Articles | Volume 12, issue 7
Research article
18 Jul 2012
Research article |  | 18 Jul 2012

Characteristics of damage to buildings by debris flows on 7 August 2010 in Zhouqu, Western China

K. H. Hu, P. Cui, and J. Q. Zhang

Abstract. A debris-flow catastrophe hit the city of Zhouqu, Gansu Province, western China, at midnight on 7 August 2010 following a local extreme rainfall of 77.3 mm h−1 in the Sanyanyu and Luojiayu ravines, which are located to the north of the urban area. Eight buildings damaged in the event were investigated in detail to study the characteristics and patterns of damage to buildings by debris flows. It was found that major structural damage was caused by the frontal impact of proximal debris flows, while non-structural damage was caused by lateral accumulation and abrasion of sediment. The impact had a boundary decreasing effect when debris flows encountered a series of obstacles, and the inter-positioning of buildings produced so-called back shielding effects on the damage. Impact, accumulation, and abrasion were the three main patterns of damage to buildings in this event. The damage scale depended not only on the flow properties, such as density, velocity, and depth, but also on the structural strength of buildings, material, orientation, and geometry. Reinforced concrete-framed structures can effectively resist a much higher debris-flow impact than brick-concrete structures. With respect to the two typical types of structure, a classification scheme to assess building damage is proposed by referring to the Chinese Classification System of Earthquake Damage to Buildings. Furthermore, three damage scales (major structural, minor structural, and non-structural damage) are defined by critical values of impact pressure. Finally, five countermeasures for effectively mitigating the damage are proposed according to the on-site investigation.