The Budget will contain monies for corrective work to poorly constructed houses in Clare Valley. (IWN photo)

The geologist who examined the soil at Clare Valley after a three-bedroom concrete house in the government’s housing project there collapsed in September has called for a detailed investigation of the house that collapsed.

Dr. Richard Robertson, in a report to the government, said the investigation will help to understand better the load-bearing capacity of the foundation and its interaction with the ground.

“The objective should be to obtain knowledge that may be applied to other similar structures in the area,” Robertson said in the report.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves read from the report in Parliament last week. He told lawmakers that a detailed investigation has been conducted through the works of Chief Engineer Brent Bailey, and independent engineer Dexter Gellizeau.

Robertson’s report also said the structural integrity of each building in the area needs to be re-examined, particularly the ones in which there has been reported unusual vibrations, or where there are significant drainage problems.

Gonsalves said six of the houses are already being worked.

The geologist, in his report to the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), for which Gonsalves has ministerial responsibilities, also said earth retention structures need to be designed and constructed to strengthen the unrestrained and steep slopes created in the area by housing construction.

“Some of these measures may include soft solutions, such as sediment traps and the planting of vegetation,” Robertson said in the report.

Gonsalves said this is being done with the construction of a retaining wall.

“Drainage in the entire area needs to be re-examined and measures implemented to adequately cater for surface runoff from buildings, so as to minimise the erosive impact of the water and its potential to change underground water conditions, such that it leads to mass movement downslope,” Robertson said in the report.

Roberston said the conclusion of the report is “essentially the same” as his briefing given to Director of NEMO, Howie Prince and Minister of State in the Ministry of Works, Sen. Julian Francis, “that the collapse had more to do with the construction issues than with the land.

“The site is one, which like lots of sloping ground elsewhere on the island, will pose some challenges, but not insurmountable,” the report said.

The house collapsed on Sept. 19. The owner had previously complained to the government the house was shaking. (IWN photo)
The house collapsed on Sept. 19. The owner had previously complained to the government the house was shaking. (IWN photo)

The site was classified as one of high landslide potential by a 1980s study, “but this is the case of most of the sloping land in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, given the nature of our geology,” said Robertson, who is a Vincentian and head of the Seismic Unit at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.

He said the Clare Valley area falls within the high landslide hazard zone of the landslide hazard map produced in 1988.

“However, no remnant scarps from past landslides were observed on the site and there is no evidence of large-scale mass movement of earth material downslope in the area. Some construction should be possible in this area, as long as adequate account is taken of the site conditions. Urgent remedial works is needed in order to stabilise steep slopes created during construction and to deal with runoff from building and roadways, so as to minimise the erosive impact of water,” Robertson said.

“Mr. Speaker, the long and short of it, the report speaks to an area where you can quite properly do the housing construction. You just have to build suitably. There are some recommendations for corrective measures. What he is recommending is already taking place, through the works which we are doing and in conjunction with the ministry of housing,” Gonsalves said.

Since the collapse of the house, it has become public that some homeowners have been complaining to the state-owned Housing and Land Development Corporation (HLDC) that their houses are shaking, about tiles popping off floors and walls, and poor drainage, among other problems.

Physician Katisha Douglas, the owner of the house that collapsed, has filed more than one complaint to the HLDC, including one days before the collapse.

No one was injured when the house was collapsed and the structure has since been demolished.

5 replies on “Geologist calls for review of structural integrity of Clare Valley houses”

  1. The building collapse was most likely caused by the swaying (dancing) of the house and not by the bearing of the soil. the other houses are still standing.

    Slope stability measures will not prevent another collapse but will hopefully prevent all the houses from ending up at the bottom of the hill.

  2. Sorry but I believe Dr Richard Robertson was the wrong person to carry out this study. Because he has a doctorate and is an expert in geology regarding volcanism does not make him an expert in building procedures and in methods of building houses.
    http://www.uwiseismic.com/StaffProfile.aspx?id=20
    Richard Robertson B.Sc. (1987) UWI, M.Phil (1992) Leeds, Ph.D. UWI (2003)
    Director | Senior Research Fellow – Geology/Volcanology
    Originally from St. Vincent, Dr Richard Robertson joined the staff at the Seismic Research Centre in 1993 after serving for six years as Head of the local volcano-monitoring unit in St. Vincent (the Soufriere Monitoring Unit). Since joining the Seismic Research Centre he has been involved in a variety of projects including: the ongoing eruption of the Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat; the establishment of volcano monitoring networks (mainly geodetic) and ongoing public education and outreach programs throughout the Eastern Caribbean. He served several tours of duty as Chief Scientist of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory during the period 1995-1999 and was its Director from October 1998 – March 1999. Dr Robertson served as Head of the Seismic Research Unit during the period 2004-2008 and as Director of the Seismic Research Centre from 2008-2011. For the period September 2011 to July 2013 Dr. Robertson served as a Geologist/Volcanologist at the SRC while on sabbatical, after which he resumed duties as its Director.
    Dr Robertson’s Research Interests
    Volcano Monitoring
    Volcanic Hazard & Risk Assessment
    Volcano Risk Management
    Crisis Communications
    Risk Perception
    Volcano Geodesy
    Magma genesis

    I am not going to suggest that Dr Brown knew he was chosen by the government because he was considered tame to their cause. I would not insult Dr Brown in doing so. But I would not put that past our government in believing so.

    It’s now important that the instructions by the government to Dr. Robertson and his full report be published. It’s in the public interest to do so, perhaps not in the governments, so don’t hold your breath.

    I would further suggest another set of people to contact to carry out a survey, and who are experts in this very matter and particular field is the following company.

    Specialist Ground Engineering Ltd.
    http://sgeworks.co.uk/contact/
    Specialists engineers in the planning and delivery of earthworks and soil stabilisation projects at Brownfield and complex sites that require a higher level of technical expertise in diverse soil types. This company is frequently contracted to assist with more complex projects due to their experience and technical experience of developments with difficult foundations, residential, airports, commercial.

  3. AJ Morgan are you suggesting the house owner left the radio on when she went out and the house decided to do a little jig? isn’t that a little silly on your part?

  4. Mr Morgan, if you notice the house did not colapse in any direction, it did not sway off its pillars, it just sat down as the pillars collapsed. It sits on more or less the ground space that it was built on.

    No one should be living in those houses, if any more fall down and someone is killed, there must be charges of culpable manslaghter brought, if that is possible. We know how difficult that would be by just looking at the difficulties in bringing rape charges.

    Why were the columns built with 8″X8″support columns, yet that mans sisters house next door was built with 12″X12″?

    There were already a number of deaths at Buccament when the December storm flooded the river. That should have been subject to culpable manslaughter or homicide. But at the moment they think they have got away with that.

  5. Helmut Koller says:

    Remember Jacks wall as one example in terms of construction: it is a common fault in this country, everything must be done cheaply, there is no proper civil engineering, and there is no capable supervising planning authority. Administration will wake up only after a collapse. So it will go on …

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