Monday, March 14, 2011


Courtesy: Kyodo News Agency

The recent M8.9 earthquake which shook Japan on Friday is something Philippine officials should be bothered about. If the next big quake occurs in the country, especially in Metro Manila, earthquake experts are saying that we are unprepared and the country's cities could crumble if this big quake strikes.

THE CASE OF JAPAN. In Japan, a country that is so used to earthquakes and have been preparing for the big one in recent decades, seismology experts are still awed by the power and the extent of damage the recent earthquake caused. Years of research in earthquake-proofing were laid to waste as it was no match to brunt of the tsunami which swept the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. Heavy seas pushed 6-10 kilometers inland, inundating trees, cars, houses and roads on its way. Even in a country whose response to natural disasters have been quick and highly organized, there are still problems.

If it could happen to Japan, it could also happen to the Philippines. Our country lies along major earthquake faults, some of which lies along major cities and could potentially shake in the future.

VALLEY FAULT SYSTEM. Formerly known as the Marikina Valley Fault System, this major fault runs through Metro Manila and stretches from San Mateo Rizal up to Taguig City. It has two major sub-faults, the West Valley Fault and East Valley Fault. In a study conducted by the Earthquake and Megacities Initiative (EMI) in 2004, Metro Manila could potentially be hit by a magnitude 7 or more earthquake from this fault system.  EMI has also added that 25,000 people could die, while 120,000 could be injured and 175,000 buildings destroyed. Renowned urban architect Felino Palafox Jr. is predicting, based on this study, that 25-35% of buildings and structures in Metro Manila could crumble due to lack of earthquake-proofing materials.
Various fault systems in the country
DANGER FROM TSUNAMIS. Palafox also mentioned the possibility of huge casualties and damages if a strong earthquake (whether in the Philippines or in neighboring countries) is followed by a tsunami. According to him, most buildings and structures are built too near the coastline -- beyond the 50-meter distance required by international standards. He also added that the current Building Code is outdated, poorly-implemented and has to be revised in order to adapt to international standards and prevent bigger casualties in case of a Japan-like scenario.

IT HAPPENED BEFORE. Seismology experts are not joking about a possible big quake scenario in the future since it happened before -- numerous times. In logs kept by the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology and the NOAA-National Geophysical Data Center, there had been 30 earthquakes beyond magnitude 7 in various locations in the Philippines since 1608 up to 1897, including the deadly, M7.4 July 18, 1880 earthquake which destroyed the Manila Cathedral. From 1901-2002, there have been 44 earthquakes in various locations in the country that are beyond magnitude 7, including the M8.0 Moro Gulf Quake and Tsunami on August 16, 1976 and the M7.8 Baguio Killer Quake of July 16, 1990.

If it happened before, it could happen again anywhere in the Philippines. Is the country prepared to respond to this kind of emergency once it strikes?
UNPREPARED. We have trained to respond to such calamity. We have participated in earthquake drills in schools and have seen the swift evacuation of residents from coastal villages in line with Friday's tsunami warnings. But if it did occur without warning and managed to create large-scale destruction, do we have the necessary manpower and machinery to respond to victims needs rapidly? The current numbers are saying we do not. We are short in supply of firefighters, emergency response personnel, fire trucks and ambulances. We may have to call in the military to assist. We do not have enough equipment to airlift people and supplies to and from affected areas. We do not have equipment to deal with large-scale chemical fires or an electronic tsunami warning system to automatically announce tsunami alerts to coastal villages. No matter how knowledgeable and experienced we are in natural disasters, if we are not well-equipped, we cannot respond effectively, efficiently and without too much loss in life.

But as we wait like sitting ducks for the next big quake, there is much preparation to do. We now know how much graft and corruption, political mudslinging and professional incompetence has cost our disaster preparedness measures. Let's set aside such practices and focus on bigger task at hand. For if we have the resources and skills to do so, just like Japan, we can rise up from the big quake once it happens. The Social Scientist.

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