Wednesday, September 29, 1999

Shoddy construction
made damage worse

Bullet The issue: Use of inferior materials and poor construction made damage in Taiwan's earthquake worse than it should have been.

Bullet Our view: Stringent building codes and tough enforcement are essential.

After the devastating earthquake in Turkey last month, shoddy construction of new multistory apartment buildings was blamed for significantly increasing the death toll. Corrupt and inefficient government agencies failed to enforce building codes. When the earthquake struck, many of the cheaply constructed, never-inspected buildings collapsed, crushing thousands as they slept.

Now the same complaints are being made in Taiwan, where another earthquake last week left 2,100 dead. New high-rises crumbled while older, better-constructed buildings nearby emerged standing erect.

Many people say it was cost-cutting by contractors that led to the collapse of the towers, rather than the shock of the quake. The government of President Lee Teng-hui has arrested or barred the movement abroad of 18 contractors, architects and surveyors over building violations that resulted in damage. Corruption is believed to be rife in the construction industry.

The disaster exposed substandard materials hidden inside newer buildings -- empty vegetable oil cans, wads of newspapers and plastic foam stuffed inside support columns and walls in place of concrete or brick.

Other construction problems were poor foundations, often embedded in reclaimed marshes or farmland, and inadequately supported lower floors. When the lower floors of a high-rise collapsed, the structure above leaned over, either slamming onto adjoining buildings or hanging precariously in space.

Members of an American search and rescue team said the wrecked buildings they saw in Taiwan were more dangerous than those they encountered in Turkey after its recent quake, partly because of shoddy construction.

"Maybe they were trying to save some money on concrete," said Robert Rojas, a firefighter from Miami who was on the team. "That's horrendous."

Even the crumbly concrete in Turkey was "a heck of a lot better than newspapers and oil cans" that some contractors used in Taiwan, Rojas said.

Lee Yung-lai, a landscape architect for apartment complexes in Taichung, the hardest-hit area, said, "The earthquake exposed many of the problems which had long been concealed under the buildings' glossy surfaces. Everyone in the industry knew about it, but they were either unwilling to expose the culprits or felt there was nothing they could do to stop it."

It can be assumed that similar problems of shoddy construction and lack of rigorous enforcement of building codes exist in other countries -- perhaps even in Honolulu. The earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan illustrate the potential results of such negligence.

In earthquake-prone Southern California, officials have been working to make buildings quake-resistant in preparation for the disaster they know is coming. Honolulu appears to be less vulnerable, but here, too, a growing population of high-rise dwellers makes stringent building codes and energetic enforcement a necessity.

Grandparents deserve
visitation rights

Bullet The issue: The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on whether states have the right to assure grandparents of visitation rights to their grandchildren.

Bullet Our view: Those rights should be assured in normal situations.

PARENTS' rights to rear their children have been recognized by the courts as a fundamental liberty and as a privacy right, but what rights do grandparents have?

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a Washington state case in which grandparents are demanding the right to visit their granddaughters over the objection of the girls' mother. Laws in every state grant grandparents' visitation rights. Those rights should be preserved.

Although parents' visitation rights are the norm, they can be terminated in abusive situations. It seems reasonable that grandparents also be assured of access to their offspring's offspring in normal circumstances.

Gary and Jennifer Troxel seek to regain visitation rights to their granddaughters, Natalie and Isabelle. Their son, the girls' father, committed suicide in 1993. He and the girls' mother, Tommie Granville Wynn, never married.

After their separation, he moved in with his parents, and the girls visited that home regularly until Wynn, who has since married, put a stop to it.

The Troxels went to court and were awarded visitation one weekend each month, one week during the summer, and four hours during the girls' birthdays. However, a state appeals court and the Washington Supreme Court ruled against them. The state Supreme Court found that "parents have a right to limit visitation of their children with third persons."

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected challenges to grandparent visitation laws in Kentucky and Wisconsin in 1992, but three years later let stand a state court ruling that struck down a similar Georgia law.

The high court declined to review those lower court decisions so no precedent was set. Its decision in the Washington case will set precedent, essentially either affirming or striking down all similar state laws.

The overriding interest is that of the children. In cases where the court determines that grandparents' visitation is detrimental to the children, judges have the authority to intervene.

Without evidence of such harm, grandparents should have the right, and grandchildren the benefit, of visitation.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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