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How earthquake-proof is Montreal? Not very, says expert

Montreal is among the most vulnerable cities in Canada to earthquakes - second behind only Vancouver - but can its buildings withstand a major tremor?

Montreal's older buildings mean many don't meet latest seismic standards

AIR Worldwide estimates there is between a five and 15-per cent chance the St. Lawrence and Gatineau valleys will, in the next 50 years, experience an earthquake as large as the one that rocked Haiti in 2010. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Montreal is among the most vulnerable cities in Canada to earthquakes — second behind only Vancouver — but can its buildings withstand a major tremor?

A risk modeling firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated there is between a five and 15-per cent chance the St. Lawrence and Gatineau valleys will, in the next 50 years, experience an earthquake as large as the one that rocked Haiti in 2010.

That earthquake, which measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, left several hundred thousand people dead.

But it wouldn't even take an earthquake that large to cause serious damage in Montreal, said Robert Tremblay, a specialist in seismic construction at the École Polytechnique.

Montreal, after all, is located in a moderate seismic zone, where there is a chance of earthquakes reaching between five and six on the Richter scale.

"We can't say that Montreal is ready to deal with a large earthquake without serious problems," Tremblay said.

"In order to do that, we would have to check every building and make the necessary corrections."

What concerns Tremblay, in particular, are the number of buildings in Montreal that don't meet more recent seismic standards.

These generally apply to newly constructed buildings, but Montreal has its share of older structures.

Quebec's building code has required, since 2005, those undertaking major renovations of older buildings to use the opportunity to update their earthquake-proofing elements.

"There have been renovations that have been done and certain buildings have been prioritized over others," Tremblay said.

"For example, when a hospital undergoes renovations, we take advantage of the chance to bring it up to code."

The City of Montreal says it is in the process of ensuring its 1,500 buildings meet the building code's seismic standards.

The largest earthquake to hit Montreal was a 5.8 tremor, back in 1732.

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