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Between 1992 and 2000, more than 3,400 buildings across Romania were examined by construction experts, evaluating their readiness to withstand earthquakes. The experts placed 578 buildings in the highest category of seismic risk, meaning that they could collapse in a quake measuring more than 6.0 on the Richter scale.
Most of the high-risk buildings are apartment blocks, while some are home to restaurants, theatres and stores. Furthermore, no fewer than 67 hospitals in 55 cities -- among them, three out of the four emergency hospitals in Bucharest -- are on the list. That leaves many wondering where the victims would be treated in case of a major catastrophe. In Timisoara, one of Romania's largest cities, the potentially endangered buildings include not only five hospitals but also the fire department headquarters and the emergency situations inspectorate.
More than 1,000 people died in the capital during a 1977 quake, when dozens of blocks built before World War II collapsed. Specialists believe as many as 17,000 people living in the so-called "red circle" buildings -- named for a mark that used to be placed on collapse-prone structures -- are at risk.
For the past 13 years, the government has promised to take action. But so far only 26 high-risk buildings have been reinforced -- less than one out of 20. This year, authorities allocated the money necessary for another 47 consolidations, including 40 in downtown Bucharest. Work should start on the remaining 500 buildings by the end of next year, the government says.
However, the owners of the at-risk buildings are also expected to chip in. By law, the public budget can only provide support for families with a monthly income of fewer than 165 euros. The others must pay their part over 25 years, in instalments without interest. Many people are reluctant to pay, despite the constant danger they face.

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