Measures that tourist centers must adopt after the passage of Otis

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To avoid disasters, it is vital that other beach cities, such as Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta and Cancún, pay special attention to metal structural elements, experts say.

Hurricane Otis not only devastated Acapulco, but also exposed the weaknesses of an aging infrastructure, teaching hard lessons that coastal cities across Mexico must learn.

As Acapulco recovers from the deadly Category 5 hurricane, climate experts, architects, engineers and politicians recommend measures that Mexico should adopt, such as tightening building standards, improving flood management and storm detection to prevent a repeat of death and destruction that Otis caused on October 25.

Growing concerns about climate change and the increased proliferation of ultra-powerful storms have put pressure on Mexico, one of the world’s top tourist destinations, to offer better protections, especially as the population in coastal areas increases.

“Because this hurricane thing is going to keep coming,” said former Secretary of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid, these are the tasks we have ahead of us: “How do we build in a more intelligent way? And, furthermore, how do we join to a policy to combat climate change?”

De la Madrid noted that after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, which killed thousands of people, the capital imposed stricter building standards. The result was that 32 years later, when another large earthquake hit the capital, the damage was much less.

While Mexico City must update its structural design standards every six years, the country allows other municipalities to issue their own building regulations. It lacks national regulations, unlike its regional peers.

A government map from 2019 showed swathes of the coastal states Oaxaca, Tamaulipas and Guerrero – where Acapulco is located – without any type of regulation. Acapulco does have its own.

After Otis, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has called for an analysis of the city’s buildings. His office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Adrián Pozos, a structural engineer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said Otis showed that construction and design standards were no longer up to par.

Pozos studied the impact of Hurricane Odile, a Category 4 storm that devastated tourist centers in the state of Baja California in 2014.

Although Acapulco suffered much greater damage, Odile also leveled lighter building materials, such as drywall, and destroyed communications towers.

When these pieces come off, the interiors are exposed, causing further damage. Debris can become dangerous projectiles that hit other buildings, Pozos said.

After Odile, Baja California’s building codes reflected new guidelines on identified areas of weakness, such as roofs.

To avoid disasters, it is vital that other beach cities, such as Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun, pay special attention to metal structural elements, he said. These are prone to corrosion from salt air, which reduces wind resistance, he explained.

Buildings need input from structural engineers to improve safety, he added, urging authorities to update wind regulations in coastal areas, especially for buildings more than 10 years old.

New construction must be prepared to withstand winds with gusts of 329 kilometers per hour (km/h) that blew in Otis, Pozos said.

Commercial buildings, such as hotels and condominiums, in some areas of the Pacific coast should be built to absorb winds of a maximum of 214 km/h and in Acapulco 141 km/h, according to recommendations in a 2020 design manual from the state company of electricity from Mexico.

In Miami, the American Society of Civil Engineers requires that similar structures withstand winds of 180 mph.

López Obrador has presented a 61 billion peso (about $3.4 billion USD) Acapulco recovery plan and has said the city should show a difference by Christmas.

Some experts fear that a full recovery will take years. David Waggonner of the architecture firm Waggonner & Ball in New Orleans, which was hit by the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, says disaster zones can come back stronger.

Waggonner helped design a water infrastructure system to relieve pressure on New Orleans’ pumps and levees after Katrina and said studies should evaluate how water is managed in Acapulco.

His plan, deployed in parts of New Orleans, retains and stores water instead of pumping it.

However, implementing an improvement plan in Acapulco would only be half the battle, Waggonner said. Major commitments are needed to maintain the systems that protect coastal cities.

“To maintain the mechanism, the levees, the pumps and everything that goes into a hurricane defense system, you have to have more money,” Wagoner said. “Because it is a continuous reinvestment.”

Source: Expansion