"National and local government, as well as families and individuals, must prepare themselves."
In the past week, earthquakes have been shaking different parts of the Philippines and causing damage, even loss of life in some cases—a timely reminder that we are due to experience “The Big One.”
On the afternoon of April 22, Monday, Luzon was shaken by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake that brought down a supermarket in Porac, Pampanga. The quake left at least 18 people dead and 282 injured.
This was followed by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake in Eastern Samar on April 23; 4.7 in Davao Oriental on April 24; 4.5 near Sarangani, Davao Occidental on April 25; and 4.6 in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, and 5.3 in Surigao del Norte (tectonic) on April 26. This does not count aftershocks and other quakes that occurred during the same period and since.
The Philippines sits on the Pacific plate of the Ring of Fire, “a major area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur,” says Wikipedia.
The Ring “has 452 volcanoes, more than 75 percent of the world's active and dormant volcanoes… About 90 percent of the world's earthquakes and 81 percent of the world's largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.”
At the forefront now of the consciousness of most Filipinos’ is the vulnerability of Manila and other highly congested Philippine cities to earthquakes, particularly ‘The Big One’—the high magnitude quake that will collapse major structures and cause heavy casualties.
While it is impossible to predict when an earthquake will occur, scientists can calculate the average time span in between quake occurences—the ‘recurrence interval.’
For the 100-kilometer Valley Fault system that runs from Bulacan to Laguna, the recurrence interval is 400 to 500 years. The last Big One was recorded in 1658, or 361 years ago.
If ‘The Big One’ is at 7.2 magnitude and hits the West Valley Fault, according to the Metropolitan Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS), 34,000 people will die, 90 percent of them in fallen buildings. More than 114,000 will be injured. Some 170,000 houses will collapse and another 340,000 will be partly damaged.
Obviously there will be damage to some buildings, roads, and bridges. The collapse of infrastructure could also lead to fires, power outages, water cutoff or leaks, and the cessation of broadcast and mobile communications.
However the estimates of scientists’ scenarios may vary, what they all agree on is that The Big One will be devastating. National and local government, as well as families and individuals, must prepare themselves.
Makati City, for one, has mapped out the communities in the city sitting right on top of the West Valley fault. These are East Rembo, Pembo, Comembo, and Rizal. On April 24, the Makati City government asked residents living on top of the fault to relocate.
Mayor Abby Binay said no one will be forcibly evicted, but those who remain will be asked to sign waivers that they are aware of the risks and that they can expect no assistance from the city government. Those who choose to relocate will receive financial assistance.
It’s time to discuss your earthquake or disaster plan with family and loved ones. Remind everyone of the ‘duck cover and hold’ protocol. Decide upon a meeting place where you can all assemble in case you are separated from each other.
Prepare ‘bug-out bags’ for each person (you can research details online), but do bring maintenance medicines, important documents, cash, a first-aid kit, a knife, paracord, non-perishable snacks like cookies and dried fruit, a bottle of water, and a Lifestraw or other portable water filtration system.
Those with babies, pack infant formula and a chest sling. Use a backpack for items so both hands can be free.
Check your proximity to a fault line at http://faultfinder.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph.
Think twice about buying properties near a fault unless you are willing to take a long-term risk on aftereffects such as soil liquefaction, although Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum told Rappler in July 2016 that if building near a fault, there should be a buffer of at least five meters on either side of the line.
We live in politically and economically trying times, and the added threat of natural disasters are another challenge to face. But Filipinos are survivors. Forewarned is forearmed, and with the advantage of information and preparation, we shall meet these challenges as best we can.
Dr. Ortuoste is a qualitative researcher with a PhD in Communication. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO