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Oregon Mulls Shoring Up Schools Against Earthquakes

Moved by the collapse of schools and deaths caused after a recent earthquake in China, leaders in Oregon debate the need to fortify their own schools against possible earthquake damage. Lee Hochberg reports on the debate.

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  • LEE HOCHBERG, NewsHour Correspondent:

    What earthquake engineer Yumei Wang saw when she looked at this grade school near Vernonia, Oregon, near Portland, was chilling.

  • YUMEI WANG, Engineer:

    This triangular part up here on top would fall out with a little bit of shaking. In extreme cases, with even a moderate earthquake, buildings like this have collapsed down into rubble piles.

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    Last year, as director of the state's geohazards team, Wang examined every public school in Oregon and found frightening weaknesses.

  • YUMEI WANG:

    If we had a quake during the day here, it would be very likely to have a large number of fatalities. We are truly gambling with children's lives.

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    Engineers in Oregon say more than half of Oregon's schools are vulnerable, because Oregon sits just 70 miles from the Cascadia fault, which runs along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to Northern California.

    Many scientists predict that fault could spawn a 9.0 quake, 32 times more powerful than China's. Even a smaller quake, like the one in 1993, destroyed this high school 45 minutes south of Portland.

  • YUMEI WANG:

    We have about 1,000 school buildings that we think are in the high to very high probability of collapse.

    People assume that what happened in China can't happen here. This building would very likely collapse here in Oregon, in the United States.

    This timber member has split. You can see that it's quite extensive along the length of this column. The gravity system of this portion would be gone, and it would collapse.

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    Two hundred and fifty four students spend their days in this building; 300,000 attend Oregon's other imperiled schools, most built before seismic codes were adopted in the 1990s.

    Back in 1933, California state legislators passed a school earthquake safety law after 70 schools collapsed in a quake. In the 75 years since, despite damaging quakes that crumbled highways and buildings, there have been no earthquake-related injuries in schools built under the law.