Vosho Enkanini in Khayelitsha taken from Baden Powell Road. Picture: Tracey Adams /African News Agency (ANA)
Vosho Enkanini in Khayelitsha taken from Baden Powell Road. Picture: Tracey Adams /African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town informal settlements a 'safe place' during an earthquake

By Nathan Adams Time of article published Nov 22, 2020

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Vosho Enkanini in Khayelitsha taken from Baden Powell Road. Picture: Tracey Adams /African News Agency (ANA)

Being in a shack has been touted as the safest place to be if a devastating earthquake were to strike in the Mother City.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a minor earth tremor measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale struck off the west coast of Saldanha Bay and could be felt across the city. On September 26, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake also struck off the Cape coast.

Professor of physics at the University of Pretoria, Andrzej Kijko, said there was some irony to the fact that informal settlements and townships in Cape Town were somewhat better protected for this kind of disaster.

“The best example is Japan. There they are building houses out of bamboo. So even the earthquake there will not destroy and injure because it is so light. The problem is if it is very heavy, for instance, concrete roofs.

“The shantytown ... will be destroyed, but it’s not as dangerous as the houses we are living in when we have concrete, bricks and just cement. It’s an irony that the buildings from shanty towns are safer.”

He said Koeberg Nuclear Power Station was built and designed to withstand a strong earthquake.

“Koeberg was designed after 1969 after the earthquake in Ceres and Tulbagh which was magnitude 6.3. They are designed for 0.3g (g-force) acceleration of the earthquake ... so even if strong earthquake of magnitude 7 in the vicinity of Koeberg takes place it will create some damage, but they built it in such a way that the reactor is built on rubber poles.”

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the date and time of the next tremor or earthquake or predict how devastating it might be.

Michelle Grobbelaar, a chief scientist at the Council of Geoscience, said: “On average, we record about 200 seismic events per week across the country there are seismometers scattered around the country and these stations run 24/7 which sends data to our head office in Pretoria.”

She added that even these recent quakes are not indicative of what might happen in the future.

“We can try and come up with a statistical guess but there is always an error by a couple of years and no guarantees,” she said.

Both Kijko and Grobbelaar confirmed that the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Management unit receives annual briefings and have conducted scenario planning where they simulate a disaster and how to manage it.

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