You are on page 1of 8

Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Case Studies in Structural Engineering

journal homepage:

Role of construction materials in the collapse of R/C buildings

after Mw 7.8 Pedernales Ecuador earthquake, April 2016
Fabricio Ypez a, , Oswaldo Ypez b
Civil Engineering Department, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
Proyectos y Construcciones Hidroenergeticas PCH Ltd., Ecuador

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: More than 7000 reinforced concrete (R/C) buildings were destroyed after the Mw 7.8 Ped-
Received 21 June 2016 ernales earthquake in Ecuador. In this paper, concrete materials used in such buildings
Received in revised form 3 December 2016 are studied as a possible source of vulnerability. They have been analyzed and tested (lab
Accepted 4 December 2016
and SEM). Evidence found conrmed that quality of construction materials is far from
Available online 5 December 2016
acceptable, and construction practices applied were very poor. Use of sea sand caused very
high corrosion level in steel bars and mylonitization of coarse aggregates used in concrete
produced very low strength materials. Those facts were the main reasons of damage and
collapse of thousands of buildings.
Chloride content 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC
Corrosion BY-NC-ND license (

1. Introduction

On April 2016, more than 7000 buildings were severely damaged or destroyed in northwest Ecuador (Fig. 1), 670 people
were killed, 6300 injured and almost 30,000 lost housing after a Mw 7.8 earthquake hit the region. In spite of the fact that
damaged and collapsed buildings showed usual seismic failure patterns of non-ductile structures (i.e. soft stories, at slab
shear failures, plastic hinges in columns and joints, shear failures in short columns), quality of materials and construction
seem to be also important in the overall poor seismic performance. This research focuses on concrete materials of damaged
and collapsed buildings.

2. Concrete materials used in damaged and destroyed buildings

A survey of the affected area demonstrated that most damaged and destroyed buildings were constructed using reinforced
concrete (R/C). The analysis of their seismic vulnerability was made from engineering and social points of view.
After an important development of the region during the last decades, the demand of housing, hotel infrastructure,
commercial buildings, vacation facilities and roads increased, attracting people from rural areas to cities. Existing structures
(most of them built without engineering supervision) were expanded in horizontal and vertical ways, creating more oors
in order to try to meet the demand. In most cases, building owners did not consider technical advice and decided to increase
construction area without thinking about earthquake risk. Many dramatic collapses of residential and commercial buildings
occurred after the quake, two of the most famous are shown in Fig. 2. The gure at the left shows the most important hotel

Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses:, fabricio (F. Ypez), (O. Ypez).
2214-3998/ 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (
F. Ypez, O. Ypez / Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431 25

Fig. 1. Epicenter of the Mw 7.8 Pedernales earthquake, northwest coast of Ecuador [3] and view of Pedernales City, where 80% of buildings were severely
damaged or destroyed.

Fig. 2. Hotel in Pedernales (left) and commercial building in Manta (right). Both were converted from low-rise to medium-rise buildings by the owners,
without engineering considerations. Both buildings killed entire families.

Fig. 3. Characteristics of concrete in damaged and collapsed structures. Large coarse aggregate with high segregation and large amount of mortar (Left).
Large amount of course aggregate with very little mortar content (Right).

in Pedernales, which had only two oors years ago, but it had ve oors before the quake. The gure at the right shows a
commercial building in Manta presenting the same problem pattern; its collapse caused 92 fatalities after the earthquake.
Fig. 3 shows typical concrete used in damaged and collapsed buildings. Evidence of high percentage of coarse aggregate
with high rate of segregation and lack of compaction can be found. The use of sea sand as total or partial ne aggregates in
mixes was noted. The combination of those factors with high water/cement ratios, high porosity and high chloride content
26 F. Ypez, O. Ypez / Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431

Fig. 4. Very high corrosion level in steel bars (smooth and deformed) in old and new structures. Column steel bars and even concrete can be destroyed
completely using ngers.

resulted in a tremendous level of corrosion of steel bar reinforcement and a high cracking rate in a low strength concrete
(Fig. 4).
In order to conrm preliminary observations, many samples from collapsed buildings were obtained for testing. ASTM
C42/C42 M-13 Standard Test for Obtaining and Testing Drilled Cores and Sawed Beams of Concrete has been applied in order
to obtain samples and testing. ASTM C1152/C1152 M-04 Standard Test for Acid-Soluble Chloride in Mortar and Concrete
was applied in order to obtain chloride content, which was conrmed using a scanning electron microscopy SEM analysis
[2]. Finally, ASTM C642-13 Standard Test for Density, Absorption, Voids in Hardened Concrete was applied in order to obtain
concrete physical parameters for characterization.
Samples of chloride contents obtained are described in Table 1 and compared with maximum allowed limits, considering
a C2 exposure category concrete (ACI318-14 limit of water-soluble chloride ion content is 0.15% by weight of cement [1]). A
cement content of 330 kg/m3 was adopted from the experience related to this kind of concrete produced 1540 years ago,
and from correlations with the strength test results that are discussed later. Therefore, maximum chloride content for this
type of concrete should be no more than 0.495 kg/m3 .
According to the results, chloride content could exceed the ACI limit by a factor of 30, which is consistent with a high
corrosion level of steel bars. To conrm this, Fig. 5 presents an SEM image showing a ne aggregate particle, whose surface
contains Mg, K, Na and Cl in more than 5% atomic ratios. Therefore, even if there are buildings with lower or negligible
seismic damage, their integrity is not guaranteed and could suffer damage and collapse in future seismic events with even
lower intensity.
After collecting regional information, it was concluded that use of sea sand in concrete production has been common, even
for projects supervised by professionals. Regarding ne aggregate materials, common practice in the region considers a mix
of sea sand and mining sand (which is obtained in some areas that were also under the ocean, millions of years ago). Fineness
modulus of ne aggregate samples obtained are very low (around 1.1), increasing water demand and water/cement ratios
dramatically, increasing porosity and decreasing strength. Granulometric distribution, organic and chloride content of sea
sand have created problems in concrete strength, durability and also a highly corrosive environment for steel reinforcement.
Table 2 shows ASTM C642 test results for density, absorption and voids content. Porosity and voids content are very high,
facilitating environmental attack and steel corrosion. Results are also showing evidence of high water/cement ratios used in
concrete mixes, perhaps over 0.70.8. Voids volume results are almost two times the voids content of a standard concrete
mix with proper design, compaction and curing (usually 1012%).
Table 3 shows compression test results of 3-inch diameter concrete cores obtained from the same collapsed buildings
according to ASTM C42-13 standard. Those concrete samples are between 15 and 40 years old, where ASTM C-150 Type
I Portland cement was available (today such cement is not available in the local market). Results showed that average
compression strength of concrete at the age of 1540 years is just over the minimum strength required by ACI 318 at 28 days
(21 MPa) for structural concrete. This low resistance is consistent with the characteristics of concrete (low water/cement
ratio, high porosity and low level of compaction) described above.
On the other hand, a very interesting effect was also detected: Mylonitization (existence of ne materials around coarse
aggregates due to the formation of rocks in a strong tectonic environment) created an isolated interphase between aggregates
F. Ypez, O. Ypez / Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431
Table 1
ASTM C1152-12 average sample test results for chloride content in collapsed building concrete samples, in cases where steel corrosion was evident.

City Location Coarse Mortar (g) % of mortar in % chloride content % chloride content Concrete density Chloride content in Times in excess of
Aggregate (g) concrete in mortar in concrete (kg/m3 ) concrete (Kg/m3 )a ACI limit of
chloride content

Manta Tarqui 1 Hotels 391,6 313,7 44,5 0,221 0,098 2295,36 2,26 4,6
Manta Tarqui 2 Schools 865,6 733,3 45,9 0,976 0,448 2374,23 10,63 21,5
Portoviejo City Cente Hotels 446,7 427,3 48,9 1,250 0,611 2419,19 14,78 29,9
Portoviejo City Center Magisterio 434,4 526,4 54,8 0,407 0,223 2322,21 5,18 10,5

(+) Maximum chloride content allowed by ACI318 is 0.15% by weight of cement (0,495 kg/m3 ).
Cement content adopted: 330 kg/m3 .

F. Ypez, O. Ypez / Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431
Table 2
ASTM C642-13 Average test results for density, absorption and voids content in hardened concrete samples.

City Location sss weight 1 (g) sss weight 2a Submerged Dry weight (g) Absorption 1% Absorption 2a % ss 1 g/cm3 ss2a g/cm3 Apparent Permeable void
(g) weight (g) ss g/cm3 volume%

Manta Tarqui 1 Hotels 2266 2277 1285 2031 11,57 12,11 2,28 2,30 2,72 24,80
Tarqui 2 Schools 3456 3483 2016 3194 8,20 9,05 2,36 2,37 2,71 19,70
Portoviejo City Center 1432 1437 843 1340 6,87 7,24 2,41 2,42 2,70 16,33
City Center 1587 1600 911 1444 9,90 10,80 2,30 2,32 2,71 22,64
Weight sss 2 is related to sss weight after boiling.
F. Ypez, O. Ypez / Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431
Table 3
ASTM C42-13 Average test results for concrete core strength.

City Location Core # Diameter d (cm) Height h (cm) h/d Correction factor Area A (cm2 ) Load (kg) fc (kg/cm2 ) corrected fc (kg/cm2 ) Average fc (kg/cm2 )

Manta Tarqui 1 Hotels 1 7.5 11.9 1.59 0.96 44.18 9749.0 220.7 211.8
2 7.5 10.6 1.41 0.94 44.18 10809.0 244.7 230.0 220.9
Tarqui 2 Schools 1 7.5 10.6 1.41 0.94 44.18 8089.0 183.1 172.1
2 7.5 10.1 1.35 0.93 44.18 10407.0 235.6 219.1 209.3
Portoviejo City center Hotels 1 7.5 8.8 1.17 0.90 44.18 10288.0 232.9 209.6
2 7.5 7.5 1.00 0.86 44.18 13609.0 308.0 264.9 237.2

30 F. Ypez, O. Ypez / Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431

Fig. 5. SEM analysis of a ne aggregate particle in mortar samples of collapsed buildings. Its surface has shown Mg, K, Na and Cl of about 58% atomic ratio.

Fig. 6. Mylonitization of coarse aggregate in concrete core samples before testing (left). Mylonitization effect inside a structural column after core extraction,
showing tremendous impact in concrete integrity (right).

and cement paste, not permitting a homogeneous concrete core (Fig. 6). This caused concrete samples in many buildings to
be destroyed during drilling, at the time of the extraction or at the time to prepare and cut samples before testing. When
it was possible to test, many cracks were found in such interphase of samples. Sometimes, when this effect was strong, it
was possible to destroy the sample using ngers or a pen. A view of concrete inside a column after core extraction is also
presented in Fig. 6, demonstrating mylonitization effect that dramatically affected concrete integrity.
After testing, compression failure was governed by cracks in the interphase between mortar and coarse aggregates,
causing very low strength, as low as 812 MPa. Cracks in the interphase were observed in many R/C elements in many
damaged buildings (Fig. 7). Sometimes, undamaged mortar cover is hiding internal concrete cracks in the core. This nding
means that many buildings could be classied as undamaged even though they have internal concrete damage.
F. Ypez, O. Ypez / Case Studies in Structural Engineering 7 (2017) 2431 31

Fig. 7. Internal concrete cracks covered by undamaged wide mortar cover, hiding mylonitization effect in concrete columns of damaged buildings.

3. Conclusions

This paper refers to the importance of concrete materials and construction quality in the seismic behavior of damaged and
collapsed buildings affected by the Mw 7.8 Pedernales earthquake. If the large quake and the strong soil amplication found
could be some of the factors explaining the dramatic damages and collapses, physical evidence found and laboratory tests
demonstrated that materials and construction quality are the most important factors for explaining poor seismic behavior
of thousands of buildings.
It was demonstrated that durability and strength of materials are questionable. Very high chloride content (due to the
use of sea sand as ne aggregate) with high porosity level have caused a tremendous corrosion level in steel reinforcement.
Mylonitization of coarse aggregates created a very low strength concrete. In most cases, reinforced concrete could be con-
sidered as low resistant plain concrete and seismic vulnerability of buildings becomes dramatically high. Quality, durability
of materials and structural safety were not considered by building owners and contractors. It is expected that thousands
of buildings that were not severely damaged or destroyed could have the same problem and present very high seismic
After the quake, reconstruction will be performed, being an opportunity to avoid rebuilding vulnerability. It is mandatory
to enhance quality of materials and procedures in the region. Training programs for workers and professionals are urgent.
Use of sea sand and mylonitized rock materials for concrete production must be prohibited. It is very important to analyze
the current structural safety of those buildings which presented light or even negligible seismic damage. It is possible that
condition of materials of such buildings might not assure structural safety during future seismic events, even if those events
were lower in intensity than the studied earthquake. This is a large problem that populations and authorities need to be
alerted to.


This study was partially supported by Universidad San Francisco de Quito and PCH Ltd.


The authors thank Dr. David Egas for chloride analysis and Nano-Instruments. Ltd. for his support in SEM analysis.


[1] ACI 318 Committee, Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete and Commentary, American Concrete Institute, USA, 2014.
[2] [2] ASTM C1152/C1152 M-04-Reapproved, (2012). Standard Test Method for: Acid-Soluble Chloride in Mortar and Concrete, USA.
[3] GEER-ATC, 2016, Earthquake Reconnaissance Report April 2016 Muisne Ecuador Earthquake, National Science Foundation, Applied Technology
Council, GEER, USA, 2016.