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Mizzou Engineering to help Peru recover from earthquake

A Mizzou Engineering geotechnical team will spend about two weeks in Peru to help find safe sites on which to rebuild in the wake of an earthquake that toppled houses like this one in the coastal town of Pisco. Photo by Daniel Huaco Sr.

A Mizzou Engineering geotechnical team will travel to Peru in October to help the earthquake-shattered nation rebuild its most devastated cities.

Thousands of earthquake survivors have been living in makeshift shelters since a magnitude 8.0 quake struck central Peru’s coast on Aug. 15, killing more than 500 people and reducing houses in the cities of Pisco, Ica and Chincha to rubble, according to United Nations reports. Mizzou Engineering Assistant Professor Brent Rosenblad will lead a team charged with helping Peruvian officials find safe sites on which to rebuild.

“They need to rebuild their cities, but they don’t want to put structures on unstable ground,” said Rosenblad, who specializes in earthquake engineering. “The first thing we need to do is come in and characterize sites for them.”

Mizzou Engineering is coming to Peru’s aid under a cooperative agreement finalized last May between the MU Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and the Centro Regional de Sismologia para America del Sur (CERESIS), a South American organization focusing on earthquake issues. Just four months after inking the agreement, CERESIS formally requested the assistance of a team from the MU Institute for Interdisciplinary Geotechnics.

The geotechnical team MU has formed in response includes not only Rosenblad but also geotechnical doctoral students Jianhua Li and Daniel Huaco Jr. as well as Jim Bay, a Utah State University geotechnical associate professor and Rosenblad’s former colleague. The group will leave for Peru on Oct.4 and spend about two weeks in the country.

John Bowders, an MU civil and environmental engineering professor and leader of the institute, said the group welcomed the opportunity to be of aid as well as to put theory into practice. Practical lessons learned from international earthquakes can be applied to quake zones closer to home, he said.

Indeed, Rosenblad plans to bring to Peru a soil measurement technique he has applied in his research of soil deposits in the New Madrid seismic zone in southeastern Missouri. Determining the stiffness of soil at a particular site is the first step in finding the areas most likely to successfully weather earthquakes, he said.

Rather than drilling holes to determine the soil’s stiffness, Rosenblad will place seismic sensors in selected sites within each of the hardest-hit Peruvian towns and then drop a heavy weight to create surface waves that can be recorded and analyzed to determine how stiff the soil is.

“It’s the same technique we are using in New Madrid,” Rosenblad said. “And here it’s going to a very practical application.”