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Sat 3 Dec 2005 04:00 AM

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Calls for quake warning system

Timely tremors raise questions over local building codes as experts meet in Dubai at coastal management conference.

Buildings completed in the UAE before 1990 could be at risk in the event of an earthquake, a local seismologist has warned.

Dr Azm Al Homoud, professor of civil engineering at the American University in Sharjah and a member of the Building Codes Planning Group, said: “I believe that buildings built before 1990 need to be examined.”

And he says that the region is due for another big quake, with the last major seismic activity occurring approximately 100 years ago.

The UAE has two tectonic belts running near to it, with the closest being the Zagros fault zone, only 200 km away, making the northern emirates more susceptible to an earthquake.

Building codes in the UAE have come under the spotlight this week following the earthquakes that rocked Iran on 27th November 2005. Tremors were felt across the UAE and some buildings were evacuated.

But Dubai Municipality has moved to allay fears by issuing a statement declaring that Dubai is an “earthquake safe area”.Engineer Khalid Mohammed Saleh, director of the Buildings Department, said that buildings were designed to withstand tremors up to level five on the Richter scale, which measures the strength of earthquakes.

The tremors were felt in Dubai just days after engineers from the Municipality participated in an international conference on earthquake design issues held in Jordan.

Meanwhile the threat posed by tsunamis in the Gulf also came under the spotlight this week at the Arabian Coast conference in Dubai.

A UAE-based geologist warned that the potential for tsunamis and typhoon surges does exist in the Gulf, even though they could never be as devastating as the Asian Tsunami that claimed the lives of some 200 000 people a year ago.

The most recent incident occurred on 24th February 2005, when a surge was detected at Jumeirah Beach by the Coastal Management Section of Dubai Municipality.

During this event, the sea level dropped 0.5 m below the expected tidal level over 35 minutes and then surged 1.2 m over five minutes as the crest of the wave hit.

Dr Benjamin Jordan, professor of geology at the UAE University, said: “Although a review of seismic records for the region indicates that this surge did not result from an earthquake (it was more likely to have been meteorologically generated), the potential for an earthquake-generated tsunami does exist in the Gulf.”

Dr Jordan called for the adoption of a tsunami warning system and an earthquake monitoring programme in the region. He said: “Given that the UAE is a coastal nation, with the vast majority of its population and industry along its coasts, the importance of developing and maintaining a tsunami warning system here is evident.”

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