A tense motherland

At the start of the workweek this Monday, just as most employees in the government and the private sector were heading home, an earthquake struck our beloved motherland, the Republic of the Philippines.

While Metro Manila was not the epicenter, it was where fear and panic was felt most. This is due to the many high rise condominiums where Filipinos and foreigners now live. The epicenter was actually in Zambales, but the worst damage recorded was in Pampanga.

While no building collapsed in Metro Manila, there was structural damage in a number of the towers found all over the metropolis, including the Emilio Aguinaldo College along Taft Avenue. As a result, the government suspended work on Tuesday, April 23, in all offices to allow for close examinations of the buildings they occupy.

While the earthquake was only recorded at magnitude 6.1, it was enough to cause at least one supermarket to collapse in Pampanga, resulting in a reported 10 fatalities.

What almost everybody fears most is the possibility that a bigger temblor is about to follow. Not mere aftershocks, but the supposed Big One.

The West Valley fault is the Philippine equivalent of the San Andreas fault in California, which has been the subject of conjecture on when, not if, a mega-quake will hit.

That killer quakes occur in our homeland every two decades or so has led to the strong possibility that this week was only a preview of what is to come. Experts have suggested that the big one is long overdue and when it does take place, the damage will be devastating.

Already authorities have warned that since large parts of Metro Manila, Bulacan and Laguna sit atop the 100-kilometer long West Valley fault, up to 30,000 could be killed if a slightly stronger quake of intensity 7 or more should strike. Injuries would be in the hundreds of thousands, while damage to property would be in the billions of pesos.

 

Unfortunately, there is no perfectly accurate and effective earthquake warning system developed as yet. All that can be done is to measure the tremors as soon as they occur.

Japanese scientists have been working on an early warning system since their country experiences earthquakes all year round. There have been no breakthroughs yet, but at least all new buildings erected in Japan are built to be earthquake-proof.

We are not sure if they same can be said of the new high-rises in the Philippines. We can still recall the effects of the powerful earthquake of 1990 registered at 7.7 where at least 28 buildings including a fairly new hotel as well as a condominium collapsed in Baguio City.

Most tragic of all was the crumbling of a school building in Cabanatuan while classes were being held. More than 150 died, mostly students and school staff.

That big one resulted in more than 1,600 fatalities, mostly throughout Central Luzon.

The low death toll this week should not lull authorities into a sense of complacency.

The next big quake may not be predicted with certainty, but what the national government and the citizenry can do is hope and pray for the best and still be prepared for the worst.