How to check the safety of your home after an earthquake

Health & Safety

Sacred Heart church is damaged after an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Delot Jean)

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — An earthquake can be a traumatic experience to go through. Depending on a number of factors, the total damage can range from negligible to absolute. That is why it is important to know if your house is truly safe after such an occurrence.

There are times when the damage caused by an earthquake is severe but unnoticeable. The first thing one should do after an event is to check around the house for any significant structural damage. It could be bad enough to collapse the whole structure at the slightest provocation.

There are many factors that increase the risk of destruction.

  • T-shaped and L-shaped homes are more likely to take on more damage. Homes that are an irregular design and split-level homes are also at greater risk.
  • Older houses likewise do not fare well against a sizable earthquake. The older the house, the more unsound its structure will likely be so check to make sure the building is up to code.
  • If the house was built in an area prone to tremors, on a hillside or just generally unstable ground, that can increase risk too. All of these things come into play in one way or another.

In the aftermath of an earthquake, the first thing to check is the exterior.

  • With the foundation and basement, it is important to look for V-shaped cracks or leaning. The foundation should be level as well.
  • The beams under houses with crawl space may also be broken, so that should be looked at.
  • Rafters and roofs may be distorted and weakened so avoid attics.
  • Large cracks on stone or brick walls can be an issue, especially if there is no house frame.
  • Damaged fireplaces can be fire hazards.
  • Significant damage to the area around the house may hint at damage to the house itself.

Next thing on the list is the interior. Check for:

  • Doors that have gaps, that are stuck shut, that rub or that are difficult to open and shut.
  • Windows that have gaps, that are stuck shut or they’re difficult to open and shut.
  • Sagging or damaged ceilings and rafters.
  • A sloped or sagging floor.

After all is said and done, the safest thing one can do after an earthquake is to vacate the area and call a professional to perform the assessment.

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