EDITORIAL- Reminder of the Big One

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL- Reminder of the Big One

As Mayon and Taal volcanoes show restiveness, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck near Calatagan in Batangas yesterday morning. Seismologists said the strong earthquake was tectonic, meaning it was not caused by volcanic unrest but by ground movement.

Still, suspicions persisted that the quake, which was felt in Metro Manila and which was followed by several aftershocks, was connected to the ongoing restiveness of volcanoes in the country as well as in neighboring Indonesia and as far away as Hawaii. All these areas sit in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a network of active volcanoes and earthquake faults in the Pacific Rim.

The earthquake occurred 33 years after the magnitude 7.8 Luzon earthquake on July 16, 1990 that left about 2,000 people dead or missing from Nueva Ecija to Baguio City. Yesterday’s quake also struck exactly 32 years to the day Mt. Pinatubo roared to life with an explosive eruption after 600 years, blanketing much of Luzon with ash and altering weather patterns worldwide.

Fortunately, damage caused by yesterday’s earthquake was minimal, with no reported injuries or deaths. Inevitably, however, the earthquake revived warnings long aired by seismologists that Metro Manila is ripe for a so-called Big One with a magnitude of 7.2 that can cause massive loss of lives and destruction of property in the country’s most densely populated region.

The warning has led to newer buildings being designed with earthquake resiliency in mind, although it can be challenging to avoid structural damage caused by a temblor with a magnitude of seven or stronger. Several bridges and other public works infrastructure have also been inspected for structural integrity and fortified.

Information has also been made available for checking earthquake resilience of residential structures, although several of the steps are complicated for ordinary people. Rescue and relief preparedness has also improved.

Still, there’s much room for better preparedness. The Big One is also expected to cause widespread fires and serious damage to water, electricity and telecommunications networks. Even a typhoon can cause widespread disruptions in water and electricity in the National Capital Region. Destruction of roads can seriously disrupt supply chains to and from Ground Zero, the NCR.

Science has not yet developed an accurate way of predicting earthquakes. The Big One may not happen in our lifetime… or it can. Yesterday’s earthquake should remind everyone about the urgency of preparing for the worst.

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