Greater Manilans need all-out earthquake drills

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2013 - 12:00am

An SOS from reader Larry Yolu of Tayug, Pangasinan: “We are now in the middle of the harvest and selling our palay to private traders, mostly dummies of big capitalists. They have cornered the buying, at the measly prices of P12 and P13.50 a kilo, wet and dry. From a recent interview of the National Food Authority spokesman and as posted in the NFA website, the agency’s buying price is P17.75 a kilo. Yet there are no NFA buying stations, to which we small farmers in eastern Pangasinan can sell our palay. Luging-lugi po kami (We are selling at big loss). Kindly bring this to the attention of the proper authorities. I’ve been trying to click open the Dept. of Agriculture website to file this complaint, to no avail. No one can log into it.”

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Greater Manilans shudder watching TV news of the devastation and suffering caused by the Intensity-7.2 earthquake in Bohol-Cebu. As they reach for checkbooks to donate, they ask themselves how they’d fare if such temblor strikes their locale. For they’ve been reminded often enough by seismologists: the West Valley Fault moves every 450 years or so. It is due any time soon. (Soulful writer-editor Julie Yap Daza admonishes against talking about it, lest it come true. But then, forewarned is forearmed.)

The fault stretches from the boundaries of Quezon City and Marikina to Mandaluyong-Pasig, Taguig-Makati, Parañaque-Las Piñas-Muntinlupa, down to Laguna-Cavite to the foothills of Tagaytay. In short, it covers thickly populated residential-commercial swathes of Greater Manila. Nearly half of the 15-million population will be affected.

The Manila Observatory has long studied the geological effects of a Valley Fault quake. The human and structural destruction would be beyond anything present-day Filipinos have experienced. Manila’s Chinatown is likely to sink into the sea in grave liquefaction.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology too has drafted a scenario for a West Valley Fault temblor of Intensity-7.2 or worse. That Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (2004) warns local officials and safety experts to plan for the Big One. Specifically, for situations like:

• damage to 40 percent of residential buildings;

• 34,000 dead and 114,000 injured within the first hour of disaster;

• electricity, water, and telecoms services cut off; no means to report or broadcast damages to homes, buildings, and roads;

• schools, the usual safe haven of typhoon — or flood-stricken poor folk, to sustain the most damage, followed by hospitals and fire stations;

• Quezon City, Marikina, and Pasig to be most destroyed.

Metro Manila chairman Francis Tolentino minces no words in dire details: “In an Intensity-7.2 quake, the Guadalupe Bridge in Makati would collapse. So would the MRT and LRT train lines. Imagine the chaos if it happens at daytime.”

A nighttime quake would be as anarchic, Tolentino says: “Five thousand fires would be blazing at the same time. But the roads would be strewn with rubble, impassable by fire trucks. Even if they are able to penetrate, they might run out of water to douse the fires; water pipes would be busted.”

The end of the world? That’s what Boholanos and Cebuanos thought as the Oct. 15 quake threw them about for long seconds. That’s what Greater Manilans might wish for even if they survive the Big One. For they could be isolated, wet, thirsty, famished, injured, or trapped under rubble — with no rescue and relief coming.

To preclude despair and chaos, Tolentino proposes several disaster-mitigation measures. It’s nothing new; the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction has been advocating it for decades.

Foremost is to retrofit all weak infrastructures, buildings, and homes. The first — bridges, train lines, overpasses, etc.— should be the responsibility of the Dept. of Public Works and Highways. The second — commercial structures, churches, schools, etc. — shall be inspected by city halls.

The third — upper-, middle-, and low-class dwellings — would be tricky. Homeowners habitually break the National Building Code, erecting or remodeling dwellings with fire, flood, and earthquake hazards. City halls can hardly spare building inspectors to look into houses as well. Quezon City, the largest in the megalopolis, has only 30 such personnel.

For this, Tolentino proposes an earthquake census. Junior and senior engineering students would be fielded on weekends to inspect all residential structures. Earthquake-risk defects would be pointed out to dwellers, who should then proceed to city hall for the necessary permits to refurbish.

Frequent earthquake drills need to be undertaken, at the community and Greater Manila levels. It would be no different from the annual Earthquake Holidays initiated by California, now conducted North America-wide, with Japan and Korea. The latest “Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill” was held only last Oct. 17, as each of the time zones struck 10:17 a.m.

In such a drill, Tolentino proposes, the Guadalupe Bridge would be blocked off, the LRT-MRT lines shut down, and malls and offices evacuated. No laughing or waving to TV news cameras, he suggests that Metro Manilans walk their way to the nearest of four major open spaces. First-aid and food tents will be waiting at: Villamor Air Base golf course, Bicutan; Ultra stadium, Pasig; Intramuros golf course, Manila; and Veterans Hospital golf course, Quezon City. For drill purposes, the Macapagal Highway, Baclaran, will be the temporary mass morgue.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com

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