Duck, cover and hold, not to ‘shake, rattle and roll’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2019 - 12:00am

After a long while, we had our latest experience with very strong earthquake in Metro Manila when magnitude 6.1 shook us into initial shock and then into panic mode. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) initially placed the earthquake that rocked Metro Manila around 5:11 p.m. last Monday at magnitude 5.7. The tremor’s epicenter was traced from the town of Castillejos in Zambales.

The earthquake – of tectonic origin – was quite strong enough to shake and sway many high-rise buildings in Metro Manila when it first struck us. Thank God, none of these skyscrapers collapsed although a few buildings suffered damages while some serious cracks now threaten their structural integrity. 

Fortunately also, the tremor happened towards the close of office hours and it’s already vacation for many of the schools.

But it was indeed a puzzle why a four-storey supermarket in Porac, Pampanga crumbled during the few seconds of earthquake felt in that area while nearby structures withstood the shaking of the grounds? In fact, this was the same question asked by President Rodrigo Duterte during the post-disaster assessment in Pampanga a day after the tragic quake.

As of this writing, 15 people were reported crushed and killed there while scores of other people injured and several more are still missing and believed to have been caught inside the supermarket as it collapsed when the tremor struck.

While we have not recovered from the initial shock, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit the Visayas provinces the next day. Phivolcs traced the epicenter from the town of San Julian in Eastern Samar. Again, Phivolcs later upgraded the tremor to magnitude 6.5.

Then twin earthquakes hit Davao region with magnitude 4.7 last Wednesday. After a respite of one day, another set of earthquakes hit Leyte and Ilocos Norte at magnitude 4.4. Then in General Luna, Surigao Del Norte, people were jolted by magnitude 5.3 on the same day around 1:26 p.m.

As if these were not enough earthshaking events taking place in succession of days, a string of earthquakes took place again in Surigao del Norte early Saturday. Thank God, they were just light tremors with magnitudes ranging from 3.9 to 5. Phivolcs monitored the tremors started anew in southeast of General Luna town with 3.9 in magnitude occurred at 2:43 a.m. It was followed by a 4.6-magnitude tremor at 3:11 a.m. The third quake occurred at 4:08 a.m. with a magnitude of 4.6. Twenty minutes later, a 5-magnitude tremor occurred. The last one, a 4.5-magnitude quake shook the province around 5:22 a.m.

Before public panic sets in, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) undersecretary and concurrently Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum Jr. immediately doused speculations these earthquakes were related. Definitely, however, our Phivolcs geologists conceded the series of these earthquakes caused movements in the Manila Trench.

While doomsday-sayers are quick to spread fear of end-of-the-world scenarios, the frequent occurrence lately of tremors in the Philippines is not uncommon, considering our country’s geographical location. After all, the Philippines sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and thus is naturally prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

But for many of us who live and stay here in Metro Manila, we are doubly under a state of danger should the feared “Big One” earthquake occurs. The “Big One” refers to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that Phivolcs experts believe could be generated by the West Valley Fault that runs through Metro Manila to the cities of Marikina, Quezon City, Pasig, Makati, Taguig and Muntinlupa. Phivolcs seismologists have repeatedly warned the West Valley Fault might be “ripe for movement” at any time soon.

Of course, any earthquake incident cannot be predicted.

However, we can all prepare for it in case it should happen. That’s precisely why both government and private sector conduct regular mock drills to remind people about three life-saving actions to do in case of earthquake: “duck, hold, and cover.”

But when it is for real, all things learned in drills fly out of the window. While they all survived the earthquake without injury, the shoving and pushing of people while going down the flight of stairs in panic could be deadly.

Scary experiences were shared to us by those caught in top floors of their office buildings. One employee told me her office is located at the 34th floor in one of the high-rise towers in Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City. After the shaking was over, they were all told to go down the building through the fire exit stairs. They finally reached the ground floor 30 minutes after the tremor.

They were luckier than the niece of a friend who was caught during the earthquake at her office in the 45th floor of a 48-storey building in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. It took them an hour before they reached the ground floor.

The use of elevators is not allowed during earthquake because it may get stuck. But not at the building where Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is located at the 35th floor in Ortigas Avenue also. Gatchalian, who was my guest in my Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, narrated that he first herded out every employee and worker when the security guard told him to use the elevator to get out.

Some buildings are reportedly fitted with elevators that could function even during earthquake. I don’t know how true is that but I agree wholeheartedly to Solidum’s call-to-action to audit the structural status of all buildings built before 1992.

A volunteer rescuer advised us that if caught on a high-rise structure, it would be safer to go up than go down. At least, if the building collapses, rescue is more feasible. A window period of about ten minutes from the first shaking of the earthquake, the rescue volunteer added, gives enough time to evacuate if possible to the nearest open area.

We were happy to hear from our school toddlers who retold to us how they did “duck, hold and cover” actions during their first real earthquake experience. But for the elders, it is – to borrow a popular local scary movie title – they were into “shake, rattle, and roll.”

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