Modesto engineer to size up Haiti's buildings

The rescue teams have left. Now it's time for a second wave of experts to help rebuild earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Among them is Silas Ho, a 34-year-old engineer who until recently worked at Modesto's Lionakis architecture and design firm before taking a new job.

Ho left Wednesday for Haiti, where he'll take on an engineering assignment like none he's tackled before. As part of a team from Sacramento-based Miyamoto International, Ho will inspect damaged buildings and determine whether they're safe to occupy.

The goal is to assess 100,000 buildings by June and move as many people as possible back indoors before hurricane season hits.

Ho has his work cut out for him. The Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince killed an estimated 230,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless. Hundreds of thousands live in squalid conditions in crowded tent cities. Disaster relief workers are struggling to house them before the rains start.

"I thought this would be a good opportunity for me both personally and professionally," Ho said. "I get to do my little part to help out after something terrible."

Until now, Ho's career has been mostly deskbound. He supervised engineers and drafters at Lionakis' I Street office.

In Haiti he'll wear work boots to trudge through wreckage and sleep under a mosquito net. To get ready for the three-month trip, he was stuck with "at least 10 needles" at a travel clinic to prevent hepatitis and other possible illnesses.

Ho has a degree in engineering from Purdue University. He moved to Modesto in 2001 to take a job at Lionakis.

His former colleague, City Councilman Brad Hawn, called Ho an excellent engineer.

"He's a good administrator, and I think it's a great opportunity for a person in his position in life to be able to do some good and use his skills," Hawn said.

Hawn has visited California earthquake sites as a volunteer for the Office of Emergency Services. Assessing buildings can be tricky work, he said. Sometimes buildings that appear intact are unsafe to inhabit, while structures with serious cosmetic damage can be structurally safe, he said.

Ho said he felt apprehension and excitement about his Haiti trip. He was worried about spending three months away from his wife, Jessica, whom he married last year.

But Ho said he couldn't pass up the chance to help people in need. He's hoping his work will make a lasting contribution. His team will work with officials to improve building codes and construction standards in Haiti.

"Hopefully we can prevent something like this from happening again," Ho said.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at or 578-2378. Follow her at

The Associated Press contributed to this report.