Can we really prepare for the ‘Big One’?

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

Last week, we went through an exercise in case the “Big One” as they call it strikes, devastates, causes hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths, injuries and misery in large parts of Metro Manila and surrounding cities and municipalities, Luzon and nearby provinces. For me, it was a well-deserved exercise for students, homeowners, office workers in tall buildings, pedestrians and all our citizens in the metro area. Although some car owners and others out on the streets criticized the MMDA, they should just keep quiet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry later.

My question, however, is are we really prepared for an earthquake of the 7.4 magnitude that the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has predicted? Two years ago, I wrote about the big earthquake that will surely strike us, since we belong to the “Ring of Fire” in Southeast Asia. Just recently, Indonesia and Hawaii suffered a huge earthquake that caused tons of debris and hot lava streaming down the mountainside and residents fleeing from their nearby homes. Today, are we ripe for an earthquake of an unimaginable proportion?

Two years ago, I wrote about the ‘Big One’ which I would like to quote some parts here.

Are we warning our people in case the ‘Big One’ were to strike Metro Manila? This was on the heels of several small earthquakes that hit the Philippines, but most notably the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo two decades ago that caused the Americans and their families to flee from their home base in Clark Air Field in Pampanga and spewed tons of lahar as far away as Manila, and day turned into night. It was one of the worst experiences our family underwent. Just a couple of months ago, Mt. Mayon erupted in Albay and seems to have settled down for now, but for how long is the question. There have been several small earthquakes that hit the Philippines and quite a few massive ones in countries abroad. It was enough to scare everyone and all of a sudden people were scrambling around to find their emergency equipment, food and water, batteries and flashlights and others in case a strong quake were to hit the city center.

Nowadays, we appear to be more complacent again but we should always be prepared for the eventuality of the “Big One.” I’m glad that events of the past few years have brought to light the importance of being prepared for any big natural disaster like strong typhoons, tsunamis and other weather disturbances. I think we should try to be doing more earthquake drills which we are holding now which are essential to our health and safety. We are being given time to make essential changes and to prepare in advance and we shouldn’t waste the time. We don’t want to get caught unprepared because then we wont have no one to blame but ourselves.

Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum has said that the government should put up a solid plan in place of succession in case a major earthquake occur in Metro Manila and key government officials are killed or incapacitated. While it may seem dramatic to some, this is important because in the event of a terrible tragedy like this, mass panic is sure to ensue and a power vacuum or the lack of leadership will only make it worse. There has to be a contingency plan in place. We need to think ten steps ahead. After all the ‘Big One’ is not just a threat to scare people. It’s a reality for all of us.

Experts have been saying for a while now that the 100-kilometric Marikina West Valley Fault is ripe for movement any time now. It is said to have some type of activity roughly every 400 years or much earlier, like what happened in Mt. Pinatubo and Mt. Mayon. When Mt. Taal Volcano in Tagaytay City erupted, I covered the news with a colleague for the STAR. Since then it has been quiet, but it could erupt anytime again.

Climate change is a reality that we should all together have to face. We destroyed so much of our natural resources and messed up the environment. Is it any wonder that Mother Earth is pretty upset with us? Crazy weather phenomenon has been the norm for the last few years and natural disasters are happening now more often than not and there is nothing we can do about them with 100 percent accuracy. We have to do our best to “clean up our mess’ as we prepare as much as we can.

I still remember the terrible earthquake that hit Baguio City years ago and made buildings, especially the Hyatt Terraces Hotel, as it tumbled down like a deck of cards killing and hurting so many distinguished personalities like high government official and their families. Let’s also remember the big quake that hit Manila in 1968 and the Ruby Tower and other high-rise buildings killing 270 people and injuring 260 others.

The ‘Big One’ earthquake will surely be much worse on Metro Manila where the population is so densely packed and the infrastructure is so weak. Let’s be honest, our roads break down yearly during the rainy season. We don’t invest as much as we should in solid and good infrastructure but instead the contractors use cheap materials and do rush jobs for their “commissions.”

In the end, I hope – as others do – that the ‘Big One’ doesn’t hit. But it would still be prudent to be exceptionally prepared for all circumstances.





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