EDITORIAL - Killer earthquake

The Philippine Star

As of Tuesday afternoon, the death toll from the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Turkey near the Syrian border had surpassed 5,000. The first quake was followed by more temblors and aftershocks with magnitudes ranging from 7.5 to 7.7.

The quake was just a notch stronger than the magnitude-7.7 earthquake that devastated Luzon from Aurora to Nueva Vizcaya and on to the Cordilleras on July 16, 1990, leaving over 1,600 people dead, crumpling buildings like accordions and causing widespread liquefaction.

Analysts have attributed the high death toll and massive devastation in Turkey to several factors, which people in earthquake-prone Philippines should consider. One is that the quake in Turkey struck in the early hours of Monday, when most people were still asleep.

Another factor is that the region had not experienced a powerful earthquake in about 200 years, and disaster preparedness was weak. The last time the area was hit by a massive earthquake, with magnitude 7.4, was on Aug. 13, 1822. It left at least 7,000 recorded deaths in one city alone. Aftershocks occurred for about a year, causing further damage.

Because of the low awareness of earthquake risks, news reports said there had been no emphasis on ensuring the structural sturdiness of buildings in the quake-hit areas, which lie along or near a 100-kilometer fault line.

The Philippines, which sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire that is dotted with highly active volcanoes and earthquake faults, has no lack of reminders for earthquake preparedness and resilience.

Only last year in July, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Northern Luzon, leaving at least 11 people dead. On April 22, 2019, a magnitude 6.1 quake struck Luzon, killing at least 18. Liquefaction made the 10-story Emilio Aguinaldo College building along United Nations Avenue in Manila tilt and lean onto an adjacent building. The most powerful earthquake recorded so far in the country by state seismologists is the magnitude 7.6 quake that struck at past 4 a.m. on Aug. 2, 1968. The earthquake killed 270 people, 268 of them mostly residents of the six-story Ruby Tower in Manila.

Across the country, earthquakes have damaged or destroyed houses, office buildings, churches and heritage structures. The Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology has been warning for some time now that densely populated Metro Manila is ripe for the so-called “Big One” and that all concerned agencies must ramp up preparedness for the projected massive death and destruction. The earthquake in Turkey should serve as yet another reminder about the importance of preparedness because a killer quake can strike anytime.

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