc­tures, Tiwari says, is to head to the dis­as­ter zones where they have failed.

“Nat­u­ral dis­as­ters come with­out telling us,” he says. “Science has to chase that dis­as­ter.”

The team has brought along a host of dif­fer­ent ex­perts. Tiwari stud­ies soil liq­ue­fac­tion, a phe­nom­e­non that some­times oc­curs dur­ing earth­quakes that causes the soil to move like a fluid in­stead of a solid, tip­ping build­ings as if pulling the rug out from un­der them.

The sci­en­tist made a sim­i­lar re­search trip af­ter the 2011 earth­quake and tsunami in Ja­pan. But here, the phys­i­cal dam­age cuts a far wider swath across the coun­try — and for the Nepalese-born re­searcher, it hits closer to home.

Tiwari was born in Gorkha dis­trict in a mud-mor­tar

house, the kind of build­ing that proved deadly dur­ing the quake. When he was a teen, his fam­ily moved to Kat­mandu, the cap­i­tal, where he would look through his win­dow at the sky-scratch­ing Hi­malayas.

“All around you see snow­capped moun­tains. So that makes your life a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” he says. “If you feel a lit­tle sad, you just look into the moun­tains.”

Beau­ti­ful as they are, the soar­ing peaks are caused by the same forces that make Nepal such a danger­ous earth­quake zone.

As mem­bers of the geotech­ni­cal team travel across the city and visit vil­lages, they see chil­dren and el­derly Nepalese sleep­ing in the open, hud­dling un­der tarps near flat­tened and crum­bling houses.

It’s “dev­as­tat­ing,” Tiwari says. “You want to cry.”

It’s cool on this gray spring day; the over­cast sky threat­ens to rain, a fore­shad­ow­ing of the sea­son to come.

“You should fol­low the cracks through the build­ings, it’s spec­tac­u­lar,” says Scott Ki­ef­fer, Tiwari’s coleader on the team, a Cal­i­for­nia na­tive now based at Graz Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in Aus­tria, who has al­ready scoped out the area.

“I just want to go there,” Tiwari replies, point­ing across the bridge. On the other side, he traces the cracks down an al­ley, over a con­struc­tion site, into a me­chanic’s garage, snack shop and fi­nally a man’s backyard.

Tiwari’s abil­ity to connect with Nepalese peo­ple on the ground and in gov­ern­ment is es­sen­tial to the team’s mission. Ear­lier in the day, he chat­ted in Nepali with Tu­lasi Prasad Si­taula, the sec­re­tary of phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and trans- port. Now, as he tracks the dam­age into the rub­ble­filled yards of dam­aged homes, Tiwari asks res­i­dents for de­tails on what hap­pened dur­ing the quake.

“We’ve got to have some­body who has con­nec­tions there. We’re lost with­out that,” Ki­ef­fer says. “Thank good­ness for Binod.”

Be­ing able to hit the ground run­ning is key, be­cause the sci­en­tists are work­ing in a shrink­ing time win­dow: Af­ter the hu­man­i­tar­ian res­cue op­er­a­tion, but be­fore the geo­phys­i­cal ev­i­dence that they need to find is erased by the mon­soon rains that sweep through the re­gion dur­ing the sum­mer.

Nepalese peo­ple are known for be­ing quick hik­ers, and Tiwari has the rest trail­ing him.

“In my heart, I am still Nepali,” he calls over his shoul­der.

Tiwari and the team, which is sup­ported by the U.S. Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion, are ex­am­in­ing ev­ery bit of in­fra­struc­ture they come across — bridges, roads, houses and hy­dropower projects.

But they’re also look­ing at how dif­fer­ent types of soil re­acted, in part to iden­tify slopes in this moun­tain­ous coun­try that have a high risk of land­slide. Find­ing those struc­tural weak­nesses in the ter­rain now will al­low them to bet­ter pre­dict which slopes are most likely to give way when the mon­soon comes — and make sure that res­i­dents are out of harm’s way.

Soil also plays a role in whether a build­ing sur­vives an earth­quake — its com­po­si­tion, the grain size, how densely packed it is and how much wa­ter it’s hold­ing.

Later in the day, in an area called Gongabu, Tiwari climbs un­der a metal gate to ex­am­ine a three-story brick-and-con­crete school that has sunk, its side sheared off so that a class­room gapes open next to the bas­ket­ball hoop.

The prin­ci­pal’s son joins Tiwari and his team as they stand next to a mu­ral de­pict­ing Charles Dar­win, Marie Curie and Galileo. He ex­plains that school of­fi­cials had built the struc­ture to with­stand an 8.0 quake.

“But they didn’t check the soil pro­file,” Tiwari says, shak­ing his head. “If you don’t check the soil, how do you build a foun­da­tion?”

Tiwari and his team were driv­ing on the Araniko High­way when the mag­ni­tude 7.3 af­ter­shock hit the re­gion May 12. The ground lurched and their car swayed as if rocked by high waves.

It was like “some big ele­phant com­ing to your car and shak­ing the car,” Tiwari says.

The mem­bers of team were headed east to Charikot in the dis­trict of Do­lakha, one of the hard­est-hit ar­eas. But they quickly made a U-turn to Kat­mandu, to find out how this ma­jor quake af­fected roads al­ready cracked by the orig­i­nal tem­blor.

Driv­ing back, they soon saw signs of this one-two punch: Build­ings that had been stand­ing when the team drove past to leave the cap­i­tal were re­duced to rub­ble.

Once they were done ex­am­in­ing the wreck­age in Kat­mandu, which was not as ex­ten­sive as it could have been, they headed back to­ward the epi­cen­ter of the af­ter­shock.

It was a fright­en­ing drive; the high­way cuts through moun­tain­ous ter­rain, and de­bris loos­ened by the shak­ing could have come down on them.

“Build­ings you can see — but land­slides, you have no idea where they’re com­ing from,” Tiwari says. “Big boul­ders, big rocks.”

But there was no ques­tion of turn­ing back, be­cause the af­ter­shock pre­sented an im­por­tant sci­en­tific op­por­tu­nity: They’d be able to see the dam­age just hours af­ter a ma­jor earth­quake hit.

“We were scared, but we kept on go­ing,” Tiwari says.

The dam­age was ex­ten­sive near the epi­cen­ter: Homes made with mud mor­tar and un­re­in­forced ma­sonry had fallen apart. Sev­eral build­ings had pan­caked.

“They don’t have money to buy ce­ment, but the clay is avail­able ev­ery­where, mud is avail­able ev­ery­where, wa­ter is avail­able and the stones are avail­able,” he says of the res­i­dents. “They grab stone from the moun­tain, with the help of their friends and neigh­bors, and then they get mud and wa­ter and they help each other out to build the house.”

Be­fore re­turn­ing to Cal­i­for­nia, Tiwari spends the last few days of his trip giv­ing talks to geotech­ni­cal and civil en­gi­neer­ing groups based in Nepal. It’s not how he planned to spend his time, but the coun­try’s build­ing codes will need to be re­built as well, be­cause the cur­rent stan­dards don’t take the na­ture of the ground be­neath them into ac­count.

“In the U.S., we do an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and then we de­sign; here the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is very poor be­cause peo­ple do not know how to do it,” Tiwari says.

In some ways, Tiwari says, he’s sur­prised by the lim­its of the dam­age — in many places the soil seemed to damp the waves of shak­ing from the earth­quake, though the team is still study­ing the soil to find out how this hap­pens.

Sci­en­tists will have to study the soils in dif­fer­ent re­gions around Nepal to fully un­der­stand which ar­eas are safe to build in, he adds.

Years ago, right af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Trib­hu­van Uni­ver­sity near Kat­mandu, Tiwari built his own house. He’d de­signed it well, and it sur­vived the quake.

His mother still lives there, but she and ter­ri­fied neigh­bors had re­fused to re­turn to their homes, living to­gether in a long tent on his front­yard for weeks as af­ter­shocks con­tin­ued.

“She was scared, but I just wanted to con­sole her,” Tiwari says. “Earth­quakes are nat­u­ral things, but you have to be ready to face them.”

Tiwari knew he could not leave them un­til he had ex­am­ined the build­ings him­self. They needed to feel safe, and they trusted him.

“I checked ev­ery­one’s house and told them, ‘Don’t worry, go back to your house and sleep well there,’ ” Tiwari says. “And they did, they did.”

Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske Los An­ge­les Times

EN­GI­NEER Binod Tiwari sur­veys quake dam­age in the Kat­mandu Val­ley. As he and his team cross the re­gion, they see Nepalese, young and old, hud­dling un­der tarps near f lat­tened homes. “You want to cry,” Tiwari says.

Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske Los An­ge­les Times

BINOD TIWARI pho­to­graphs dam­aged struc­tures in his na­tive Nepal. The mag­ni­tude 7.8 earth­quake in April has given the Cal State Fuller­ton en­gi­neer a chance to see which build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture held up.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.