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Armenian Official: Yerevan 'Vulnerable' To Powerful Earthquake

Poor construction standards were blamed on the huge death toll following the Gyumri earthquake in northern Armenia in 1988.
YEREVAN -- Most of the residential buildings in the Armenian capital Yerevan may not withstand a powerful earthquake and are in urgent need of strengthening, an official from the National Seismic Defense Service has warned, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Gurgen Namalian, head of an urban construction division at the government agency, said "those buildings...need to be strengthened from the seismic viewpoint so that they...withstand anticipated strong earthquakes."

Namalian spoke to journalists on December 7, the 23rd anniversary of a catastrophic earthquake in northern Armenia that killed some 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The huge death toll was blamed on poor construction standards in Soviet Armenia. Many of the apartment blocks in the disaster area encompassing the country's second-largest city of Gyumri crumbled despite being designed for a seismically active zone.

There are hundreds of similar buildings in Yerevan, a city of 1 million people. Namalian said about 60 percent of them are vulnerable to collapse in a quake measuring more than eight on a 12-point scale.

"Almost all our major cities, including Yerevan, are located in the third seismic zone, where anticipated earthquakes can measure nine points and more," he said.

He described as "very unsatisfactory" the measures taken thus far by the relevant authorities to improve the situation.

Namalian also said that new structures constructed in and outside Yerevan generally meet seismic safety standards set by the National Seismic Defense Service. Most of them are expensive residential and office buildings.

Read more in Armenian here