Soviet Officials Count the Costs of Quake
ARMENIA, SOVIET UNION — WHILE reconstruction efforts continue, local Soviet officials are beginning to get a clearer fix on the total costs of the Dec. 7 earthquake. Human cost: 25,000 dead, considerably lower than originally estimated. A few days after the quake, the official casualty figure was put at about 55,000. Some 2,480 people are currently hospitalized. And 115,763 are evacuees, half of whom are living in other Soviet republics.
Despite several sensational reports, local officials say that no one has been brought out of the rubble alive for almost a month.
Homeless: 500,000. Fifty percent of the buildings in the earthquake zone were destroyed during the quake or have been subsequently blown up. Twenty-five percent of surviving buildings are considered repairable; a further 25 percent are ``under suspicion.'' A decision will be taken whether to repair or destroy the latter category next month. As of last week, tremors continued to damage buildings.
Reconstruction: Rebuilding work will begin in late January and be completed in two years, says Yuri Batalin, the deputy prime minister who is overseeing earthquake relief and reconstruction. (Local officials in the region doubt that the work can be finished so fast.)
Spitak will have to be entirely rebuilt in a nearby area less vulnerable to earthquakes. Whole districts of Leninakan and Kirovakan will also be rebuilt on new and theoretically safer sites.
According to official plans, approximately 40 percent of destroyed buildings will be rebuilt in 1989. The emphasis in the first year will be on social and economic infrastructure, especially shops and schools. Mr. Batalin says that they hope to have school buildings re-opened by the start of the school year in September 1989.
This means that, as Batalin says, ``people will continue to live in tents for a long time.'' Later they will be transferred to railways wagons normally used as portable housing in the Soviet far north. So far the slow arrival of the portable housing is one of the main complaints of local administrators.
Economic cost: According to current estimates, the reconstruction program will cost 10 billion rubles, about double original estimates. But, Batalin warns, ``it could well be more.'' The current estimate includes 8 billion in reconstruction costs, and 2 billion in compensation to victims.
Impact on Armenia's economy: Losses are estimated at 1.5 billion rubles out of a projected turnover this year of 8.5 billion. Just under one third of the republic's irrigated land was damaged in the quake. This comes on top of a year where industrial output in Armenia had been regularly disrupted by strikes called in sympathy with Armenian inhabitants of the disputed province of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Officials say that more farm land will be lost during the reconstruction program, as more land will be needed to construct new districts, where buildings will be lower than they were before the earthquake.