Soil tests resume on earthquake-devastated lands

Researchers have returned to continue soil tests on earthquake devastated lands in Los Iros with the hope of finding out why land formations occurred following the 6.9 magnitude earthquake last August.

The tests are being done at Los Iros near the bubbling Erin Bouff mud volcanoes on the southern coasts which have been oozing liquid mud. 

The slurries from the Anglais Point Mud Volcano at Lorensotte have reached down to the sea.

Even though the lands have been graded and farmers have resumed planting in the area, engineering seismologist at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre Dr Ilias Papadopoulos says research is ongoing and should be completed within the next few months.

Speaking exclusively to Guardian Media last week, Papadopoulos said a team from the UWI SEC, as well as officials from Geo-tech Associates, have been trying to ascertain why some areas became liquified following the August 21 earthquake.

"As you know, a lot of formations were observed in the farms and we are still trying to figure out what are the mechanisms that caused that destruction," Papadopoulos said.

He noted, "So far we are working on the subsurface to understand what happened. Since Monday to today, there is a technical company that is doing the research which will be used to understand what caused the destruction of the lands."

Papadopoulos said the land mass under investigation is very soft.

"We know that the area has become liquified and that is why we seeing the mud volcanoes. We are to put some calculations on how soft it is so that we can scientifically prove that the area is liquified and determine whether this devastation could happen again," Papadopoulos added.

He noted that the research will indicate whether it is dangerous to farm on that piece of land.

Saying there are no houses in the region, Papadopoulos said the farms in Los Iros could be affected if there is another earthquake similar to what occurred in August. He said the drilling was supposed to be completed by Wednesday.

"It will take a month to process the samples of the soil. This will be processed by a company called Geotech Associates Ltd which we hired to do the drilling," Papadopoulos said, adding that samples have been taken at different depths down to 20 metres.

"Once the soil tests are processed and a report is submitted, the UWI-SRC will make final conclusions and recommendations," Papadopoulos said.

He noted that this final report should be made public within the next few months.

Papadopoulos said similar formations have occurred at Moruga where a house was destroyed following the earthquake. He noted that there are other areas in T&T where the soil has become liquified, adding that there is no complete analysis as yet to draw correlations to see the full picture.

He also reiterated that T&T will experience a big earthquake.

"We don't know how soon or how big it will be but it will happen and we have to be prepared," Papadopoulos said.

Earthquake devastation

Over 50 acres of lucrative farmlands were devastated in the earthquake which caused landslides off Royal Engineer Road and Hillview at Los Iros, near Erin. 

When the cracks opened, several access roads became impassable for farmers to get to their produce. The earth swallowed two water-pumps and tools belonging to farmer Nobbie Mathura. Three pieces of his equipment – an excavator, a basin plough and a disc banker– were parked in the yard of the family’s camp and dropped into the cracks.

There was damage to farmers’ irrigation systems and stock houses. 

The water from ponds, some of which had tilapias and cascaduras pitched into the air and then dried up into cracks. More than 25 acres were filled with crops ready to harvest. 

Within months of the devastation, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat organised to have farmers relocated to other areas. The lands were ploughed and farming resumed.

- by Radhica De Silva. Photos by Ivan Toolsie

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